Fetish

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A term in English derived originally from feiti├žo the Portuguese word for 'witchcraft' via the west African coast or pidgin English of the 17th and 18th centuries. By the 19th century it had come to be applied to particular assemblages of material objects or substances thought by Africans to be imbued with spiritual power. By extension, it was also used by Europeans as a catch-all term to categorise any object, for example a mask or figure sculpture, that was seen as carrying spiritual or religious significance for members of the indigenous population.

  • W.Pietz, 'The problem of the fetish' in RES, 1985, 9, 5-17 and subsequent volumes.
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