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Click here to hear "Wemawe" or fetishes in Shiwi
- the Zuni Language.

Zuni fetishes, known to the Shiwi people as wemawe, are small stone animal carvings that are made by the talented artisans of Zuni Pueblo. Zuni Pueblo is located in the northwest corner of New Mexico, (near the "Four Corners" region of the US of A.)

Zuni fetish carvings are a part of the Zuni religion which is extremely complex. Perhaps due to their remote location, the Zuni people have been able to retain a great deal of their culture and religion despite being among the most studied Native American people by anthropologists, past and present.

In the Zuni culture, the fetish carvings represent the animal spirit thought to reside in the stone. Initially Zuni fetishes were likely found stones that had the rudimentary shape of an animal. Arrowheads were placed on the stones with a prayer that the hunter's arrow would find its mark and in gratitude for the animal giving its life for the sustenance of the hunter and his family.

The Zunis believe in six sacred directions, Above, North, East, South, West and Below. Each of the directions is associated with a color:

Above Multicolored
North Yellow
East White
South Red
West Blue
Below Black

And each of those directions has an animal associated with it. In a healing and protective directional fetish set the animals are as follows:

Above Multi-colored Eagle
North Yellow Mountain Lion
East White Wolf
South Red Badger
West Blue Bear
Below Black Mole

A hunting directional set would only be slightly different with the bobcat replacing the badger as the southern animal and the coyote replacing the bear of the west:

Above Multi-colored Eagle
North Yellow Mountain Lion
East White Wolf
South Red Bobcat
West Blue Coyote
Below Black Mole

Additionally, there is a familial relationship between each of the animals. The Mountain lion is considered the elder brother of the bear who is the elder of the badger, considered elder to the wolf, who is elder to the eagle, who is elder to the mole.

Likewise, you may have a directional set of only mountain lions (or bears, or wolves, etc.) Each animal must be of the appropriate color as follows:

Above Multi-colored such as Picasso, Rainbow Calisilica, etc.
North Yellow such as Dolomite, Yellow Calcite, etc.
East White such as Marble, Alabaster, etc.
South Red such as Pipestone, Red Dolomite, etc.
West Blue such as Turquoise, Lapis, etc.
Below Black such as Jet or Black marble, etc.

Other tribes use (and make) fetishes but the Zunis are particularly known for their fetishes. A revival, of sorts, occurred in the late 1980's when an article appeared in the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The number of Zuni fetish carvers dramatically increased at that time and the introduction of power hand tools made the detail and realism of contemporary carvings possible.

This is, of course, just the briefest explanation of Zuni fetishes. If you want to know more, there are a number of books that discuss Zuni fetishes, their meanings and the families who carve them. We heartily recommend any of the books by Kent McManis as valuable references on the subject.

If you'd like to hear the Zuni words for the six sacred directions , or for the colors or animals associated with the directions, you should visit our Zuni Language page.

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