© 2008 Cherry Hill
tribes in the Southwest US make small stone carvings. Sacred ones are called fetishes.
The Pueblo Indians have developed the use of these carvings and it is the Zuni
that are the most skillful stone carvers of the Pueblos. Evidence of fetish use
has been documented to pre-Columbian times. Columbian times refer to those that
occurred after European influence, or after Columbus landed in the Americas in
While there were only a few dozen
Zuni carvers as recent as 20 or 30 years ago, today there may be as many as 300
Zuni carvers that belong to a dozen or more noted Zuni artist families.
are some of the Zuni carvers' family names:
Native American fetish is a carving from rock, shell, antler, wood or other
material that depicts an animal or other spirit. The carving captures the spirit
and the essence of the animal, not necessarily its exact detailed conformation.
When a carving has been blessed during a Zuni Medicine ceremony at the winter
solstice, it becomes a fetish and is considered sacred. Fetishes are either kept
by the carvers or given away to members of their tribe or other people.
that are very old may have been handed down for generations or have been tribal
possessions for hundreds of years. It is believed that these carvings were actually
live animals at one time and were petrified into stone beings by a magic bolt
of lightning during the drying of the world. There were many such beings all over
the earth's surface which have been found over the years. It is said that whosever
is of the good fortune to see such beings should treasure them for the sake of
their sacred power which was given to them during the earth's creation.
what we sell and most of what is sold elsewhere as a fetish is actually a rock
carving, but it is very common to refer to them as fetishes, so we describe
these wonderful stone animals as fetish carvings.
one believes that a spirit resides in an inanimate object, that is called animism.
When an inanimate object, such as a carving reminds one of the spirit of a being,
that is a different matter. The difference between the two words is primarily
a matter of belief. But in respect to the Zuni tradition, these carvings are not
fetishes. However choosing one of these carvings is a very personal matter. If
a carving speaks to you and makes you feel a certain way when you look at it,
perhaps it is what you have been looking for to put on your desk or carry in your
pocket. Similarly, if you are on a walk and you happen upon a stone that is already
shaped like a buffalo and you pick it up and make it yours, that is powerful.
to Zuni traditions, animals are divided up into 3 categories:
Game animals are those the furnish flesh to man. Today these animals are
often referred to as prey animals because they are the prey of meat-eating predators.
This would include deer, elk and rabbit, to name a few.
Water animals are those associated sacredly with water, not necessarily
just animals who live in the water. This would include the dolphin, frog and the
3. Prey beings are those animals who
hunt other animals to eat. Today these animals are often referred to as predators
who prey upon game animals. This would include bear, wolf, and mountain lion.
carvings, sometimes referred to as "reservation fetishes", tend to be
of the "old style" with few details and are most commonly Prey Beings.
Old style carvings are basically rectangular pieces of stone that have been shaped
into animal forms. Often it is difficult to differentiate between a bear and wolf,
for example, or a wolf and a mountain lion. They all look similar, kind of hunkered
to the ground. The old style carvings make one think that the Native American
artist saw an animal in a stone and just coaxed it out with a few simple lines.
These are often referred to as "concretion fetishes", stones that require
very little carving to bring out or release the animal in the stone.
hundreds of years, other tribes procured fetishes from the Zuni. While it is not
customary for a Zuni to carve domestic animals, such as horses, sheep, cattle
and goats, for personal use, they do so for Navajo
herdsmen to protect their animals. That is why it is possible to purchase
a wide variety of Zuni horse carvings today.
Native American stone carvings can be quite ornate and detailed and very beautiful.
They often have much intricate work and various types of inlay. Also, the posture
of the animal might be different from that of traditional carving. Modern carvers
might depict an animal running, rearing, sitting or standing up on its hind legs.
Some carvers give a bear a fish to eat, so the carving becomes a miniature sculpture
with a story.