Double Serpentine Turtle
Fetish Set with Jet and
Mother of Pearl Eyes
2 5/8" tall x 1 5/8" wide
Turtles are water symbols to the Native people of the Colorado Plateau. In this carving, master artist Ricky Laahty has put his skills to work and created a stack of water creatures. Always on the lookout for special stones, Ricky has used a deep green serpentine to craft this marine marvel. Yertle the Turtle King has nothing on this seafaring duo.
also was a man made of stone who lay stretched out on a hill beside the river
just west of the Aztec Ruins. When anyone walked past he would kick them into
the San Juan River, and when they were drowned, he would feed them to his two
children. He was called Tseh-ed-ah-eh-delkithly, which means Kicking Rock. His
children lived in the river and ate the drowned people. Pgs. 70,71
Next day after breakfast, having found out from his mother where he should go, he started off to Tseh-ed-ah-eh-delkithly (the Rock-that-Kicks-People-into-the-River). He saw a man lying on his back with his head on a bluff and his feet near the river, and he was pulling the whiskers out of his chin. When Nayenezgani tried to pass, he kicked at him, and Nayenezgani said: "What is the matter, Sechai (Grandfather) ?" The Rock Man said : "My leg was cramped, and I had to kick to straighten it out." Four times he was questioned and he answered four times. After that Nayenezgani took his stone knife and hit the Rock Man on the head, and cut through his breast, hips and legs, chopping him into four pieces and then scalping him.
The Rock Man's children lived in the river and Nayenezgani threw the pieces of the Rock Man down to them, and heard them quarreling for the pieces of meat, saying: "That is my piece," not knowing that they were eating their own father. Then Nayenezgani went down into the river and killed all the children except two. One was called Kahtsen (Alligator) and Nayenezgani said to him: "You must never hurt anyone again, will you promise this?" And the alligator answered "I am not sure." Nayenezgani asked this four times but the Alligator would not promise. The other child who was spared was called Siss-'Tyel (Turtle), and was told to be good in the future, as he would be used for medicine by men, and his shell would be used to drink out of and also to make medicine in, and the turtle agreed to this and said that he would always be good. So Nayenezgani went home on the rainbow and they danced and celebrated his return as before. Pgs. 92,93
A turtle valued for beads made from its shell. The shells of turtles are used as medicine cups. Pg. 157
The clear, deep, robins-egg-blue turquoise they call male, and the stone of a greenish hue they call female. Pg. 230
Whiteshell [yo lgai] designates the 'white from which beads are made.' It is one of the many examples in Navaho where the same word means a part or a whole, the material or the object manufactured from it. Whiteshell may refer to the thin, flat, white shell beads greatly treasured by the Navaho and often incorrectly called wampum by the whites. Formerly, the beads were made of a seashell, doubtless imported through trade from the west coast, probably from the Gulf of California.
According tla h's creation story, the spirit of whiteshell was placed inside Moon, which was composed of ice; the spirit of turquoise was put into Sun, that of Abalone into Black Wind, that of redstone into Yellow Wind. JS, speaking of the Shooting Chant, said Moon's house was whiteshell.
An indispensable requirement of a chant is the basket; at least one is believed to represent whiteshell. All the precious stones are mythical basket materials. Frequently the basket is of one stone with a contrasting rim - whiteshell rimmed with turquoise or the reverse; abalone rimmed with redstone or the reverse, jet with an abalone rim or the reverse. Bowls, though not as common as baskets, may be deific properties. White Body of the fourth world carried a bowl of whiteshell.
A song intoned at the preparation of the War Ceremony rattlestick refers to Child-of-the-water's queue as whiteshell.
Turquoise [do tliji], 'the-particular-one-which-is-blue,' may be the general collective term for all the precious stones, wealth, or mixed offerings. Good fortune is attributed to the stone. A few of the most unusual references to turquoise are as follows:
Sun gave one of his wonderful children a pair of turquoise earstrings to enable him to win at gambling.
The hair of a remarkable girl, desired by many suitors, was covered with images of coyote and birds of different kinds, all of turquoise; and she possessed a huge disk of turquoise.
Four rattles of buffalo hide are important equipment in the Shooting Chant. One explanation says they symbolize Big Snakes, another that they represent Sun's turquoise rattles.
