Corn Maiden / Dow e:washdoh’i
This traditional Corn Maiden is carved from antler by Carl Etsate. She is adorned with turquoise and wears a tablita headress. She stands 8.5cm tall.
Corn Maidens encouraged the first corn to grow by pulling on it, leaving marks where their fingers gripped the stalks. As they embraced the plants by the changing light of a bonfire, the ears of corn acquired their different colours.
The corn maidens are daughters of the sun. When they flees winter ensues. When the Zuni people neglect them there is drought and the corn does not grow or ripen. Thy must be coaxed to return and bring health and fertility. They are associated with the seasons and with the flesh of the corn itself. There are eight Corn Maidens: six associated with the differently coloured corn of the six directions, one for sweet corn and one for squash.
The Zuni People are known for their fine pottery, jewellery and also for traditional, miniature animal and bird carvings known as ‘fetishes’. A fetish is a ritual object, empowered by ceremony and imbued with spirits. Such power objects are believed to assist in healing, hunting, fertility and protection.
Zuni Fetishes are carvings that have been used by the A:Shiwi (The People) for over a thousand years. Originally fetishes were found objects that resembled animals and were then adorned with arrowheads, turquoise, coral, shells and feathers. Sometimes these natural forms were further enhanced to emphasise the appearance of the animal spirit within. Zuni fetish carvers gradually enhanced this process to develop a carving tradition of beautiful, characterful and sometimes intricate ritual objects. As well as an animal a fetish may be a corn maiden such as this one by Gloria Chattin.
The carving of a fetish is a way of honouring the animal spirit. By honouring the animals and acknowledging their special “medicine” or natural gifts, we can recognise these attributes within ourselves. When wearing or carrying a fetish or placing it carefully in our homes, we can focus on certain animal like qualities. Fetishes maybe used to discover, enhance or simply remember a connection with nature. They remind us of the instinctive wisdom of the natural world and all that we can learn by respecting and living close to nature and observing the ways of animals and birds.
The Zunis feel that it is the spirit within each fetish that is of value, rather than the object itself. Therefore, fetishes are treated with respect and occasionally given offerings of cornmeal.
Today many Zunis make their living carving fetishes that are also exquisite works of art in their own right. Certain families and individuals are highly regarded in the tribe for their fetish carvings and their pieces are particularly are sought after by collectors. The Boone family are known for their distinctive old style fetishes.
Carvers often favour a particular animal, perhaps influenced by a tribal connection such as clan affiliation. The materials used are usually local rocks such as Zuni rock, serpentine, picture jasper, dolomite turquoise and jet but other materials are readily employed when available – deer antler, corals, shells and fossils as well as pipestone, onyx and lapis.
Zuni is the largest of New Mexico’s nineteen Indian Pueblos with more than 600 square miles of reservation land and a population of over 11,000. Zuni is considered to be one of the most traditional of all the Pueblos. Zuni has a unique language, culture and history that has resulted in part from geographical isolation, being located much further south than the other Pueblos. The Zuni Nation has its own constitutional government, courts, police force, school system and economic base. Around 80% of families are involved in the creative arts.