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Zuni Fetish Animal Carvings

What Do They Signify?


Zuni Fetish Carving

Zuni Carving - Hummingbird

Courtesy: Outdoorsygirl.com
Updated July 11, 2008
The Zuni are known for their fetish animal carvings. The carvings made for collectors and tourists have no religious significance but the predecessors to these marvelous little stone and shell animals did.

Each type of Fetish held special significance. While each individual fetish had its own unique spirit, certain animal forms have traditionally held specific meanings. The animals may be associated with a trait, or one of the Zuni’s six sacred directions - East, South, West, North, Above and Below. Here are some of the animals and their associated meanings:

Bear – medicine
Snake – lightning
Horned Toad – good luck
Frog – fertility
Coyote – hunting, also the West
Badger –tenacity, also the South
Mountain Lion – the North
Wolf – swiftness, also the West
Eagle – great vision, also Above
Mole - below

Collectors prize Zuni fetishes for their beauty as an Indian art form. Carvers will price their fetishes according to the number of hours it took to make the carving and according to the value of the stone(s) used. While these art carvings are not imbued with the spirits of the traditional fetishes, they may lead us to consider the relationship between man and the animal world.

Fetish Necklaces

The Zuni carve small fetishes and string them with heishe beads to make exquisite fetish necklaces. In order to obtain a genuine fetish necklace expect to pay hundreds of dollars. Here are some things to consider when looking for the real thing:

Many fetish necklaces for sale around the country are not Zuni made, although they may be represented as such. The keys to determining authenticity are:
  • Knowledge of the carver
  • Materials
  • Price
There are perhaps twenty carvers making fetish necklaces in Zuni today. These carvers can be referenced in books on Zuni carvers. With so few genuine Zuni fetish necklace makers the availability and selection is limited. Beware of “stacked necklaces,” i.e. fetish necklaces with no beads or "heishi" (pronounced he-she) between the fetishes. The best and finest heishi is made in Santo Domingo Pueblo.

Fake necklaces are made in Gallup, New Mexico or imported from Asia and contain pen shell and not heishe, and are definitely not Zuni. Unscrupulous manufacturers use pen shell because it is extremely cheap and bears a resemblance to olive shell heishe. Price is the key; pen shell is less than a dollar a strand, while heishe costs far more.

Beware of necklaces that have more than three strands of fetishes. These days it is extremely rare to see a Zuni fetish carver making necklaces of more than three strands. If you see a necklace with the bottom center piece in the form of a wingspread eagle or if the necklace incorporates carvings of armadillos or katsina-like figures, it could be a fake.

Perhaps the easiest way to tell if it's a phony is if it costs less than $200.00 per strand, is on sale or is offered at a discount. This happens very rarely with collectable authentic Zuni fetish necklaces.

From the Keshi Website - Beware of Fake Fetish Necklaces

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