Fetishism

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Teenage girls being initiated into the Sande society, Sierra Leone, West Africa. Text: "The dancers all wore fetishes peculiar to the order, each having special significance. These consisted of several ropes of cane cut into beads and of rows of seeds which had been bored and filled with Bundu (Sande) medicine." A group of Bundu female dancers all wearing necklaces of bea Wellcome V0015968.jpg
Teenage girls being initiated into the Sande society, Sierra Leone, West Africa. Text: "The dancers all wore fetishes peculiar to the order, each having special significance. These consisted of several ropes of cane cut into beads and of rows of seeds which had been bored and filled with Bundu (Sande) medicine."

A fetish (derived from the French fétiche, which comes from the Portuguese feitiço, and this in turn from Latin facticius, 'artificial' and facere, 'to make') is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a human-made object that has power over others. Essentially, fetishism is the attribution of inherent non-material value, or powers, to an object. Talismans and amulets are related. Fetishes are often used in spiritual or religious context.

Contents

Historiography

The term fetish has evolved from an idiom used to describe a type of object created in the interaction between European travelers and Native West Africans in the early modern period to an analytical term that played a central role in the perception and study of non-Western art in general and African art in particular.

William Pietz, who, in 1994, conducted an extensive ethno-historical study [2] of the fetish, argues that the term originated in the coast of West Africa during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Pietz distinguishes between, on the one hand, actual African objects that may be called fetishes in Europe, together with the indigenous theories of them, and on the other hand, "fetish", an idea, and an idea of a kind of object, to which the term above applies. [3]

According to Pietz, the post-colonial concept of "fetish" emerged from the encounter between Europeans and Africans in a very specific historical context and in response to African material culture.

He begins his thesis with an introduction to the complex history of the word:

My argument, then, is that the fetish could originate only in conjunction with the emergent articulation of the ideology of the commodity form that defined itself within and against the social values and religious ideologies of two radically different types of noncapitalist society, as they encountered each other in an ongoing cross-cultural situation. This process is indicated in the history of the word itself as it developed from the late medieval Portuguese feitiço, to the sixteenth-century pidgin Fetisso on the African coast, to various northern European versions of the word via the 1602 text of the Dutchman Pieter de Marees... The fetish, then, not only originated from, but remains specific to, the problem of the social value of material objects as revealed in situations formed by the encounter of radically heterogeneous social systems, and a study of the history of the idea of the fetish may be guided by identifying those themes that persist throughout the various discourses and disciplines that have appropriated the term. [4]

Stallybrass concludes that "Pietz shows that the fetish as a concept was elaborated to demonize the supposedly arbitrary attachment of West Africans to material objects. The European subject was constituted in opposition to a demonized fetishism, through the disavowal of the object." [5]

History

Initially, the Portuguese developed the concept of the fetish to refer to the objects used in religious practices by West African natives. [4] The contemporary Portuguese feitiço may refer to more neutral terms such as charm, enchantment, or abracadabra , or more potentially offensive terms such as juju , witchcraft , witchery, conjuration or bewitchment. The medieval Lollards issued polemics that anticipated fetishism. [6]

The concept was popularized in Europe circa 1757, when Charles de Brosses used it in comparing West African religion to the magical aspects of ancient Egyptian religion. Later, Auguste Comte employed the concept in his theory of the evolution of religion, wherein he posited fetishism as the earliest (most primitive) stage, followed by polytheism and monotheism. However, ethnography and anthropology would classify some artifacts of polytheistic and monotheistic religions as fetishes.

