And here I
thought the group had rendered itself more or less defunct in the wake
of Facebook etc ... and ... bam! ... I wake up
this swarm of bilingual cyber
bees in my mailbox ... A frantic buzz from the hives of intellect and
reason that it seems someone had the audacity to whack with a big stick!
What is most curious to me is the degree of intolerable anger with which the
perceived ignorance of an innocent
inquiry is addressed and the dismissive tone delivered to all with an opposing view. The
delineation between right and wrong
hinged primarily on the etymology of a word. The underlying and
deeper issues concerning the
injustice and hypocrisy
of a shameful history (and not just in
Africa) cannot be assuaged with
a sword (or a tongue) honed on the grinding wheels of history and academics.
<swatting a few bees here> Words too <have you
noticed?> can be like fetish nails hammered into
wood, fashioned just so, to give them power. Anger can
be wielded in a belief that it
will ward off what is perceived as threatening. Truth in a
world of, at the very least, dualistic
complexity is an acquired taste for most and
as such is subjective. Not until one
has silenced all the barking dogs and embraced a broader perspective do more pertinent truths emerge... at
least that's what I've heard.
Until we all attain such
liberation ... kindness and compassion seem
like good options. As for words
- they too live in time, and like us, often grow old with but
semblance to the innocence of infancy. They
morph into something new though the roots remain. It doesn't take a lot of effort ... only a bit of willingness ... to see that individual truths that appear to
be in opposition ... can both be true ... and the need for contention
From '1984' by George Orwell ~
"You are a slow learner
Winston," said O'brien gently.
"How can I help
it ?" he blubbered, "How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are
"Sometimes, Winston, sometimes they are five. Sometimes
they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at
once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become
From Tom Waits ~
"Come down off the cross -
we could use the wood."
From the Chockwe fetish here in my living room
every stone you turn to find truth there lies
another your ignorance has yet
From: Veronique Martelliere
Sent: Sun, May 12, 2013 9:07
Subject: Re: [African_Arts] Help To Identify Source of African Art -
I also have gherkins that i keep in a pot of vinegar. Who has not such a
One of your gherkins is the word « fetish » - ok, why not, but if i read
you well and understand you well, we have to read between the gherkins.
I'm not sure this is the right forum to discuss about proselytism,
missionaries and other soul-robbers - i'm sure we would agree on
that subject, anyway. The point is that you wish to call for a
fatwah against a word, which, to your point of view, is not acceptable/
Manifestly, you hear in this word pejorative echoes that most of people
OF TODAY do not hear, and you wish make them feel guilty for using it : isn't
this subjective and unfair ? Especially because i do not see any other
word to replace it - do you ?
Words have a cradle and then a life. Just check the origin of the word
« handicap », for example.
What about « hell« or « devil » ? Devil is a fearsome red and horned
character for my old bigot neighbour - for me, it’s the god-damned little boy
who ruined my sofa with his muddy shoes, this afternoon. Different
And Ed : if i tell you that you are an angel, you know that I do not
mean that you are sitting on a cloud, with a pair of wings and no sexual
« Je suis, donc je me révolte », Camus wrote. So, keep on, Ed, but better
not against the common dictionary and its common users - unless you have an
alternative word to offer.
Be well, revolted angel.
PS 1 : some of my previous comments were addressed to Antwan who started
associating the word « fetish » with « racism » . Racism and
sectarism are two distinctive faces of fear.
PS 2 : I never use the word « fétiche », anyway.
... "Religiously-incorrect" has nothing to do with racism.
And "fetish" has nothing pejorative to my point of view, except when it is
used by a square-head-proselyte-stubborn-arrogant missionary of any kind who
wants to change the world into religious soldier-barracks of his
As Nietzsche wrote, it is not doubts which make people
crazy - certitudes make people crazy (and cruel,
Interesting yet, wrongly conclusive to the specific point of
perpetually calling African items as fetishes. Religion has indeed
brought about many wars,
rumor of wars, impervious
greed and RACISM. And titling "African" relics
"fetishes" most certainly had / has pejorative meaning. Problem
today is ignorance versus known and establish
Second to that is bigotry... Although, this is the first time
the word racism has been
mentioned. Racism and bigotry are two ENTIRELY SEPARATE words and
meanings, so I am not sure why you mentioned it. However, both
words can often have close associations. Bigotry is as simple as "intransigence", stubbornness, un-yielding or willing to
chance... Which is an inherent characteristic of most racist
individuals. There is a difference.
Since this is an African arts group, perhaps, it
would be more effective and meaningful if you would expound on specifics of
how "fetishism" has
evolved in say... Nigeria or another country or region... even concerning
religions in Nigeria since there is a religion-centered demonimator with the
word. the context of this response seems intentionally broad and
general. If you cannot, perhaps, someone else has the
ability. In fact, that stubborn missionary was
not singular, but plural... Hundreds if not thousands, and he / she
represented the moral compass and ideology of a different countrie's
society and beliefs! It is condensending in many ways to try and
down-play that as a trivial "block-head" acting out of order, and writing
about it. The vast majority of
missionaries certainly were no "Leo
Bittremieux". Leo was the rare exception.
when I stated that "fetishism" is eradicated in the western
worlds, I am stating that the USE of the word with Xmas trees, candles,
mistle-toe, crucifix, rosary prayer
beads, necklace or wrist charms, "grandma;s ashes in the urn" on the
fireplace mantle, are not even thought of or considered to be fetish
objects, yet, african tribal relics are. Funny how one cannot see
(blind) hypocrisy in this... Even, bigotry.
does not take an advanced education of any sort to see the failure in
this. Nor is the use of English terms overwhelmingly confusing or
problematic. Communications is usually "fluid" --- meaning
Besides, the simply and inconclusive Internet definitions that have been
fling around, how about addressing the article that Ann Porteus
provided, or addressing the book link suggested? Tritely
statements and editorials
suggesting" the following such as;
.. "I see nothing pejorative with the
.. "the Africans use it"
.. "political correctness"
.. I reside "here or there" in Africa (as if that
provides some sort of unique credentials that automatically trumps reason and
"Half-baked" word definitions (not complete eytmology) citing convenient and
ignorant examples implying rather neutral and positive word
willful averting of this topic, and debate tribal African related trends around the "arts" are
appalling, and proves
unwillingness and blind hypocrisy at the very least. In
itself, will stymie
the group and its vision.
