Fetishism

Last updated
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 value, or powers, to an object.

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 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 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 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). [6]

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. [7]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Tylor and McLennan, historians of religion, held that the concept of fetishism fostered a shift of attention away from the relationship between people and God, to focus instead on a relationship between people and material objects, and that this, in turn, allowed for the establishment of false models of causality for natural events. This they saw as religious fetishism for Santa Claus on Christmas day and does not consider the birth of Jesus a central problem historically and sociologically.

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. [8] 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. [8]

Japan

Kato Genchi cited jewelry, swords, mirrors, and scarves as examples of fetishism in Shintoism. [9] Kato stated that leaving behind cities and going into rural areas, he could find many traces of animism, fetishism, and phallicism. [10]

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. [11] 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. [11]

Akaruhime no Kami, the deity of Hiyurikuso Shrine, was said to be a red ball. [11] In the Kami era, the jewel around Izanagi-no-Mikoto's neck was deified and called Mikuratana-kami. [11]

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). [12] 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. [12] For example, cooking furnace (kamado) itself was worshipped as god. [12] 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. [12]

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). [13]

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 Europeans 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, Europeans regarded minkisi as idols on the basis of false assumptions.

Europeans often called nkisi "fetishes" and sometimes "idols" because they are sometimes rendered in 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

Kami are the deities, divinities, spirits, phenomena or "holy powers", that are venerated in the religion of Shinto. They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, or beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can also be the spirits of venerated dead people. Many kami are considered the ancient ancestors of entire clans. Traditionally, great leaders like the Emperor could be or became kami.

Amaterasu Sun goddess in Shinto

Amaterasu, also known as Amaterasu-Ōmikami or Ōhirume-no-Muchi-no-Kami (大日孁貴神), is the goddess of the sun in Japanese mythology. One of the major deities (kami) of Shinto, she is also portrayed in Japan's earliest literary texts, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, as the ruler of the heavenly realm Takamagahara and the mythical ancestress of the Imperial House of Japan via her grandson Ninigi. Along with her siblings, the moon deity Tsukuyomi and the impetuous storm god Susanoo, she is considered to be one of the "Three Precious Children", the three most important offspring of the creator god Izanagi.

Commodity fetishism Concept in Marxist analysis

In Marxist philosophy, the term commodity fetishism describes the relationships of production and exchange as social relationships among things and not as relationships among people. As a form of reification, commodity fetishism presents value as inherent to the commodities, and not arising from the interpersonal relations that produced the commodity. Commodity fetishism is presented in the first chapter of Capital: Critique of Political Economy (1867) to explain that the social organization of labour is mediated through market exchange, the buying and selling of goods and services (commodities); thus, capitalist social relations among people—who makes what, who works for whom, the production-time for a commodity, etc.—are social relations among objects.

Candomblé Bantu

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.

Kongo people Largest ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Kongo people are a Bantu ethnic group primarily defined as the speakers of Kikongo. Subgroups contain Beembe, Bwende, Vili, Sundi, Yombe, Dondo and Lari Basansala, Bazombo, Musidamba & amongst others.

Konkokyo Religion of Japanese origin originating in Shinbutsu-shūgō beliefs

Konkōkyō, or just Konkō, is a Shintō sect, being a part of the Kyoha Shintō Rengokai, and an independent faith with origins in Shinbutsu-shūgō beliefs.

Nkisi Kongo spirits or an object that a spirit inhabits

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.

The Japanese word mitama refers to the spirit of a kami or the soul of a dead person. It is composed of two characters, the first of which, mi, is simply an honorific. The second, tama (魂・霊) means "spirit". The character pair 神霊, also read mitama, is used exclusively to refer to a kami's spirit. Significantly, the term mitamashiro is a synonym of shintai, the object which in a Shinto shrine houses the enshrined kami.

Toyoukebime The goddess of agriculture and industry in the Shinto religion in Japan.

Toyouke-Ōmikami is the goddess of agriculture and industry in the Shinto religion. Originally enshrined in the Tanba region of Japan, she was called to reside at Gekū, Ise Shrine, about 1,500 years ago at the age of Emperor Yūryaku to offer sacred food to Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Sun Goddess.

Nganga

Nganga is a Kikongo language term for herbalist or spiritual healer in many African societies and also in many societies of the African diaspora such as those in Haiti, Brazil, and Cuba. It is derived from *-ganga in Proto-Bantu which means "medicine". As this term is a multiple reflex of a Proto-Bantu root, there are slight variations on the term throughout the entire Bantu-speaking world.

<i>Kamidana</i> Shinto altar

Kamidana are miniature household altars provided to enshrine a Shinto kami. They are most commonly found in Japan, the home of kami worship.

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.

Nkondi

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.

William Pietz is an intellectual historian and political activist. He is known for his scholarship related to the concept of fetishism.

Kongo religion Traditional beliefs from the KiKongo speaking peoples

Kongo religion is a broad set of traditional beliefs from the KiKongo speaking peoples. The faith bases itself on a complex Animistic system and a Pantheon of various gods and spirits. The idea of a high god named Nzambi Mpungu who gave birth to all the other gods, the world and spirits who inhabit it, is common, but Ancestor worship builds up the main religious beliefs. Shamanly doctors, known as Nganga, try to mediate between the spirit realms and the physical world, as well as heal followers' minds and bodies. Mediatory roles like being a Nganga require legitimization from the other world of spirits and ancestors. The universe is split between two worlds, one of the living and a world of the dead, where spirits and gods exist, these worlds are split by a metaphorical body of water.

Shinboku Sacred trees in Shinto beliefs

The term shinboku (神木) refers to trees and forests as himorogi in Old Shinto, as well as shintai. A tree is a tree, a forest, a shintai, a yorishiro, a Shinto shrine, a warding. It is also called goshingi.

Mountain worship Faiths which regard mountains as objects of worship

Mountain worship is a faith that regards mountains as sacred and objects of worship.

Kannabi Sacred locations in Shinto

Kannabi refers to a region in shinto that hosts a mitsumashiro or yorishiro (yorishiro) in which the divine spirit resides. Or, the natural environment as Kamishiro (shintai). In the Manyoshu, there are seven occurrences.

'Saijin' (祭神) is a term used to refer to a shrine and the god that is enshrined there.

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. 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.
  7. MacGaffey, Wyatt (1993). Astonishment & Power, The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi. National Museum of African Art.
  8. 1 2 "Animals: fact and folklore". New Mexico Magazine . August 2008. pp. 56–63.
  9. Kato Genchi— A Neglected Pioneer in Comparative Religion —Naomi Hylkema-Vos, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1990 17/4. p384
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. KOKUTAI - POLITICAL SHINTÔ FROM EARLY-MODERN TO CONTEMPORARY JAPAN, Klaus Antoni, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen: Tobias-lib Tübingen 2016, p259