Zuni Fetishes From Spirit Of The Lioness

Understanding Zuni Fetishes and Carvings

The Zuni people are renowned among American Indian tribes for their artistic skill in making fetishes, carvings believed to contain the power and spirit of the animal represented.  Often the animals are portrayed in manners which originate from ancient cultural beliefs.

Some fetishes have special features such as an inlaid “heartline” leading to the powers in the animal's heart.  Others are decorated with offerings to the fetish, such as arrowheads, shells or gem stones.  These are given by the artist in gratitude to the animal's spirit and to further empower the fetish to help the one who possesses it.

The design of each Zuni fetish comes from the inspiration of the artist and the features of the carving material being worked with.  Using techniques handed down for generations, the artists craft their signature styles, producing designs exemplifying their personal skill and influences.

The Fetish Carving Process

Many different techniques are used in Zuni carving.  A few carvers do all their carving work solely by hand. Most Zuni carvers use a process that involves working both by hand and also with motorized tools such as a handheld Foredom or Dremel and table top motors that can be fitted with interchangeable wheels for cutting, grinding and buffing.  The fetish carving process described to me by Daniel Chattin and Jovanna Poblano includes the following ten steps:

1. Slicing and cutting of stone

2. Grinding or shaping of stone to initial outline

3. Sanding, both by machine and by hand

4. Drilling and detail carving

5. Inlay of turquoise, coral and gemstone into the carving

6. Final sanding by hand with a 600-1200 grit sand paper

7. Polishing of carving with muslin wheel and buffing compound

8. Cleaning off buffing compound with a brush wheel

9. Painting the details of the carving with a mixture of epoxy with black jet dust

10. Final cleaning of the fetish carving

Every Zuni fetish made is a unique, unencumbered work of art.

Stewart Quandelacy starburst jasper medicine bear

Healer and protector, bear is among the most renowned
and respected of all the fetish animals.

Derrick Kaamasee, antler eagle

Protector of the heavens and represented by all colors
together, eagle is one of the most difficult
fetishes to carve.

Bryston Bowannie marble wolf

Protector, especially of the family,
wolf is also one of the most prized hunting fetishes.

Revered throughout the Pueblo tribes, corn maidens
abound in the spirituality and legends of Pueblo Indian cultures.


Zuni Fetish Pots

Zuni culture holds that a fetish must be fed to sustain its power.  The traditional food is blue corn meal and crushed turquoise.  A fetish pot or fetish bowl is a place to keep and to feed a fetish.

Miniature Fetish Pot   by Marvellita Phillips,  Zuni

Covered with crushed turquoise; feathers and three serpentine and  pipestone bears mounted on sides.  Inside of the pot is a fourth bear and crushed corn.  


Zuni Fetishes & Carvings, revised second edition, May 2010. Kent McManis; Rio Nuevo Publishers - Tucson AZ
Spirit In The Stone, A Handbook Of Southwest Indian Animal Carvings And Beliefs, Second Edition, 2016. Mark Bahti; Rio Nuevo Publishers-    Tucson AZ.   This book refers to carvers/carvings from multiple Southwest Indian tribes.
The Fetish Carvers Of Zuni, Revised Edition, December 1995.  The Maxwell Museum Of Anthropology, Albuquerque; University Of New Mexico
Zuni Fetishes, Using Native American Objects For Meditation, Reflection and Insight. Hal Zina Bennett - Harper San Francisco

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