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Zuni Fetish - What are Zuni Fetishes

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 the owner.

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.

Fetish Materials

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 work.

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.  (, 2009)

Zuni Beliefs

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, 2009).

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).


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