Zuni Fetish

This small carving, known as a fetish, came from the native people of Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico.  In the early 1980s, Zuni artist Otis Neecy carved this bear from pink soapstone using a traditional pump drill and placed turquoise chips for the eyes.  A projectile point is tied to its back.  The bear is a depiction of a Zuni animal god, which, in fetish form, holds the spirit of the animal.  In Zuni society, fetish sculptures are particularly important for their function in the hunt.  The Zuni believe that carnivorous animals possess a spiritual or magical influence over their prey.  The human hunter must try to harness this spirit from a beast of prey.  Because fetishes retain the spirit of the animals depicted, they are indispensable to Zuni hunters. The arrowhead bound to this sculpture may allude to its significance in hunting.  Once limited to the members of specific priesthoods, the creation of fetish sculptures became more commercialized as the market for Native American cultural artifacts and art increased in the 20th century.

David Mulder, student in Anthropology 190, Spring 2017, conducted the research for this post.

Bedouin Rug

This Bedouin rug was purchased in Amman, the capital city of Jordan, but made in the ancient town of Madaba.  The Arabic-speaking Bedouin are a nomadic people who live across the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa.  Bedouins in the area of Jordan are traditionally sheep or goat herders, which allowed them to develop a strong weaving tradition using the wool gathered from their own herds.  Weavers, conventionally women, make many items suited to a mobile life including rugs, pillows, and other domestic goods.  Bedouin geometric patterns, like the ones found in this rug, influenced many other weavers around the world.  Bedouin designs are found across North Africa, which influenced the Spanish, which in turn inspired Navajo designs once they arrived in the New World.  The rug is currently on display in the Museum in preparation for our July 23 workshop on world textiles.


Yam Mask

The population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most diverse in the world.  There are more than 800 languages spoken, and many small communities have developed unique customs and traditions.  This yam mask comes from the Saragum #2 village in the Maprik area of the East Sepik Province.  In this area of the country, the cultivation of long yams, which can grow to a length of 12 feet, is a core element of ceremonial life.  These yams have a purely ritual purpose and are not meant to be eaten.  Following the harvest, an extravagant ceremony takes place during which each man exchanges the yams he has grown with those of a permanent partner.  The man who is able to repeatedly offer yams longer than those that he receives gains great social status.  For the exchange ceremony, the yams are outfitted as men in full ritual costume including masks like this one.  The masks are designed specifically for the yams and are not worn by people.  Constructed of woven plant fiber, similar to a basket, the masks are colored with clay pigments.  This mask is in form known as beak style, in which the human face is represented with a long nose similar to the beak of a bird.

Initiation Mask

This mask comes from the Yaka people, who live in southwestern Congo in central Africa.  Initiation and circumcision are mandatory rituals for all Yaka young men, and are organized in remote locations by the secret societies ngoni and yiwilla.  After receiving education in adult responsibilities and sexual behavior, the initiates return to their villages for festivities.  This type of mask, which resembles a bird, is used in such celebrations.  The masks are carved by the initiates and their teachers specifically for that event and are used only once.  This mask is currently on display in Professor Deacon’s Cultural Cabinet.


Bontoc Axe

This early-20th century axe comes from the Bontoc people of the Philippines.  The Bontoc live in the highlands of Luzon, the largest and most populous Philippine island.  In the past, the Bontoc practiced headhunting, beheading their enemies during warfare and claiming the severed heads as trophies.  Typically, a warrior would attempt to spear his opponent to deliver a mortal blow, but before he died, would decapitate the wounded man using an axe like this one.  The trophy head was then brought back to the village where it was smoked, washed, and ritually activated to bring good fortune to the village.  Sometimes, the lower jaw was removed to be used as a handle for ceremonial gongs.  This axe is currently on exhibit in the student-curated mini-exhibit Warfare and Violent Conflict, in which you can learn more about traditions linked to headhunting.


Inca Ceramic Container

This type of Inca ceramic vessel from the Peruvian Andes is known by a variety of names.  Often referred to as aryballos (or aribalos in Spanish) because of their similarity to jars of the same name used in ancient Greece, they are also known as Cuzco bottles or urpus in the indigenous Quechua.  Dating from the 15th to early 16th century, these containers were used to store and transport chicha, a fermented corn beer, as well as water and other foods.  To transport the vessels, ropes were pulled through the handles and wrapped around the central lug, which is marked with a stylized animal face, allowing the container to be easily carried on one’s back.  The two rings under the lip of the jar originally held a cover in place, while its pointed base allowed it to stand upright when set into the earth.  Incan aryballos are almost always decorated with polychromatic geometric designs like this one.  You can currently view this container in Professor Deacon’s Cultural Cabinet.