Fetish amulets were used by Native American peoples from the coast, mountain, desert and plains regions. Most animal fetishes were umbilical cord containers, while others were talismans worn as personal protection. The fetishes were usually made by the mother or another female relative using brain-tanned deer or buffalo hide, natural pigments and traditional tribal beading designs.
When the umbilical cord shriveled and fell off a newborn, it was wrapped in sage and placed inside a specially decorated animal, usually a turtle or lizard. The turtle was used for girls and the lizard for boys. Two fetishes were made, one with the umbilical cord and one just stuffed with buffalo or horsehair. It was believed that the matched pair would confuse evil spirits from taking the child’s spirit or trying to control them.
The fetish was hung on the child’s cradle as a protective charm. Later, when the child was considered old enough to understand the responsibility, they were given their fetish to guard. It became part of their personal medicine to be worn around the neck or attached to their clothing. Some say this was done as early as five years old, others suggest the mother kept the fetish until the child was old enough to reproduce. Stillborn and dead children’s cords were carried for the entire life of the mother to protect those children from harm because they could not defend themselves. It was also a way for the mother to have the child with them.
Before the idea of passing the cords to the children came along, the mother would keep all cords to count how many children were born to her. At the mother’s death the cords were buried with her, to be passed to the Creator.
A person who acted abnormally was thought to have lost their umbilical cord and the protective medicine that it contained, so great care was taken to guard the fetish as it was thought that losing it could cause insanity or even death. Today, it is a joke among Native Americans that the umbilical cord is kept so they don’t spend their whole lives looking for it. Young children who feel the need to poke in every cabinet and cupboard are said to be “looking for their belly button.”Click here to view our complete collection of Native American umbilical fetishes.