A Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings is one of four guides to southwestern indigenous arts written by Susan Lamb and published by Western National Parks Association (www.wnpa.org). The others are: A Guide to Navajo Rugs, A Guide to Pueblo Pottery, and A Guide to Native American Folk Art. All are available at www.wnpa.org.
For at least a thousand years, the Zuni people (A:shiwi) have venerated fetishes, or objects in the shape of animals they believe are imbued with the spirits of powerful beings that protect, heal, and help their owners. Today, dozens of families carve animal figures derived from the original fetishes to sell to visitors and collectors all over the world through museum shops, mail order, and the Internet. These tiny allies continue to benefit the Zuni by supplementing the income available in this beautiful but remote nation.
Zuni tradition maintains that fetishes originated in the "Time of the Beginning" when we humans climbed up from a shadowy netherworld into this one. Yet our new home was swampy and we floundered, preyed upon by ravenous beasts. The Warrior Twins, offspring of the sun, hardened the mud but still the beasts could catch us. And so with a bow (the rainbow) and arrows (lightning), the Twins struck those who pursued us, turning them to stone. Some of these ancient predators can be recognized in rock formations in the landscape, although they are somewhat worn down by wind and water. Many that were shriveled into miniature versions of their former selves are occasionally discovered lying on the ground. Even though these animals have been petrified, their spirits are still alive inside…