Sun's son smoked a turquoise pipe, as did Frog.
Perhaps the most unusual allusion is that to First Woman, who, in the first world, was intrigued by a distant fire. When she got to it she found a man, who said, "Your fire is rock crystal; mine is turquoise." This identification was cited as a reason why the two should live together.
The Twins' bows and arrows are sometimes said to be of turquoise.
The reference to turquoise as symbolizing green vegetation in Coyote's first model of the world is interesting.
Changing Woman's home had a turquoise door, and four footprints of turquoise led to a turquoise room. Black Sky Man pulled her up with a cane of turquoise and she became a degree younger than she had been when the Sky People came to her. The cane corresponded with one she gave her wandering people with which they struck the desert and brought forth water.
A small but perfect turquoise bead and an olivella shell tied on a string make the bead token of the Shooting and Hail chants. Sun may be identified with whiteshell or with turquoise.
Abalone [di tcili] is 'the-particular-one-that-is-iridescent, the-one-whose-various-colors-scintillate'; the name probably derives from the stem -tcil, meaning 'tremble.' Abalone is associated with yellow and with Black Wind, whose house, according to JS. was of abalone.
Abalone was offered to Blue Crane to induce him to sing over Holy Man, who had become ill and weak after his many wanderings.
Jet [ba cdjini] is the black substance found in large deposits in the Southwest. A soft cannel coal with a structure that lends itself readily to carving, it takes a beautiful polish. Although jet is the jewel representing black, it is mentioned less frequently than the other jewels.
When the domesticated quadrupeds were brought into existence, a basket of jet edged with abalone and one of abalone rimmed with jet were mentioned. Many birds are now black because they ate of the eggs in the jet basket. The jewel symbol of the northern mountain [dibentsah] is jet.
At the time abalone was offered Blue Heron for his supernatural advice, a piece of jet was offered to a bird called tsih.
When Monster Slayer was knocked out for having drawn the figure of a person on the bull-roarer, Big Fly instructed him to make the offering for restoration by stringing pieces of jet as tassels of grass.
Native redstone [tseltci'] contains ferric coloring matter ranging from dull red to dark pink, often streaked with white. Some of it is probably carnelian. Coral, introduced by the Spanish, has become a substitute, even being called redstone. Examples of the role played by redstone have occurred in the discussion of red; others are the following:
After testing his sons, Sun led them to the edge of the world. There they saw sixteen poles extending from earth to sky - four of whiteshell, four of turquoise, four of abalone, and four of redstone. Sun asked them to choose which they would ascend on; Wind whispered that they should choose the red since they had come seeking war.
All jewels are closely associated with Sun's house, which they compose. Opposite it were five mountains - redstone, glittering, abalone, whiteshell, and turquoise - Sun's mountains, all harmless.
The rattles with which Sun tried to destroy his sons are mentioned in the order: turquoise, whiteshell, abalone, redstone.
Yellow Wind's house was of redstone [JS].
Among the canes furnished Earth People by Changing Woman was one of redstone.
It is doubtful that agate [no lyini] should be included among the precious stones. If we do, to be consistent we should include the other kinds of ceremonial flint, for agate belongs more properly with them than with precious stones. The following will explain the connection between flints and precious stones:
When Sun was convinced that The Twins were really his children, he placed a small agate man inside the body of Monster Slayer to identify him with Sun and make him invincible. A miniature man of turquoise became Child-of-the-water's corresponding symbol.
The stones of the sweathouse were of agate when Sun exposed his sons to the heat test; it was expected to destroy them. Although it exploded, the agate did not destroy The Twins because Talking God had dug a small hole into which they crawled, and had covered it with four white shells. When the test was over, the white shells turned into redstone, abalone, turquoise, and whiteshell.
An agate arrowpoint forms a part of the head bundle of some ceremonies. Fastened to the hair of a patient in the War Ceremony, it represents the flint points that fell from the breast of Big Monster when he was conquered.
