Interesting History of Zuni Fetishes

Zuni Fetishes were thought to be so powerful by the U.S. Government that in the late 1800's Frank Hamilton Cushing was sent out to the Zuni Reservation to live among the Zuni people and investigate and study the mysterious power of the Zuni Fetishes. His task was to see if they were a possible threat to the U.S. Government and the country. His research & findings along with primitive drawings of fetish carvings can be found in what is now published as a book entitled "Zuni Fetishes" by Frank Hamilton Cushing. 

Zuni Fetishes in Space!

Another little tidbit on fetish carvings you may not be aware of, is the fact that they are believed to be so powerful and beneficial to your well being, that a Directional Fetish Carving set carved by Navajo Fetish carver Roy Davis and his brothers Herbert and Jeff, was sent into space aboard the space shuttle "Endeavor" in 1994. 

Many people are of the belief that the Zuni Fetishes are a new or fairly recent art form as they have evolved into such realistic and detailed carvings. Zuni Fetishes were first used as early as 650 A.D. The fetishes that have been in Zuni tribal possession or in individual possession for centuries are considered to be the most holy and powerful fetishes as well as the more valuable fetishes. 

Although many southwest tribes carve fetishes, the Zuni Fetish carvers are generally acknowledged as doing the finest work among all of the tribes. Navajos will barter for Zuni Fetishes of sheep, cattle or goats to help keep their herds and flocks healthy and ensure propagation. 

The worship of animals is looked upon by the Zuni people as a way to relate and connect to the higher more mysterious and remote powers.  The Zuni fetishes are carved to represent the animals which the Zuni people feel are the "mediators" between themselves and a higher power.

Power of the Fetishes:

The Zuni people feel  that the power of the Zuni fetish lies within the heart of the Zuni Fetish, much like the power of the animal the fetish represents.  It is believed that the hearts of the great animals of prey are infused with a spirit or medicine of magic influence over the hearts of the animals they prey upon.  The "breath of life" derived from their hearts whether near or far never fails to overcome a game animal.  The breath of the powerful prey animal overcomes the weaker animal, piercing it's heart and causing it's limbs to stiffen and the animal itself will lose it's strength.  The roar or cry of the beast of prey is fatal to the game animals which hear the cry.  It charms their senses as does the breath of their hearts.  Since the mountain lion lives by the blood or "life fluid" and flesh of the game animals, and by these alone, he is endowed not only with the above powers, but also with peculiar powers in the sense of sight and smell.  Moreover, these powers as derived from his heart, are preserved in his fetish, since his heart still lives, even though his person has been changed to stone. (Frank Hamilton Cushing Findings)

Zuni Fetish carvings need to be fed!  Make certain that you have fresh cornmeal available at all times for your Zuni fetish to feed on!  If you display your Zuni fetishes in a case, leave small amounts of cornmeal scattered throughout the case for your collection to fee upon.  If you carry a Zuni fetish with you in a pouch or pocket, be sure to sprinkle some cornmeal in the pouch or pocket along with the Zuni fetish!  The better you treat your Zuni fetish carving, the more it will do in return for you!

Zuni Fetish or Navajo Fetish?

There is a lot of controversy over Zuni Fetishes vs. Navajo Fetish carvings or Zuni Fetishes vs. fetish carvings from a pueblo other than Zuni.   We want people to be aware of the fact that in the 1970's and early eighties when the real trend towards Native American art was reaching it's height, very few Zuni carvers were actively carving.  Most of the fetishes being carved at Zuni during this time were remaining in the village for personal use among the Zuni people.  Mainly the Navajo were carving the fetishes that were sold in galleries during this time period when Native American art was really becoming mainstream.  Many people feel that the Navajo have copied this art form, by carving the fetishes, when in actuality, it was their carvings during this time period that kept the interest in Zuni Fetishes alive and helped bring about the revival of the Zuni Fetish carvings at Zuni in the early eighties.  If you purchased a fetish carving in the 70's anywhere other than at Zuni Pueblo, directly from the carver... there is a good chance that it was Navajo carved. Excellent Navajo carvers including the Davis brothers, the Livingston's, David Yazzie and Julia Norton were producing a great number of the fetish carvings during this time.  They still continue to produce quality carvings along with the 600+ Zuni Fetish carvers of today.  These Navajo Fetish carvers deserve a great deal of appreciation for keeping the spirit of the Zuni Fetishes alive!