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Zuni Pueblo Ceremonial-style Fetish Jar, circa 1930s

C3640-fetish-jar.jpg

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Teddy Weahkee (ca.1890-1965)
  • Category: Historic
  • Origin: Zuni Pueblo
  • Medium: clay, antler, feathers, stones, leather
  • Size: 7-1/2” tall x 10-1/8” diameter of jar
  • Item # C3640
  • Price: $8,500.00

Fetishism is the worship of material things as the abodes of spirits, or more strictly, the belief that the possession and worship of an article can procure the services of a spirit lodged within it.  The Zuni strongly believe in fetishes.  To them a fetish is always potent, always holy and it can aid them when in their possession.

When not in need of having a fetish in their possession, the Zuni nevertheless provides for it in a manner of respect.  A pottery jar is provided for storage of a fetish and for providing proper care of it.  Fetishes are ceremonially fed when not in use.  Food from the table is sometimes used but sacred corn meal is most often given.  In performing the rite of feeding, the food is placed in a dish or on a piece of paper, and laid beside the fetish or the jar in which the fetish is kept.  The food is left for 30 minutes or less in which time it is supposed to nourish the spirit of the fetish, after which the food is buried or thrown into the river.  It is never burned or just thrown away.

The fetish jar is the standard vessel shape of traditional ollas but has a hole, an inch or so in diameter, through which the fetishes are fed.  The hole is near the bottom of the jar for convenience.  Fetish jars are decorated with designs as any jar would be but have been subjected to such frequent washings that the designs are nearly worn away.  Often, the jars have been covered with a substance rubbed over the surface.  In ancient times, this was often animal blood, but today it does not seem to be so. Fetishes resembling serpents or animals are often attached to the neck of the jar as embellishments.  They are not considered to be fetishes like the ones placed into the jar for protection and feeding.

The southwest Indian pottery jars are homes in which the fetishes live and usually would have importance only from their contact with the fetish.  Once it is no longer used to house fetishes, then the jar has no connection to the fetishes and therefore no ceremonial significance and may be given away or sold, even to a non-Indian.

The fetishes around the rim of this jar were made by Zuni artist Teddy Weahkee (ca.1890-1965).  They were fashioned from animal horns and embellished with items meant to strengthen them with power.  Weahkee worked with archaeologists on the excavation of Hawikku, an ancestral Zuni pueblo, thus his exposure to the earliest Zuni fetish styles. The jar itself appears to have been a regular olla that has been coated with a white substance on the exterior.  Appropriating regular jars for conversion to fetish jars is the norm.  The maker of the jar is unknown.  There is a wood plug used to seal the feeding hole when not being used. 

 

Condition:  very good condition with one spot near the base of the jar that popped during firing and before the jar being converted for use as a fetish jar.

References:

Zuni Fetishism by Ruth F. Kirk

- El Palacio, vol. L, nos. 6,7,8,9, and 10, June-October 1943. 

Provenance: from the collection of a New Mexico family

Teddy Weahkee (ca.1890-1965)
  • Category: Historic
  • Origin: Zuni Pueblo
  • Medium: clay, antler, feathers, stones, leather
  • Size: 7-1/2” tall x 10-1/8” diameter of jar
  • Item # C3640
  • Price: $8,500.00

C3640-fetish-jar.jpgC3640-large.jpg Click on image to view larger.