Zuni patterns

Zuni patterns DEFAULT

The Zuni Way


Two bridesmaids are helping Deidre Wyaco, a Zuni Indian, dress for her big day. She dons her tribe's traditional wedding costume—white moccasins and deer-hide leggings wound from ankle to knee; a black wool tunic layered over a white blouse; and four saucer-size turquoise-and-silver brooches pinned down the length of her skirt.

The bride's sister, Darlynn Panteah, fastens a turquoise-and-silver squash blossom necklace around Wyaco's neck and adorns her with so many turquoise rings and bracelets that her hands look as if they'd been dipped in blue-green water. Wyaco's niece Michella combs her jet-black hair into a tight bun and smoothes each lock in place while a cousin places a scarf over her shoulders and fixes it with a turquoise-and-silver pin. Then everyone stands back to admire Wyaco, her dress as stark and eye-popping as the red-earth, blue-sky landscape of their home, Zuni Pueblo, on the Zuni Indian Reservation, 40-odd miles south of Gallup, New Mexico.

Zuni Pueblo has witnessed such wedding scenes for millennia. For most Zuni, who call themselves A:shiwi (the origins of "Zuni" are unknown), it would be almost impossible to imagine getting married any place other than here at Halona Idiwan'a, the Middle Place of the World, where, in origin myths, the tribe settled after many years of wandering. The Zuni have dwelled in this broad valley of golden buttes and red mesas for thousands of years, farming, hunting, gathering and practicing their communal way of life and ceremony-rich religion.

It's that religion, the Zuni say, that binds them together. It's what enabled them to withstand the hardships of drought and famine and their conquest, in 1540, by the Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. He had been led to Zuni by a Franciscan friar, who'd seen the pueblo settlement from a distance and claimed it was one of the Seven Cities of Cibola, mystical places said to be laden with riches. Coronado's forces quickly realized that this small pueblo was not Cibola, but they plundered what they could—then claimed Zuni and 80 neighboring pueblos for Spain.

In other parts of the Americas, the Native peoples who had the misfortune to make early contact with Europeans often vanished completely. The Patuxet of New England are gone, as are the Pulacuam of Texas and the J'akaru of Peru. The Zuni, for their part, also came perilously close to disappearing: in 1879, the tribe, believed to have had as many as 4,100 members in the middle to late 1500s, numbered barely 1,700, brought low by smallpox and measles. But today, there are 10,000 Zuni, and the tribal government estimates that 90 percent of them live at Zuni Pueblo, making this tribe one of the most intact in existence. "The Zuni's complex social web seems to hold people. Their religion and language provide a point of ethnic identity," says Dennis Tedlock, an anthropologist at State University of New York at Buffalo, who has published a book on the art of the Zuni storyteller. "And their isolation has worked for them, but against them economically."

Somehow, although they've lost many of their original lands (the reservation encompasses 700 square miles) and many of their cultural and religious objects, they've managed to preserve their core beliefs, even while adding elements from beyond their borders, the world of mainstream America. And so Wyaco, the perfectly dressed Zuni bride, incorporates a few outside touches for her wedding, marching down the aisle not to the beat of a Zuni drum but beneath a white awning decorated with white and pink paper wedding bells to a recording of "Here Comes the Bride." None of the guests—mostly Zuni, with a handful of outside melika (Anglos)—seemed the least surprised.

But they all also knew they were watching a special Zuni moment when Wyaco's sister pushed their paralyzed father down the aisle in his wheelchair so that he could give his daughter away to the groom, Randy Hooee.

"Everyone at Zuni has a role," said one guest, nodding in approval. "No one, no matter what, is left behind. That is—and always has been—the Zuni way."

How, in this era of the Internet, when the outside world with all its material goods and other temptations calls so seductively, do the Zuni manage to maintain their way of life? What is it about the Zuni way that, despite 61 percent unemployment at the pueblo and problems above the national average with drugs, alcohol and diabetes, keeps most of those 10,000 souls at Zuni Pueblo?

"It's the salt," says Randy Nahohai, a celebrated potter in his 40s, with a wink and laugh. Yet his answer is only half-facetious. "I've been outside," he continues, "and I've done a lot of traveling, but it's always good to come home to good chili, and salt that doesn't roll off your food."

We're sitting at his living room worktable in the home he shares with his brother, Milford, also a noted potter, and their families. Like most Zuni today, the Nahohais no longer live in the multistoried adobe dwellings for which Halona, the old part of the Zuni Pueblo, was once famous. Most now favor modest adobe, stucco or mobile homes.

Nahohai hands me a small bowl of salt. "You'll see the difference," he says. The salt, which Zuni men collect on pilgrimages to their sacred Zuni Salt Lake (not to be confused with the larger one in Utah, some 600 miles to the north), has a soft, almost powdery, feel. "We've been collecting our salt at our Salt Lake for thousands of years," Nahohai says. "And that's another reason that we stay here: we're living where our ancestors lived. All these people who were here before you—it makes your head swell up with pride just to be Zuni. I try to show that pride through my work."

In a back bedroom where he and his youngest son sleep, Nahohai produces hand-built pots that he paints with abstract designs of the night sky or stylized images of leaping deer. Nahohai and his brother shape their pottery from clay they collect at a spot that has long been used by the tribe's potters. And they make their paints in the traditional way, by boiling certain plant roots until they gain a resin-like consistency, or grinding small chunks of ocher into a pliable paste. But they use an electric kiln and modern paintbrushes, instead of the old yucca-tipped ones favored by their forebears.

