Teenage girls being initiated into the Sande society, Sierra Leone, West Africa.[1] 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."
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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 emic attribution of inherent value or powers to an object.


The term "fetish" has evolved from an idiom used to describe a type of objects created in the interaction between European travellers 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 conducted an extensive ethno-historical study 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.[2]

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 polemic 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.[3]

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."[4]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Fetisjisme
العربية: فيتيشية
azərbaycanca: Fetişizm
български: Фетиш
català: Fetitxisme
Cymraeg: Ffetisiaeth
dansk: Fetich
eesti: Fetišism
Ελληνικά: Φετιχισμός
español: Fetichismo
Esperanto: Fetiĉismo
euskara: Fetixismo
فارسی: فتیشیسم
français: Fétichisme
Frysk: Fetisjisme
한국어: 주물숭배
հայերեն: Ֆետիշիզմ
हिन्दी: जड़वस्तु
hrvatski: Fetišizam
Bahasa Indonesia: Fetisisme
italiano: Feticismo
עברית: פטישיזם
Kabɩyɛ: Sɩʊ
ქართული: ფეტიშიზმი
қазақша: Фетишизм
Кыргызча: Фетишизм
Latina: Fetischismus
latviešu: Fetišisms
lietuvių: Fetišizmas
македонски: Фетишизам
日本語: 呪物崇拝
norsk: Fetisjisme
slovenščina: Fetišizem
српски / srpski: Фетишизам
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Fetišizam
suomi: Taikaesine
Tagalog: Petisismo
татарча/tatarça: Фетишизм
тоҷикӣ: Фетишизм
Türkçe: Fetiş
українська: Фетишизм
Tiếng Việt: Bái vật giáo
中文: 拜物教