The eighteenth-century intellectuals who articulated the theory of fetishism encountered this notion in descriptions of "Guinea" contained in such popular voyage collections as Ramusio's Viaggio e Navigazioni (1550), de Bry's India Orientalis (1597), Purchas's Hakluytus Posthumus (1625), Churchill's Collection of Voyages and Travels (1732), Astley's A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels (1746), and Prevost's Histoire generale des voyages (1748). [7]

The theory of fetishism was articulated at the end of the eighteenth century by G. W. F. Hegel in Lectures on the Philosophy of History . According to Hegel, Africans were incapable of abstract thought, their ideas and actions were governed by impulse, and therefore a fetish object could be anything that then was arbitrarily imbued with "imaginary powers". [8]

Practice

A voodoo fetish market in Lome, Togo, 2008 Voodo-fetischmarkt-Lome.jpg
A voodoo fetish market in Lomé, Togo, 2008

The use of the concept in the study of religion derives from studies of traditional West African religious beliefs, as well as from Vodun, which in turn derives from those beliefs.

Fetishes were commonly used in some Native American religions and practices. [9] For example, the bear represented the shaman, the buffalo was the provider, the mountain lion was the warrior, and the wolf was the pathfinder, the cause of the war. [9]

Japan

Kato Genchi cited jewelry, swords, mirrors, and scarves as examples of fetishism in Shinto. [10] Kato stated that leaving behind cities and going into rural areas, he could find many traces of animism, fetishism, and phallicism. [11]

Kato Genchi stated that the Ten Sacred Treasures were fetishes and the Imperial Regalia of Japan retained the same traits, and pointed out the similarities with the Pusaka of the natives of the East Indies and the Tjurunga of the Central Australians. [12] The Kusanagi no Tsurugi was believed to provide supernatural protection (blessings) through the spiritual experience of the divine sword, and the Kusanagi no Tsurugi was deified and enshrined at Atsuta in Owari Province, which is now the Atsuta Shrine. [12]

Akaruhime no Kami, the deity of Hiyurikuso Shrine, was said to be a red ball. [12] In the Kami era, the jewel around Izanagi-no-Mikoto's neck was deified and called Mikuratana-kami. [12]

William George Aston remarked that the sword at Atsuta Shrine was originally an offering and later became a sacred object, as an example of Fetishism. Sword was one of mitama-shiro (spirit representative, spirit-token), or more commonly known as the shintai (god-body). [13] He observed that people tends to think of the mitama (spirit) of a deity first as the seat of his real presence, and second as the deity itself. Many people do not distinguish between mitama (spirit) and shintai (god-body), and some even confused shintai (god-body) with the god's real body. [13] For example, cooking furnace (kamado) itself was worshiped as god. [13] Noting the vagueness between highly imperfect symbol of deity and fetish worship, being worsened by the restricted uses of images (e.g., painting, sculpture), there was a strong tendency to even forget that there is a god by ascribing special virtues to certain physical objects. [13]

Roy Andrew Miller observed that the Kokutai no Hongi and the Imperial Rescript on Education were also often worshipped as fetishes, and were respectfully placed and kept in household altars (kamidana). [14]

Minkisi

Made and used by the BaKongo of western DRC, a nkisi (plural minkisi) is a sculptural object that provides a local habitation for a spiritual personality. Though some minkisi have always been anthropomorphic, they were probably much less "naturalistic" or "realistic" before the arrival of the Europeans in the nineteenth century; Kongo figures are more naturalistic in the coastal areas than inland. [3] As Christians tend to think of spirits as objects of worship, idols become the objects of idolatry when worship was addressed to false gods. In this way, European Christian colonialists regarded minkisi as idols on the basis of religious bias.

The foreign Christians often called nkisi "fetishes" and sometimes "idols" because they are sometimes rendered in human form or semi-human form. Modern anthropology has generally referred to these objects either as "power objects" or as "charms".