"I hate the taste of yucca," Nahohai says. "We learned everything about making pottery from our mother. For a long time before her, there were hardly any Zuni potters. That tradition died out with the arrival of metal pans. And then there was just too much Tupperware, so nobody made pottery."

Nahohai's mother, Josephine, who died last year, and other Zuni women revived the craft. In the process, they created one of Zuni's more important cottage industries. (Nahohai's pottery, which incorporates elements of traditional Zuni symbolism, is displayed at the National Museum of the American Indian.) The tribal council estimates that about 80 percent of all Zuni families earn at least part of their income through their arts, giving the pueblo something of the feel of an artists' colony. Inside every home, it seems, someone is bent over a workbench creating inlaid jewelry, carving an animal fetish (renderings of various animals said to possess their powers and spirit, much favored by collectors), sculpting a kachina doll (representations of spiritual beings) or making pottery. Most picked up their skill by watching their parents.

"My folks would let me help with the polishing," says Lorandina Sheche as she sits at a grinding wheel in a back bedroom of her family's home sculpting a bear that resembles those the Zuni made in the 19th century. "Then, one day, my dad went to the store for a while, so I took—well, I stole—one of his rocks." Sheche laughs at the memory. "I made a fetish from dad's rock, a big coyote like the ones in the anthropologist's book. My dad called it ‘E.T.' and said no one would buy it. But an Albuquerque Native crafts store did. They paid me $45 for it."

From under her workbench, Sheche pulls out a copy of Frank Hamilton Cushing's monograph, Zuñi Fetishes (1883). I'm surprised, since Cushing, a member of a Smithsonian Institution expedition that came to study the tribe in 1879, is held in low regard by many Zuni. Just 22 at the time, Cushing was disappointed when the expedition chose not to move into the pueblo, so, the story goes, he plunked his bedroll down in the tribal governor's house. "How long will it be before you go back to Washington?" the governor is said to have asked him. Cushing stayed four-and-a-half years, learning the Zuni language and their sacred ceremonies.

Among anthropologists, Cushing is regarded as a pioneering figure, one of the first professional ethnologists, and the original "participant observer." But to the Zuni, he is another in a long line of white betrayers. Most damaging in Zuni eyes, Cushing wrote in great detail about their religion and its sacred ceremonies, violating their trust in sharing secret knowledge.

"Yes, Cushing was that white man who was adopted by the tribe and became a Bow Priest," says Sheche. "And he learned many Zuni things and believed it all—but then he went home and published all our knowledge. My grandpa used to say that Cushing was a good guy and a crook."

Sheche laughs merrily, apparently unconcerned that she's drawing on such a controversial work to carve her own authentic Zuni fetishes. For Sheche, what matters is that selling fetishes—together with her husband's finely carved kachinas as well as some baby-sitting work—enables her to live at Zuni.

By the time Cushing invited himself into the pueblo, the Zuni had already suffered through years of Spanish and Mexican rule. Under the Spanish, the Catholic Church had ordered them to cease their religious practices altogether. They'd managed to protect their beliefs in part by pretending the prayer songs they sang in their cornfields were simply planting tunes and in part by outright rebellion. They resisted the inquiries of other anthropologists—and from melika in general—by adopting an icy, slightly hostile stance toward overly curious outsiders. Although I was invited to several Zuni ceremonies and dances, and was warmly greeted, I was also warned not to write about them. "This is our religion."

"People outside have the idea that knowledge should be shared," said Jim Enote, the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. "That's what universities are built around. But at Zuni we don't think that way. Some knowledge should be protected and not shared. There are things in Zuni you can know, and things you can't. And there are certain people who deserve to be the keepers of that knowledge. It's a privilege, and the rest of us respect them for that."

Those who follow the Zuni faith greet the morning sun with a sprinkling of sacred cornmeal and mark the yearly calendar with rituals and dances, all designed to keep not only Zuni but the world at large in balance and at peace. Thus "living at Zuni" means far more than simply being able to pass down artistic traditions or eat Native foods with Zuni salt. For the Nahohais and Sheches, staying at Zuni is almost a sacred obligation. Those who assume a religious position—among the Zuni devout that translates to at least one man in every family—do so for life, and they must be present for every ceremony.

"There's one key to understanding Zuni," says Edward Wemytewa, a former tribal councilman in his early 50s, who takes me on a quick tour of Halona, where the last of the pueblo's fabled multistory buildings still stand around a ceremonial plaza. "And it's that the dances that take place here in the plaza are the heart of who we are. All the movement and colors, the singing and the sounds of the bells and the drums echoing off the walls—all this touches your spirit. From the day you are born as a Zuni until the day you leave this world, this is within you."

Although some Zuni have converted to Catholic and Protestant faiths—including Mormonism—the Zuni religion remains so dominant in the pueblo that several members of the tribe told me that despite having elected officials, they feel they live in a theocracy controlled by priests. Tribe members who violate taboos—such as the publisher of the now-defunct Zuni Post who sometimes touched on religious matters—can expect a visit from a priest or to be summoned before the tribal council for questioning. Even speaking the word "drought" is thought to be dangerous because it might lead to one. "That's just the way it is," one Zuni told me.

