September 2011 Artifact of the Month

Bear Fetish

Zuni

1989.3.112

Turquoise, abalone, beads, sinew

Turquoise Bear FetishThe Zuni of New Mexico revere the animals around them, believing them to have unique and powerful attributes.  Using materials such as bone, shell, rock, and semi-precious minerals, the Zuni carve small figures that represent these animals in order to gain favor from them.  These carvings, called fetishes, are used for a variety of reasons.  Some are used for hunting, some for fertility rituals and still some for healing practices.  Our blue turquoise bear fetish is one of six protective and healing fetishes in a group that also includes the mountain lion, the badger, the wolf, the eagle, and the mole.

These fetishes are arranged in a complicated hierarchy that includes six directions and their associated colors: north (yellow), west (blue), south (red), east (white), the underground (black), and the sky (all colors).  Each animal protects their assigned direction: the yellow mountain lion protects the north, the red badger the south, the white wolf the east, the black mole the underground, and the eagle of all colors the sky.  Our own blue bear is the great guardian of the west.

The bear fetish also plays an important role in the healing arts.  It is said that a bear fetish that has been properly blessed by a religious leader can have the greatest curative abilities.  Bear fetishes, especially white bears, are given to the ill with the hope that it will aid them in their recovery.  The bundle of carved abalone shell and beads tied to the back of our bear is an offering to the animal in order to enhance its power and bring additional aid to its user.