Rock Crystal [tseya'tindi ni, nto li, tseso'] is usually not mentioned among the precious stones, but has many ceremonial usages. tseya'tindi ni means 'stone-through-which-light-beams'; nto li means 'the-particular-one-which-is-clear, -translucent.' In many rites it symbolizes fire, especially in the symbolical lighting of the prayersticks, which may contain tobacco. tseso', 'rock-star,' may mean glass as well as crystal.
A crystal was put inside the dark cloud in which Scavenger was enveloped to furnish him light.
At creation a rock crystal was put into the mouth of each person so that everything he said would come true, a probable reason why a crystal is part of many pollen bags, especially the personal ones carried for safety; the pollen represents well-being, the crystal the prayer - that is, the word that makes the prayer come true.
The glass cup holding the chant lotion of the Shooting Chant is a substitute for crystal.
Changing Woman had binoculars of rock crystal.
The line of crystal on Coyote's model of the world represented ice, the only association between crystal and ice I have found.
The basket for the emetic in the first War Ceremony was of crystal.
MIXED JEWELS, the tiny fragments of precious stones accompanying the prayersticks, often indicate that the reed or plant material of which they consist stands for the jewels. Similarly, the feathered wands of the Shooting Chant are substitutes for Sun's jewel arrows, as is the rattlestick of the War Ceremony. Sun's jewel arrows represent the Sun-Wind combination - turquoise for Sun, whiteshell for Moon, abalone for Black Wind, redstone for Yellow Wind; in the Night Chant, the jewels represent the Day Skies.
When the pot drum was prepared for the War Ceremony, the jewels stood for the 'floor of the drum's house,' into which the sounds were pounded.
Jish is best described as the Navajo medicine practitioner’s equivalent to a Western doctor’s “little black bag”. Everything needed for numerous ceremonies is painstakingly gathered over many years. Even though all the individual elements of a jish are not used in every ceremony, the complete contents are required to be present at every ceremony. Showing up with only partial contents of a jish is akin to arriving with half an ambulance. In other words, the patient is short-changed by not having the full power of the contents of a complete jish. For clarification, jish refers not only to the complete bundle, but also everything contained within that medicine bundle.
In her definitive book, Navajo Medicine Bundles or Jish, Acquisition, Transmission, and Disposition in the Past and Present, author Charlotte Frisbie writes about fetishes as a part of Changing Woman’s sacred jish:
“This bundle represents Changing Woman's bundle which was brought to the Earth's surface by First Man and which was the source of all surface life. The mountain earth bundle contains earth collected from the four (or six) sacred mountains. Pollen is applied to the earth from each mountain and each is wrapped separately in unwounded buckskin and tied with buckskin thongs. A precious jewel is attached to each of the resulting pouches to indicate its directional association. Between these pouches are placed stick-like cylinders of mirage stone (aragonite), agate, and quartz. Stone figures of horses, game, and other things are also added. Then everything is covered with pollen and all of the individual pouches are wrapped in unwounded buckskin to form the bundle”.
As are most fetish collectors, I was initially more familiar with Zuni fetishes and their representations. As my studies proceeded deeper into Navajo culture, the use of personal fetish pouches by Navajo people as well as their presence in jish came to my attention. Navajo people take great pride in their livestock whether they be horses, cattle, sheep or goats. Again, Charlotte Frisbie explains the “little medicine bags”.
“The tiny bags for pollen are made of buckskin and usually also contain small fetishes or other items. These pollen bags, like the personal pollen sacks carried by lay Navajos, reportedly are more likely to have beadwork or other decorations than are the other small medicine sacks”.
The Navajo people often call on their neighbors, the Zuni, to carve small horses, cattle, or sheep which they may carry in a little medicine bag as an added protection for their herds and flocks. While it is true that a great number of Navajo people are called upon to carve a myriad of animals for a demanding fetish market, some also follow in the tradition of providing these special protection animals for personal use.
Harold Davidson and Lee Bedonie are two of the finest Navajo fetish carvers working today. Harold likes to follow in the tradition of creating the protecting livestock figures such as sheep, goats and horses as well as the more exotic bears and bison. Lee tends toward the livestock animals, preferring donkeys, horses, goats and for fun, throws in the occasional chicken. Their carvings are beautifully executed with distinctive details wrought in their favorite pipestone and alabaster materials.
---Georgiana Kennedy Simpson