A few miles beyond the central pueblo of Halona, Edison Vicenti and his wife, Jennie, have built a Spanish-style stucco home. For 30 years, Vicenti designed semiconductor chips for IBM in Tucson, while his wife worked as a nurse. When they retired in 1996, they moved back to Zuni. Today, the former computer engineer serves his tribe as head kachina priest, overseeing prayer meetings, certain initiation ceremonies and dances. (With his wife, he also makes the petit point turquoise-and-silver jewelry for which the Zuni are known.)

"I don't have any trouble flip-flopping between the two worlds," says Vicenti. "There was a time when I was more interested in science, but it was always a foregone conclusion that I'd be back. My family is in the deer clan, which is a small clan, and the duties of the head kachina priest are part of our clan's responsibilities. It's my turn to handle those responsibilities now."

One important responsibility is teaching Zuni ceremonial prayers to the youths initiated into his religious society. With other tribal leaders, Vicenti worries that Zuni is a vanishing language, like more than 80 percent of the remaining 175 Native American languages. Some scholars estimate that unless something is done, these threatened languages will be gone within the next 40 years. "If we lose our language, we lose the base of our religion and culture," Vicenti says. "And if we lose our religion, we lose what binds us together as Zuni. It is like the roots of a tree; if the tree is uprooted or the roots contaminated, then it dies. It is the same with us." Vicenti shakes his head. "And we can't let that happen."

To counter the English language heard in every home on radio and television (and in movies and in daily conversation), elderly Zuni join with Zuni teachers at the Head Start program at the elementary school to encourage children to speak the Zuni language. There are immersion Zuni language programs in the higher classes as well, and programs conducted in Zuni at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. And there is KSHI, the Zuni radio station. "Kesh shi. Lukkya shamle don a:wan hon dena: a:lashinna dap kya: kol dena: denabekkowa ik'osh na:wa," intones Duane Chimoni, KSHI's general manager and part-time disc jockey. "Hello. On this morning's program we're going to hear some songs that used to be played in the past."

The songs, however, aren't Zuni songs; they're Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and The Who's "My Generation." "We make our announcements in both English and Zuni," says Chimoni. "If we only do Zuni, then we get lots of calls, people saying ‘uh, sorry, my Zuni isn't that good, could you repeat that part about....' But I like to think it helps, hearing us speak Zuni."

About three miles from Halona, close to the base of the sacred mesa Dowa Yalanne, to which the Zuni have fled in times of danger, a group of middle school children are learning to make traditional Zuni walled gardens, which are divided into sunken depressions, like a waffle iron. It's a way of Zuni farming not often seen now. In the early 20th century, waffle gardens edged Halona, surrounding the pueblo with low adobe walls and yielding a bounty of vegetables and fruit. But the Zuni River flowed freely then; it does not today, largely because of dams and droughts. The pueblo has few gardens; there's simply not enough water. At Dowa Yalanne, however, the children haul water taken from a spring 12 miles away, making it possible for Jim Enote to teach them this kind of gardening. The children pour buckets of water onto their patches of earth, stirring up the mud and patting it into low walls. "Most of the time, we definitely don't get to play in the mud like this," says 12-year-old Rodney Soseeah, both hands coated with the wet, black earth. "So I like farming, and growing some stuff."

"I'm thinking of planting peppers," says Mary Quam, 15. "Then me and my mom can make salsa."

"We'll also be planting corn," says Odell Jaramillo, a teacher and adviser to this program. "For the Zuni, corn is our life, our protector. It's at the center of our religion and ceremonies." Every ceremony requires a sprinkling of white cornmeal.

Every young person i met hopes to live at the pueblo as an adult. But that means finding a job, which is not easily done. The Zuni schools, including a branch of the University of New Mexico, and a hospital offer employment possibilities. But there are very few businesses, aside from the Indian craft trading posts, a few gas stations and small convenience stores. There are no fast-food joints, no Burger Kings or McDonald's, no hotels.

"You really have to wonder why that is," says Darlynn Panteah, the CEO of one of the most surprising and successful of Zuni businesses, Zuni Technologies, the sole high-tech company in town. "I mean, the same three stores that I grew up with are still the only stores here at Zuni—30 years of the same stores! We all have to go to Gallup to do our shopping."

Panteah blames the lack of local enterprises on tribal policies that have tied up much of the land on the main highway, where hotels and restaurants might prosper. She also laments the tribe's reluctance to bring in outsiders and their businesses. (The tribe is debating whether to build hotels and casinos in their community.) "We lose so many of our young people to the outside. Yet we depend on them; they're the ones who must carry on our religion. So, it's up to us, the older generation, to make good jobs for them at Zuni."

Panteah leads the way from the parking lot outside Zuni Technologies, which operates out of a low-slung, white warehouse. Inside, 62 Zuni men and women sit in front of computers, typing and clicking as they scan stacks of military manuals, converting the heavy, printed texts into digitized forms for the Air Force, Marines and Navy. The business, started with assistance from tribal and government funds and later the Intertribal Information Technology Company, a consortium of tribes that promotes high-tech businesses on Indian reservations, is now three years old, and offering dream jobs to the mostly young people who work here.

"I honestly never thought there'd be a job here at Zuni in my field, management information systems," says Vinton Hooee, 25, and a recent graduate of the University of New Mexico. "It's given me ideas about starting my own business, like Darlynn, to help keep our young people here. It's very hard to be part of Zuni when you're living in Albuquerque. There's a ceremony here every month, and you can't really take part if you're here only on weekends. All of us young people, we're struggling to get the balance right."

