What is a Zuni Fetish
A Zuni fetish, or wemawe, is a carved object of an animal or revered god
made by a member of the Zuni tribe. Traditionally, each fetish
carving is believed to have inherent powers or qualities that may aid
Rocks whose shape naturally resembled animals or people were called "stone
ancients" or Ahlashiwe, and served as the first fetishes. They were made of
natural materials such as ivory, amber, turquoise, shell, alabaster, and onyx. Fetish necklaces were also created from the
earliest times, the fetishes often strung together with shell beads called heshe,
coral, turquoise, or argillite (Pagewise, 2009).
Glossary of Zuni Fetish Meanings.
Historically, the materials used by carvers were often indigenous to
the region or procured by trade. The most important of these
materials was turquoise which is considered by the Zuni as the sacred
stone. Jet, shell (primarily mother-of-pearl), and coral are also
frequently used. These materials and their associated colors are
principle in the Zuni sunface, a cultural symbol which is present in
Zuni jewelry and fetishes and represents their sun father. Other
materials used are Zuni rock, fishrock, jasper, pipestone, marble, or
organic items such as bone and deer or elk antler (McManis, 1998).
Today fetishes are made from a great variety of materials including
natural and artificial materials. Fetishes are often embellished
with arrowheads, shell, feathers, and beads to increase their power, and
as offerings to the gods. Glossary
of Fetish Stones / Materials.
Who are the Zuni
The Zuni are an Indian tribe who reside on the
Arizona / New Mexico border, along the Zuni River. Physical
evidence of permanent dwellings date their existence in the region back
as far as 700 C.E.
Although other tribes produce fetishes, the Zunis are arguably the
most skilled of all at carving fetishes. Tribes like the Navajo
use Zuni fetishes to guard livestock, among other functions. Zunis
also sell unconsecrated fetishes and fetish necklaces to tourists and
collectors, and many individual artists have become famous for their
Where do the Zuni live
The Zuni Pueblo is nestled in a scenic valley,
surrounded by the enchanting mesas, located about 150 miles west of
Albuquerque. The main reservation, is located in the McKinley and
Cibola counties in the western part of New Mexico. The estimated
number of acres encompasses about 450,000 acres. The tribe has
land holdings in Catron County, New Mexico and Apache County, Arizona,
which are not adjoining to the main reservation.
With elevations that range from nearly 8,000 feet on the western slope
of the Continental Divide to about 6,000 feet in other areas, Zuni lands
encompass a great variety of habitats and natural resources. (www.ashiwi.org,
A Zuni creation myth describes how the first ancestors came from four
caves in the underworld. They encountered a world covered with water,
earthquakes, and dangerous beasts. The Children of the Sun dried and
hardened the earth with lightning arrows, then they touched each animal,
shrinking and turning them to stone. The ones that escaped became the
ancestors of today's animals. Stones that resemble animals are believed
to be one of the original petrified beings and are very powerful (Pagewise,
The Zunis believe that human beings are the most complete beings in creation,
which also makes them the least equipped to survive in the natural world. Because animals, with their fangs, claws, sharp eyes, and other keen senses, are
closer to nature, they can act as messengers to the gods. So the Zunis learned
to invoke the spirits of animals through fetishes that looked like animals and
gods. Fetishes were ceremonially fed and treated with respect because it was
believed fetishes were alive as well as very powerful. They had to be cared for
because if they weren't, they would bring ill fortune (Pagewise, 2009).
Fetishes are employed to ask for help with treating disease, farming,
gambling, hunting, fertility, rain, personal problems, and protection
from witchcraft or one's enemies. They bring good luck, protect
households, and play a role in tribal initiations and curing rituals. But only a pure heart and an honest appeal will get the desired results. They can belong to an individual, a secret society, a clan, or a tribe.
Their power lies in the spirit dwelling within the fetish, not in the
fetish itself (Pagewise, 2009).