Zuni Corn Maiden Fetish - Claudia Peina (#02)

Zuni Fetishes
Corn Maiden Fetish
1 1/8" x 2 1/2"

Zuni carver Claudia Peina has carved a majestic little corn maiden sculpture of antler, coral, turquoise and jet.  Corn maidens reflect the agricultural and ritual importance of corn to Native culture. Small stands of corn are nurtured to provide the pueblo with feed to be ground for flour and ceremonial purposes. Corn maidens are emblematic of this respect for corn which sustains life and spirituality.


$280.00



Corn Spirits in Navajo Mythology

Then it was that they moved upward, leaving the dark world behind. They climbed on top of the Four Mountains, which grew upward with them, and they all moved up onto a lighter world. The Wind People brought seeds into the new world, and they planted them:

 

 

To the east, at White Mountain
To the south, at Blue Mountain
To the west, at Yellow Mountain
To the north, at Black Mountain

It was known about then that First Man was the spirit of White Corn. First Woman was the spirit of Yellow Corn. Their children also had spirit life within them and their names were Boy Blue Corn and Girl Many-Colored Corn. Together, these four decided how the earth should be divided. Pg. 73

Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.

Zuni Fetishes

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