Wilton Niiha, a carpenter and kachina leader, drives with me down a sandy road toward the most dominant feature on the Zuni landscape—the cream-and-rose-striped mesa, Dowa Yalanne—until we see two rocky, tower-like formations split away from the main mesa. "Those rocks are the little boy and girl who saved the people who fled long ago to the top of Dowa Yalanne during the flood," says Niiha. According to legend, "the water was rushing up to the top of the mesa, so the children of the head priest asked if they could place their prayer sticks in the water." The priest granted their request, and the children stepped into the water with the prayer sticks on top of their heads. Instantly, the floodwaters began to recede. "With that sacrifice, the boy and girl saved Zuni," Niiha says. "They became part of the mountain."

The late afternoon sun reached the two stone figures, turning them a rosy golden hue. It was easy to imagine them as children holding hands as they waded into the water and to their deaths, and asking as all Zuni do for blessings, for their people and their land and the world.

That, after all, is the Zuni way.

Virginia Morell is the author of Ancestral Passions and Blue Nile. Photographer Scott S. Warren's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Outside and Newsweek.

Sours: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-zuni-way-150866547/


Zuni Pueblo, 1855

Zuni Pueblo, 1855

The Zuni people, like other PuebloIndians, are believed to be the descendants of the Ancient Puebloans who lived in the desert Southwest of New Mexico, Arizona, Southern Colorado, and Utah for a thousand years. Today the Zuni Pueblo, some 35 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico has a population of about 6,000. Archeological evidence shows they have lived in this location for about 1,300 years.

Their tribal name is A’shiwi (Shi’wi), meaning “the flesh.” The name “Zuni” was a Spanish adaptation of a word of unknown meaning. The Zuni speak their own unique language which is unrelated to the languages of the other Pueblo peoples and continue to practice their traditional shamanistic religion with its regular ceremonies, dances, and mythology.

Spanish Conquistadors

Spanish Conquistadors

In 1540, the first Spanish explorers led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado encountered the Zuni Indians living in six or seven large pueblos along the banks of the Zuni River, of which, all are in ruins today. These villages, called Hawikuh were located next to fertile ground where the Zuni could take advantage of abundant water resources. The Zuni had a successful and well-established agricultural economy.

The Spaniards, who were searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, were disappointed to find only the dusty, crowded Zuni village. On the verge of starvation, Coronado asked the Pueblo leaders for food for his army. They refused. Rather than perish, Coronado ordered an attack on Hawikuh in order to save his troops. After a brief skirmish resulting in several Zuni deaths, Coronado and his men took possession of the pueblo, which then became his headquarters for several months.

The arrival of the Spaniards explorers disrupted the Zuni’s trading patterns, land use, and settlement system, as well as introducing new diseases which took a devastating toll among their population. However, the Spaniards also introduced domestic livestock and new crops, including wheat and peaches.

Spanish missionary efforts began at Hawikuh in 1629 when Fray Estevan de Perea traveled to the major Acoma, Zuni, and Hopipueblos to begin Catholic teachings. That same year the Spanish established and constructed Mission La Purísima Concepción at Hawikuh. Religious and cultural tensions grew within the pueblo and peaked a few years later when the Zuni killed the resident priest, Fray Francisco Letrado. The Zuni, fearing retaliation from the Spanish, hid in the mountains and did not return to Hawikuh until three years later.

Hawikuh Mission, 1886

Hawikuh Mission, 1886

Reestablished by the late 1650s, the mission at Hawikuh suffered frequent Apache raids from the south. One, in 1672, resulted in the death of another priest and the burning of the mission. During this time, there was a decline in the Zuni population and subsequently, in the number of occupied villages. The attrition was the result of political pressure from the Spaniards and raiding from the Navajo and Apache. Violence soon became a regular part of the otherwise peaceful Zuni as they defended their land and resources from encroachment from other groups and resisted Spanish attempts to suppress their culture and religion. The Zuni joined with other pueblos in August of 1680 in the historic Pueblo Revolt which succeeded in driving the Spaniards out of New Mexico. During the rebellion, the Zuni destroyed Mission La Purísima Concepción. The former Zuni community at Hawikuh and Spanish mission are now in ruins, but continue to be visited and protected as a Zuni ancestral site.

Zuni Pueblo, NM-Edward S. Curtis, 1903

Zuni Pueblo, NM, Edward S. Curtis, 1903.

Afterward, the Zuni fled to the top of the Dowa Yalanne mesa and prepared for defense. Between 1680 and 1692 the Zuni built and maintained a large settlement that incorporated many pueblo rooms on the mesa top, an area of less than 617 acres. Since it did not contain enough land to support the entire Zuni population, the Zuni continued to farm and graze livestock in the valleys below.

Dowa Yalanne was pivotal in the development of Zuni settlement patterns as it was the first village in which the whole Zuni population gathered into a single settlement. Although it is unlikely that the other villages were totally abandoned, apparently every Zuni family maintained a residence atop the Dowa Yalanne that could be used for refuge when the Spaniards returned. The mesa top was also a position defensible against the hostile attacks of the Apache.