In addressing the question of whether a nkisi is a fetish, William McGaffey writes that the Kongo ritual system as a whole,

bears a relationship similar to that which Marx supposed that "political economy" bore to capitalism as its "religion", but not for the reasons advanced by Bosman, the Enlightenment thinkers, and Hegel. The irrationally "animate" character of the ritual system's symbolic apparatus, including minkisi, divination devices, and witch-testing ordeals, obliquely expressed real relations of power among the participants in ritual. "Fetishism" is about relations among people, rather than the objects that mediate and disguise those relations. [3]

Therefore, McGaffey concludes, to call a nkisi a fetish is to translate "certain Kongo realities into the categories developed in the emergent social sciences of nineteenth century, post-enlightenment Europe." [3]

See also

Related Research Articles

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Commodity fetishism</span> Concept in Marxist analysis

In Marxist philosophy, the term commodity fetishism describes the economic relationships of production and exchange as being social relationships that exist among things and not as relationships that exist among people. As a form of reification, commodity fetishism presents economic value as inherent to the commodities, and not as arising from the workforce, from the human relations that produced the commodity, the goods and the services.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inari Ōkami</span> One of the principal kami of Shinto

Inari Ōkami, also called Ō-Inari (大稲荷), is the Japanese kami of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake, agriculture and industry, general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants. Represented as male, or female, Inari is sometimes seen as a collective of three or five individual kami. Inari appears to have been worshipped since the founding of a shrine at Inari Mountain in 711 AD, although some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Candomblé Bantu</span> Branch of Candomblé religion

Candomblé Bantu is one of the major branches (nations) of the Candomblé religious belief system. It developed in the Portuguese Empire among Kongo and Mbundu slaves who spoke Kikongo and Kimbundu languages. The supreme and creative god is Nzambi or Nzambi a Mpungu. Below him are the Jinkisi or Minkisi, deities of Bantu mythology. These deities resemble Olorun and the other orishas of the Yoruba religion. Minkisi is a Kongo language term: it is the plural of Nkisi, meaning "receptacle". Akixi comes from the Kimbundu language term Mukixi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kongo people</span> Ethnic group in Central Africa

The Kongo people are a Bantu ethnic group primarily defined as the speakers of Kikongo. Subgroups include the Beembe, Bwende, Vili, Sundi, Yombe, Dondo, Lari, and others.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shinto shrine</span> Japanese shrine of the Shinto religion

A Shinto shrine is a structure whose main purpose is to house ("enshrine") one or more kami, the deities of the Shinto religion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nkisi</span> Religious statue in the Congo Basin, Africa

Nkisi or Nkishi are spirits or an object that a spirit inhabits. It is frequently applied to a variety of objects used throughout the Congo Basin in Central Africa, especially in the Territory of Cabinda that are believed to contain spiritual powers or spirits. The term and its concept have passed with the Atlantic slave trade to the Americas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cult image</span> Human-made object that is venerated for the deity, person, spirit or daemon that it represents

In the practice of religion, a cult image is a human-made object that is venerated or worshipped for the deity, spirit or daemon that it embodies or represents. In several traditions, including the ancient religions of Egypt, Greece and Rome, and modern Hinduism, cult images in a temple may undergo a daily routine of being washed, dressed, and having food left for them. Processions outside the temple on special feast days are often a feature. Religious images cover a wider range of all types of images made with a religious purpose, subject, or connection. In many contexts "cult image" specifically means the most important image in a temple, kept in an inner space, as opposed to what may be many other images decorating the temple.

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<i>Yorishiro</i> Object capable of attracting spirits called kami

A yorishiro (依り代/依代/憑り代/憑代) in Shinto terminology is an object capable of attracting spirits called kami, thus giving them a physical space to occupy during religious ceremonies. Yorishiro are used during ceremonies to call the kami for worship. The word itself literally means "approach substitute". Once a yorishiro actually houses a kami, it is called a shintai. Ropes called shimenawa decorated with paper streamers called shide often surround yorishiro to make their sacredness manifest. Persons can play the same role as a yorishiro, and in that case are called yorimashi or kamigakari.

This is the glossary of Shinto, including major terms on the subject. Words followed by an asterisk (*) are illustrated by an image in one of the photo galleries.

