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About Zuni Fetishes /American Indian Art

More Zuni Fetish Articles

  1. Collecting American Indian Art
  2. Zuni Fetish Background Information
  3. Zuni Fetish Meanings
  4. Zuni Fetish FAQ's

Collecting American Indian Art

American Indian art, in all forms, has never been more alive and dynamic. It continues to be one of the most gratifying and exciting forms to collect. American Indian art combines age-old tradition, innovation and talent. It results in wide varieties of art for all levels of collecting, irrespective of whether you are beginning with a first-time purchase or have been collecting for a number of years. Whichever you do, it is gratifying to know that it helps to continue of the expression and livelihood of American Indian artisans and the preservation of this country's only indigenous art.

These products, many influenced by centuries of history, combine an intrinsic spirit with timeless appeal. The interest in and appreciation of the artistry of American Indians has, unfortunately resulted in misrepresentations and imports in the marketplace. The popularity has also brought in merchandise that is legitimately represented as "American Indian Inspired". This should not be confused with authentic handmade American Indian arts and crafts. It is important to understand that when you purchase the genuine product, you help to preserve the integrity and commitment of today's artists.

Background on Fetishes

A fetish is a Native American carving believed to have special power. Many Native American tribes create and use fetishes of which the most renowned fetish carvers are the Zuni tribe, who call themselves Asiwi (Ah-she-wee).  A Zuni fetish, or wemawe, is a carved object of an animal or revered god.

Zuni fetishes have been used for many purposes: to enable hunters to catch game, to make game more plentiful, and also for curing ceremonies.  Fetishes may protect individuals as well as the community.  The Zuni believe that animals are more like the deities and have more power than man.  The Zuni also believe that both practical and spiritual power reside in their fetishes.

There are two major groupings of fetishes (and some overlap between then):
  1. Protective or healing animals include:
    • the mountain lion
    • the bear
    • the badger
    • the wolf
    • the eagle
    • the mole
  2. The hunting and prey animals include:
    • the mountain lion
    • the coyote
    • the bobcat
    • the wolf
    • the eagle
    • the mole

Horn and antler fetishes are powerful and highly valued because they once were part of a living animal. They are associated with sea serpents, whose power is considered greater than the beast gods.

Zuni Fetish Meanings

Fetish Meaning
Armadillo Slow, Sure, Gets things right. Keeper of the home
Badger Aggressiveness, Perseverance, the ability to reach a desired goal
Bat Guardian of the night, cleaner
Bear Strength, Introspection, spiritual journey though life. The white bear is medicine.
Beaver Builder, hardworking, power of working and attaining a sense of achievement
Bobcat Knows secrets, clairvoyance ability
Buffalo Endurance to overcome, great emotional courage provider to all
Butterfly The art of transformation, the ability to know or to change the mind
Coyote Laughter, humor and foolishness, the master trickster who tricks himself
Crow Keeper of sacred law
Deer Gentleness
Dog true friend, loyal
Dolphin spirit of friendship, trust, loyalty
Duck spirits of those who passed on
Eagle a connection with the divine, a soaring spirit that transcends Personal problems, creator, teacher, great integrity
Elk Teaches that pacing yourself will increase your stamina
Fish Ability to hide emotions, purifier
Fox Camouflage, protection
Frog Bringer of rain, abundance, and fertility
Hawk messenger of the gods
Horned Toad Longevity, self-reliance
Horse possesses healing powers, swiftness, strength
Hummingbird messenger, stopper of time
Lizard conversation, agility
Mole Keeper of the underground and crops
Moose headstrong, unstoppable, longevity
Mountain Lion leadership, resourcefulness
Mouse paying attention to detail, scrutiny
Otter Laughter, curiosity, mischievous Women medicine, the balanced female side
Owl Can see what others canžt, essence of true wisdom. Protector of the home.
Parrot symbolic to the sun, as rainbows are the product of rain and sunlight
Porcupine the power of faith and trust
Quail sacred spirit, ceremonial, holy
Rabbit The special guardian of women in child birth, also associated with safe birth and long life for children
Raccoon Bandit, shy, resourceful
Ram sense of self worth,
Raven Magic, the messenger of the great mystery, a change in consciousness
Seal family oriented, possesses power in numbers
Skunk vary, conspicuous, intense
Snake life, death, rebirth
Spider creative patterns of life
Squirrel natural intelligence, saver, protects reserves
Turkey smart, elusive, festive
Turtle oldest symbol of Mother Earth, longevity
Wolf Teacher, pathfinder, sharing of your knowledge, never ending journey

Fetish FAQ'S

1. Where do Indian artisans get materials such as lapis? That's not traditional is it?

Today, artisans are using many materials that may or may not be indigenous to their area. Historically, a variety of materials such as shells were exchanged among tribes. With the arrival of Europeans, trade began for other materials such as beads, silver, and gold.

Today many Native Americans seek out a variety of things to achieve their personal expression of art. These may be purchased from gem/supply stores or through traders whom they find to be reliable sources. It is the evolution of this art form that is one of the exciting aspects of buying American Indian arts and crafts.

2. Which form of these handmade products is my best investment?

When you are buying American Indian arts and crafts you really are buying pieces of art. Therefore, your personal taste and budget will guide you to the right choice. Though it is true that many pieces have appreciated in value across time, first and foremost, you should buy the piece because you like it.

Today, there is good quality work being done today by many artisans, in different media, styles and price ranges. Collecting art by America's Native artisans is a very personal and exiting for many reasons. For those who choose to own the grace and beauty of their products, collecting them will be a rewarding experience.

3. What Is "Authentic"? Is There a Law That Protects Me?

Under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P. L. 101-644), all products must be marketed truthfully regarding the heritage and tribal affiliation of the artist or craftsperson. The law prohibits misrepresentation of Indian arts and crafts within the United States. It covers all arts and crafts produced after 1935 and is a truth-in-advertising law. Under the act, "Indian" is defined as a person who

1.) is an enrolled member of a State or Federally recognized Tribe, or

2.) has been certified as an Indian artisan by a governing body of an Indian Tribe.

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