In 1692, Diego de Varga, the Spanish general in charge of the “reconquest,” entered the village peacefully, made amends, and convinced the Zuni to relinquish the occupation of Dowa Yalanne. Rather than return to their former scattered pueblos, the entire tribe settled at Halonawa on the north bank of the Zuni River. Following this event, Halonawa became known as the Zuni Pueblo.

Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the Zuni Pueblo by Timothy O'Sulllivan, 1873

Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the Zuni Pueblo, by Timothy O’Sulllivan, 1873

The Franciscans returned, and the church was rebuilt and Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was built in 1705. Continued Navajo and Apache raiding led to the establishment of sheep camps which were utilized as refuge sites. Situated along ridges and on the benches throughout the Zuni River Valley, these safe areas were difficult to access, having many hidden corrals and small rooms. Other refuge sites were established at the base of mesas for agricultural purposes.

The mission church was rebuilt in 1780 during a period of relative peace. Unlike the rest of the pueblo, whose buildings were made of stone held together with mud mortar and covered in mud plaster, the church was constructed with molded adobe bricks. In the late 1700s, the church façade had two bell towers and a balcony. By July 1821, following Mexican independence from Spain and the secularization of missions throughout Mexico, the Franciscan priests left the mission and no new priests were assigned there. Afterward, the mission building fell into disuse and disrepair.

Zuni Girl, 1903

Zuni Girl, 1903

In 1848 the Americans asserted their authority over the Mexican Southwest, and in 1877 federal officials created the Zuni Reservation. The Southern Pacific Railroad reached nearby Gallup, New Mexico in 1881, signaling a new era of non-Indian expansion and settlement. Missionaries accompanied the newcomers including Mormons who settled east of the village in the Zuni mountains in 1876 and Presbyterians a year later. Traders also arrived, encouraging the Zuni to raise sheep and cattle for shipment east and a new cash-based economy began.

Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe began to be revived when priests were reassigned to the pueblo. It was re-roofed in 1905, but more significant alterations took place in the 1960s. In a three-way partnership between the Zuni Tribe, the National Park Service, and the Catholic Diocese of Gallup, the mission and convento were excavated from 1966-1967, and reconstruction of the church began in 1969. 

Today, Zuni are distinct in that they have managed to remain quite unaffected by outer influences. They still claim the same land they always lived on, an area about the size of Rhode Island. They also mainly reside in one city — Zuni, New Mexico.

Zuni Governor, Sate Sa, by Edward S. Curtis, 1910

Zuni Governor, Sate Sa, by Edward S. Curtis, 1910

Although there are Zuni Indians who live outside of the city and the general area, they are few and far between. The tribe has managed to remain intact due to the fact that they did not get involved in problems, conflicts, or wars that didn’t concern their own people. Remaining autonomous, they were relatively unaffected by the changes around them.

Zuni life, much like it was in the past, is still deeply religious and very different from that of other tribes. The Zuni gods are believed to reside in the lakes of Arizona and New Mexico. The chiefs and the shamans carry out ceremonies during religious festivals. Song and dance accompany masked performances by the chiefs while the shamans pray to the gods for favors ranging from fertile soil to abundant amounts of rain. The shamans play an important role in the community as they are looked upon for guidance as well as knowledge and healing.

The Zuni Reservation is isolated from the outside world which allows the people to go about their existence relatively unencumbered by modern western civilization. They still live a peaceful, deeply religious existence and speak their own language. The reliance on corn as a mainstay of their economy has been replaced, however, by the tourist trade in pottery and jewelry.

The Zuni Pueblo is the largest of the 19 New Mexico pueblos, with more than 700 square miles and a population of over 10,000. It also features the Hawikuh ruins, abandoned during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, as well as craftsmen shops, and multiple events throughout the year. Zuñi Pueblo is on the Zuni Indian Reservation, two miles north of Zuni, New Mexico, on NM 53.

Visitors are welcome daily from dawn to dusk and tours are offered for a fee. Photography is allowed by permission only.

Zuni Dancers by Ben Wittick, 1897

Zuni Dancers by Ben Wittick, 1897

More Information:

Pueblo of Zuni
1203B NM Highway 53
PO Box 339
Zuni, New Mexico  87327


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2021.

Also See:

Ancient & Modern Pueblos – Oldest Cities in the U.S.

Legends, Myths & Tales of Native Americans

Myths & Legends of the Zuni

Native American Tribes

Sours: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-zuni/
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Zuni people

Native American Pueblo peoples native to the Zuni River valley

Map of historical distribution of Zuni (light green) and current Zuni land (dark green)

The Zuni (Zuni: A:shiwi; formerly spelled Zuñi) are Native AmericanPueblo peoples native to the Zuni River valley. The current day Zuni are a Federally recognized tribe and most live in the Pueblo of Zuni on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico, United States. The Pueblo of Zuni is 55 km (34 mi) south of Gallup, New Mexico.[1] The Zuni tribe lived in multi level adobe houses. In addition to the reservation, the tribe owns trust lands in Catron County, New Mexico, and Apache County, Arizona.[2] The Zuni call their homeland Halona Idiwan’a or Middle Place.[3] The word Zuni is believed to derive from the Western Keres language (Acoma) word sɨ̂‧ni, or a cognate thereof.