<i>Shintai</i> Objects worshipped at or near Shinto shrines

In Shinto, shintai, or go-shintai when the honorific prefix go- is used, are physical objects worshipped at or near Shinto shrines as repositories in which spirits or kami reside. Shintai used in Shrine Shinto can be also called mitamashiro.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bantu religion</span> Beliefs and legends of the Bantu people

Bantu religion is the system of beliefs and legends of the Bantu people of Africa. Although Bantu peoples account for several hundred different ethnic groups, there is a high degree of homogeneity in Bantu cultures and customs, just as in Bantu languages. Many Bantu cultures traditionally believed in a supreme god whose name is a variation of Nyambe/Nzambe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nkondi</span> Religious statue in the Congo, Africa

Nkondi are mystical statuettes made by the Kongo people of the Congo region. Nkondi are a subclass of minkisi that are considered aggressive. The name nkondi derives from the verb -konda, meaning "to hunt" and thus nkondi means "hunter" because they can hunt down and attack wrong-doers, witches, or enemies.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kongo religion</span> Traditional beliefs of Kikongo-speaking peoples

Kongo religion encompasses the traditional beliefs of the Bakongo people. Due to the highly centralized position of the Kingdom of Kongo, its leaders were able to influence much of the traditional religious practices across the Congo Basin. As a result, many other ethnic groups and kingdoms in West-Central Africa, like the Chokwe and Mbundu, adopted elements of Bakongo spirituality.

<i>Shinboku</i> Sacred trees in Shinto beliefs

A shinboku (神木) is a tree or forest worshipped as a shintai – a physical object of worship at or near a Shinto shrine, worshipped as a repository in which spirits or kami reside. They are often distinctly visible due to the shimenawa wrapped around them.

References

  1. T. J. Alldridge, The Sherbro and its Hinterland, (1901)
  2. Pietz, William (1988). The origin of fetishism: A contribution to the history of theory (Ph.D. diss.). University of California, Santa Cruz. ProQuest   303717649.
  3. 1 2 3 4 MacGaffey, Wyatt (Spring 1994). "African objects and the idea of fetish". RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 25: 123–131. doi:10.1086/RESv25n1ms20166895. S2CID   191127564.
  4. 1 2 Pietz, William (Spring 1985). "The Problem of the Fetish, I". RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. The President and Fellows of Harvard College acting through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. 9 (9): 5–17. doi:10.1086/RESv9n1ms20166719. JSTOR   20166719. S2CID   164933628.
  5. Stallybrass, Peter (2001). Daniel Miller (ed.). Consumption : critical concepts in the social sciences (1. publ. ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN   0415242673.
  6. Stanbury, S. (2015). The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England. The Middle Ages Series. University of Pennsylvania Press, Incorporated. p. 31. ISBN   978-1-5128-0829-2 . Retrieved 2023-06-14.
  7. Pietz, William (Spring 1987). "The Problem of the Fetish, II: The Origin of the Fetish". RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 13 (13): 23–45. doi:10.1086/RESv13n1ms20166762. JSTOR   20166762. S2CID   151350653.
  8. MacGaffey, Wyatt (1993). Astonishment & Power, The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi. National Museum of African Art.
  9. 1 2 "Animals: fact and folklore". New Mexico Magazine . August 2008. pp. 56–63.
  10. Kato Genchi— A Neglected Pioneer in Comparative Religion —Naomi Hylkema-Vos, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1990 17/4. p384
  11. Dr. Genchi Kato's monumental work on Shinto, Daniel C. Holtom. 明治聖徳記念学会第47巻、昭和12年 1937/04/ p7-14
  12. 1 2 3 4 A Study of Shinto: The Religion of the Japanese Nation, By Genchi Katu, Copyright Year 2011, ISBN 9780415845762, Published February 27, 2013 by Routledge , Chapter III Fetishism and Phallicism
  13. 1 2 3 4 SHINTO (THE WAY OF THE GODS) BY W. G. ASTON, C.M.G, D.Lit., LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON NEW YORK AND BOMBAY, 1905, p.65-75, p.73, p.159
  14. KOKUTAI - POLITICAL SHINTÔ FROM EARLY-MODERN TO CONTEMPORARY JAPAN, Klaus Antoni, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen: Tobias-lib Tübingen 2016, p259