Thanks for breaking some surface about this.
Everyone defines a border between religion and superstition,
according to his/her own beliefs.
In general, a belief starts to be called a religion when it
reaches a great number of followers. Proselyte religions are those
which make people ready to fight their neighbours to
convince them to join them in their belief. The purpose is
to grow the human herd. Nothing to do with
The proselyte designate anyone or any group who do not follow
them, as "pagan"... whose beliefs, in their eyes,
are designated as "superstitions"... and so started the creation of
the word "fetish" to designate objects which are not
"religiously-correct", to their point of view.
Established religions never could erase humans' superstitious
needs. Humans need objects that they can see, touch and even
speak to, to communicate with God/s. These objects are virtual
bridges to reach the beyond and/or to get magic protection
and, i completely agree with you, Ed, they all are
objectively fetishes : crucifix, Maria figures and other fertiity Venus,
hands of Fatimah, tiger eyes, medals, Buddha figures, Shiva trident...
temples,... whatever medium/media.
It is just not "religiously-correct" for established religions
to designate them as "fetishes"... (could even have been dangerous during
the Inquisition - thanks Gods, the game is over - or is, even today, in
some areas of Islam).
Thus, as to hypocrisy, it is a very close neighbour of
all religions. I was raised in a christian religion, supposed to be a
monotheism, but I was told to pray God, his son, his spirit, his mother,
angels, and saints which are nearly as numerous as the Hindu Gods. So,
I'm supposed to have a Saint Christopher medal to be attached to the keys of
my car to keep away road accidents : anyone thinking that it is not a fetish
So, all this to say that the word "fetish" started to
be applied for objects which did not belong to "established"
religions/beliefs, by megalomaniac people who think/thought that their own
belief/religion was THE right one.
The word started to be applied in Africa but then, later, in the
Americas, Oceania, North Pole and wherever there are micro-cultures and,
so, micro-systems of belief.
"Religiously-incorrect" has nothing to do with
racism. And "fetish" has nothing pejorative to my point of view,
except when it is used by a square-head-proselyte-stubborn-arrogant missionary
of any kind who wants to change the world into religious soldier-barracks
of his kind.
As Nietzsche wrote, it is not doubts which make people crazy -
certitudes make people crazy (and cruel, sometimes).
I am not looking to be passified Vero, and do not prefer any
specific language to be used. However, I do believe
AWARNESS and onjective sincerity by reason is necessary.
Elite, passionate and educated / experienced people will find the
correct word instead of a historical biased, ugly and word which dauntingly
haunts most pieces of African craft (ignorantly and erroneously)... While a
crucifix , rabbits foot, or western objects are never referred to as a fetish
(and they most certainly are). Such blatant, overt, hypocrisy and
Ann Porteus also commented and provided an article wich was simply
ignored. The "wild dogs" were too busy trying their damnest to eat
my lunch, and deny, so there is something much more going on than the "attack
of on the messenger Ed, along with the "I don't like his
Anyway, nice to know that you are still
Fetich, fetiche, Fetisch, fetisj,… anyone aiming to eradicate this word
from dictionaries will have a hard time.
Ed : which other word do you wish people to use instead ?
Anyway, the word « fetish » has no pejorative echoe in my frog ears. It
- either an object of unreasoning devotion (cf.
Krafft-Ebing’s « Psychopathia
sexualis »), as Elisabeth mentionned ;
- or an object of superstition (whereever it comes from and for whatever
protective purpose) : it has to do with belief and only with belief… and, in
all, with a search of well-being.
My current fetish is a handphone, and my first one was a teddy-bear - you
never had one, Ed ?
Then, as a linguist anthropologist, you have missed something
vital and "original", and (perhaps), failed to pay close enough
attention. This is a well documented account, but "fetishism" is eradicated currently in the
western world's unless it has to do with certain erotic sexual behaviors, or
underlying positive attributes.
As a linguistic anthropologist, I'd like to respectfully disagree
that the term "fetish" has a pejorative context as you describe. It's
used cross culturally to reference an object with additional significance
beyond it's material characteristics, whether it be a religious fetish, a
commodity fetish, an erotic fetish, etc. It's a term that's quite
broadly used, in and out of ethnographic circles, and has in my experience
been spoken and received as a neutral term.
Elizabeth R. Busbee, PhD
Date: Fri, 10 May 2013
08:57:12 -0700 Subject: Re: [African_Arts] Help To Identify Source of African
Art - FETISH
Maybe you are not aware (as most) that the etymology of the term
"fetish", carries a disparaging, derogatory and insulting element. The
term fetish is taken from the Portugese word "feitiço" meaning
artificial, false and sorcery -- most likey introduced by Portugese sailors
and traders in the 16 C. The Africans which created and used these
objects ceratinly did not refer to them as a "fetish",
so why many still does this amazes me?
Any ideas on the art that I have submitted? I know that the statue is a
Nail Fetish, just not sure from what region. The second piece, I guessed an
Mask maybe? The third photo, just not sure, thinking Chokwe
? The Nail
Fetish actually stands 54" Tall....my mistake of 40". Please help with
identifying these if possible? I greatly appreciate your time and thoughts! J.