Archaeology suggests that the Zuni have been farmers in their present location for 3,000 to 4,000 years. It is now thought that the Ancestral Zuni people have inhabited the Zuni River valley since the last millennium B.C., at which time they began using irrigation techniques which allowed for farming maize on at least household-sized plots.[4][5]

Zuni Salt Lake, New Mexico, where the Zuni have harvested salt for centuries

Zuni culture was preceded by Mogollon and Ancestral Pueblo peoples cultures, who lived in the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and southern Colorado for over two millennia. White Mound was one such settlement of pit houses, farming, and storerooms, built around 700 A.D., followed by the village of Kiatuthlanna around 800 A.D., and Allantown around 1000 A.D. These Mogollon villages included kivas. Likewise, Zuni ancestors were in contact with the Anasazi at Chaco Canyon around 1100. The Zuni settlement called Village of the Great Kivas, was built around 1100, and included nine kivas. The Zuni region, however, was probably only sparsely populated by small agricultural settlements until the 12th century when the population and the size of the settlements began to increase. The large villages of Heshot Ula, Betatakin, and Kiet Siel were established by 1275. By the 13th century villages were built on top of mesas, including Atsinna on Inscription Rock. In the 14th century, the Zuni inhabited a dozen pueblos between 180 and 1,400 rooms in size, while the Anasazi abandoned larger settlements for smaller ones, or established new ones along the Rio Grande. The Zuni did move from the eastern portion of their territory to the western side, and built six new villages, Halona, Hawikuh, Kiakima, Matsaki, Kwakina, and Kechipaun. Halona was located 97 km north Zuni Salt Lake, and the Zuni traded in salt, corn and turquoise. Hawikuh was claimed by Niza to be one of the Seven Cities of Cibola, a legendary 16th century wealthy empire.[6][7][8]

In 1539, Moorish slave Estevanico led an advance party of Fray Marcos de Niza's Spanish expedition. Sponsored by Antonio de Mendoza who wanted Niza to "explain to the natives of the land that there is only one God in heaven, and the Emperor on earth to rule and govern it, whose subjects they all must become and whom they must serve." The Zuni reportedly killed Estevanico as a spy, or for being "greedy, voracious and bold."[7] This was Spain's first contact with any of the Pueblo peoples.[9]Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition followed in the wake of Niza's Seven Cities of Cibola claim. Sponsored once again by Mendoza, Coronado led 230 soldiers on horseback, 70 foot soldiers, several Franciscan priests and Mexican natives. The Spanish met 600 Zuni warriors near Hawikuh in July 1540, inflicting several casualties, and capturing the village. Coronado continued onwards to the Rio Grande, but several priests and soldiers stayed an additional 2 years. The Chamuscado and Rodríguez Expedition followed in 1581, and Antonio de Espejo in 1583. Juan de Oñate visited Zuni territory in 1598 and 1604 looking for copper mines, but without success. Francisco Manuel de Silva Nieto established a mission at Hawikuh in 1629 with 2 Franciscan priests. They completed a church compound in 1632, and established a second mission in Halona. Shortly afterwards, the Zuni destroyed the missions, killing two priests, and then retreated to Dowa Yalanne, where they remained for the next three years. The Spanish built another mission in Halona in 1643.[7][8]: 56–59 

Before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Zuni lived in six different villages. After the revolt, until 1692, they took refuge in a defensible position atop Dowa Yalanne, a steep mesa 5 km (3.1 miles) southeast of the present Pueblo of Zuni; Dowa means "corn", and yalanne means "mountain". After the establishment of peace and the return of the Spanish, the Zuni relocated to their present location, returning to the mesa top only briefly in 1703.[10] By the end of the 17th century, only Halona was still inhabited of the original six villages. Yet, satellite villages were settled around Halona, and included Nutria, Ojo Caliente, and Pescado.[8]: 67–69, 73–78 

Of the three Zuni missions, only the church at Halona was rebuilt after the reconquest. According to Nancy Bonvillain, "Indeed, by the late eighteenth century, Spanish authorities had given up hope of dominating the Zuni and other western Pueblo Indians, and in 1799 only seven Spanish people were recorded as living among the Zuni." In 1821, the Franciscans ended their missionary efforts.[8]: 71–74 

In 1848, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Henderson P. Boyakin signed a treaty with Zuni and Navajo leaders stating the Zuni "shall be protected in the full management of all their rights of Private Property and Religion...[by] the authorities, civil and military, of New Mexico and the United States." Observing the Zuni in the 1850s, Balduin Möllhausen noted "In all directions, fields of wheat and maize, as well as gourds and melons, bore testimony to their industry."[8]: 81, 83 

The Zuni Reservation was created by the United States federal government in 1877, and subsequently enlarged by a second Executive order in 1883.[8]: 86–88 

Frank Hamilton Cushing, an anthropologist associated with the Smithsonian Institution, lived with the Zuni from 1879 to 1884. He was one of the first non-native participant-observers and ethnologists at Zuni. In 1979, however, it was reported that some members of the Pueblo consider he had wrongfully documented the Zuni way of life, exploiting them by photographing and revealing sacred traditions and ceremonies.[11]

A controversy during the early 2000s was associated with Zuni opposition to the development of a coal mine near the Zuni Salt Lake, a site considered sacred by the Zuni and under Zuni control.[12] The mine would have extracted water from the aquifer below the lake and would also have involved construction between the lake and the Zuni. The plan was abandoned in 2003 after several lawsuits.[13][8]: 117–119 

  • Zuni pueblo middle court, in 1879

  • Zuni River, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. The Zuni people have inhabited the Zuni River valley since the last millennium BCE

  • Zuni men and the ancient Pueblo Town of Zuni, c. 1868

  • Two Zuni girls, photographed by Edward S. Curtis, c. 1926


The Zuni traditionally speak the Zuni language, a language isolate that has no known relationship to any other Native American language. Linguists believe that the Zuni have maintained the integrity of their language for at least 7,000 years. The Zuni do, however, share a number of words from Keresan, Hopi, and Pima pertaining to religion. The Zuni continue to practice their traditional religion with its regular ceremonies and dances, and an independent and unique belief system.

The Zuni were and are a traditional people who live by irrigated agriculture and raising livestock. Gradually the Zuni farmed less and turned to sheep and cattleherding as a means of economic development. Their success as a desert agri-economy is due to careful management and conservation of resources, as well as a complex system of community support. Many contemporary Zuni also rely on the sale of traditional arts and crafts. Some Zuni still live in the old-style Pueblos, while others live in modern houses. Their location is relatively isolated, but they welcome respectful tourists.

The Zuni Tribal Fair and rodeo is held the third weekend in August. The Zuni also participate in the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial, usually held in early or mid-August. The A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center is a tribal museum that showcases Zuni history, culture, and arts.

Zuni ethnobotany[edit]

The Zuni utilize many local plants in their culture. For an extensive list, see the main article, "Zuni ethnobotany". Zuni have developed knowledge of local plants that are used for medical practices and religious rites.[15]

Zuni pottery[edit]

Traditionally, Zuni women made pottery for food and water storage. They used symbols of their clans for designs. Clay for the pottery is sourced locally. Prior to its extraction, the women give thanks to the Earth Mother (Awidelin Tsitda) according to ritual. The clay is ground, and then sifted and mixed with water. After the clay is rolled into a coil and shaped into a vessel or other design, it will be scraped smooth with a scraper. A thin layer of finer clay, called slip, is applied to the surface for extra smoothness and color. The vessel is polished with a stone after it dries. It is painted with home-made organic dyes, using a traditional yucca brush. The intended function of the pottery dictates its shape and images painted on its surface. To fire the pottery, the Zuni used animal dung in traditional kilns. Today Zuni potters might use electric kilns. While the firing of the pottery was usually a community enterprise, silence or communication in low voices was considered essential in order to maintain the original "voice" of the "being" of the clay, and the purpose of the end product.[16][17] Sales of pottery and traditional arts provide a major source of income for many Zuni people today.[18] An artisan may be the sole financial support for her immediate family as well as others. Many women make pottery or, less frequently, clothing or baskets.[19] Brown, black and red ornamentation can be found on traditional Zuni pots that are first covered with white slip. Common motifs are spiral scrolls edged with triangles, deer, as well as frogs, dragonflies and other symbols associated with rain and water. In addition to pots, Zuni produce owl figurines that are covered with white slip and painted with black and red motifs before firing.[20]

Carving and silversmithing[edit]

Zuni also make fetishes and necklaces for the purpose of rituals and trade, and more recently for sale to collectors.

The Zuni are known for their fine lapidary work. Zuni jewelers set hand-cut turquoise and other stones in silver.[21] Today jewelry-making thrives as an art form among the Zuni. Many Zuni have become master stone-cutters. Techniques used include mosaic and channel inlay to create intricate designs and unique patterns.

Two specialties of Zuni jewelers are needlepoint and petit point. In making needlepoint, small, slightly oval-shaped stones with pointed ends are set in silver bezels, close to one another and side by side to create a pattern. The technique is normally used with turquoise, sometimes with coral and occasionally with other stones in creating necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. Petit point is made in the same fashion as needlepoint, except that one end of each stone is pointed, and the other end is rounded.[citation needed]


Further information: Zuni religion

Religion is central to Zuni life. Their traditional religious beliefs are centered on the three most powerful of their deities: Earth Mother, Sun Father, and Moonlight-Giving Mother. The Zunis' religion is katsina-based, and ceremonies occur during winter solstice, summer, harvest, and again in winter.[8]: 14–15, 25–40 

The Zuni Priesthood includes three priests (north, above and below), and Pekwin (above priest) determines the religious calendar. A religious society is associated with each of the six kivas, and each Zuni male child is initiated into one of these societies.[22]


Main article: Shalako

Painting of Zuni Shalako dancers

Shalako is a series of ceremonial dances that take place throughout the night[23] on or around the winter solstice. They are closed to non-native individuals unless there is a personal invitation by a tribal member. The ceremony also blesses the houses that were built during the year. The blessing takes the form of singing that accompanies six dancers who are dressed in Shalako outfits.[24] These outfits can be as high as eight feet; the dancers wearing them represent "couriers of the rain deities come to bless new homes".[25][26][27] The dancers move from house to house throughout the night; at dawn Saiyatasha performs a final prayer and the ceremony is complete.[27]

In popular culture[edit]

In the novel Brave New World, a Zuni native named John Savage comes to grip with sexual realities in the New State and how they differ from his own culture.


  • Zuñis in typical modern costume, 1896

  • Zuni paint and condiment cups

Notable Zuni people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^"Zuni Tribe: Facts, Clothes, Food and History ***". www.warpaths2peacepipes.com. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  2. ^"Welcome", Pueblo of Zuni, (retrieved 13 Feb 2011)
  3. ^"Experience Zuni". www.zunitourism.com. Retrieved 2017-11-08.
  4. ^Zuni Origins: Toward a New Synthesis of Southwestern Archaeology, The University of Arizona Press (30 Dec. 2009), ISBN 978-0816528936, edited by David A. Gregory and David R. Wilcox, p. 119
  5. ^Damp, Jonathan E. (2008). "The Economic Origins of Zuni"(PDF). Archaeology Southwest. 22 (2): 8. Archived(PDF) from the original on 12 September 2014.; see also Damp, Jonathan E. (2010). "Zuni emergent agriculture: economic strategies and the origins of Zuni". In Gregory, David A.; Wilcox, David R. (eds.). Zuni Origins: Toward a new synthesis of Southwestern archaeology. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. pp. 118–132. ISBN .
  6. ^Kintigh, Keith (2008). "Zuni Settlement Patterns: A.D. 950-1680"(PDF). Archaeology Southwest. 22 (2): 15–16. Archived(PDF) from the original on 12 September 2014.; see also Kintigh, Keith (2010). "Late prehistoric and late prehistoric settlement systems in the Zuni area". In Gregory, David A.; Wilcox, David R. (eds.). Zuni Origins: Toward a new synthesis of Southwestern archaeology. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. pp. 361–376. ISBN .
  7. ^ abcPritzker 109
  8. ^ abcdefghBonvillain, Nancy (2011). The Zuni. New York: Chelsea House. pp. 18–23, 56–57. ISBN .
  9. ^David Roberts, The Pueblo Revolt, 56 (Simon and Schuster, 2004). ASIN B000MC1CHQ. Reprint, 2005, ISBN 0-7432-5517-8
  10. ^Flint, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint "Dowa Yalanne, or Corn Mountain". Archived 2012-07-14 at archive.today New Mexico Office of the State Historian. 21 April 2012.
  11. ^Frank Hamilton Cushing, Zuni (University of Nebraska, 1979).
  12. ^Neary, Ben. "Mining Plan Pits Tribe Against Power Industry", Los Angeles Times, 2001-02-18. Retrieved on 2009-05-26.
  13. ^Neary, Ben. "Utility Drops Plans for Coal Mine", Santa Fe New Mexican, 2003-08-05. Retrieved on 2009-05-26.
  14. ^Byrd H. Granger (1960). Arizona Place Names. University of Arizona Press. p. 21. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  15. ^Camazine, S.; Bye, R.A. (December 1980). "A study of the medical ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2 (4): 365–388. doi:10.1016/s0378-8741(80)81017-8. PMID 6893476. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  16. ^Morrell, Virginia. "The Zuni Way ."Smithsonian Magazine. April 2007 (retrieved 13 Feb 2011)
  17. ^Jesse Green, ed. Zuni: Selected Writings of Frank Hamilton Cushing. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979. ISBN 0-8032-7007-0
  18. ^Grugel, Andrea (2012). "Culture, religion and economy in the American southwest: Zuni Pueblo and Laguna Pueb". GeoJournal: Geography for and with Indigenous Peoples. 77 (6): 791–803. JSTOR 23325388. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  19. ^Belarde-Lewis, Miranda, A Zuni System of Knowledge: The Arts, University of Washington
  20. ^Highwater, Jamake (1983). Arts of the Indian Americas. New York: Harper & Row. p. 191. ISBN .
  21. ^Adair 14
  22. ^Wright, Barton (1988). History and Background of Zuni Culture, in Patterns and Sources of Zuni Kachinas. Hamsen Publishing Company. pp. 37–38. ISBN .
  23. ^"Zuni Shalako Figure". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  24. ^Wright, Barton (1988). Patterns and Sources of Zuni Kachinas. Hamsen Publishing. pp. 42–45, 80–101. ISBN .
  25. ^"Our Culture". Pueblo of Zuni. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  26. ^Bonvillain, Nancy (2011). The Zuni. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN .
  27. ^ abCushing, Frank (1988). The Mythic World of the Zuni. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN .

General references[edit]

  • Adair, John. The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths. Norman: University Oklahoma Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8061-2215-1.
  • Cushing, Frank Hamilton. Jesse Green, ed. Zuni: Selected Writings of Frank Hamilton Cushing. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978. ISBN 0-8032-2100-2.
  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.
  • Wade, Edwin L. "The Ethnic Art Market in the American Southwest, 1880-1980." George, W. Stocking, Jr., ed. Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture (History of Anthropology). Vol. 3. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. ISBN 0-299-10324-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Benedict, Ruth. Zuni Mythology. 2 vols. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, no. 21. New York: Columbia University Press, 1935. AMS Press reprint, 1969.
  • Bunzel, Ruth L. "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism". (1932a); "Zuni Origin Myths". (1932b); "Zuni Ritual Poetry". (1932c). In Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Pp. 467–835. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932. Reprint, Zuni Ceremonialism: Three Studies. Introduction by Nancy Pareto. University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
  • Bunzel, Ruth L. Zuni Texts. Publications of the American Ethnological Society, 15. New York: G.E. Steckert & Co., 1933
  • Cushing, Frank Hamilton, Barton Wright, The Mythic World of the Zuni, University of New Mexico Press, 1992, hardcover, ISBN 0-8263-1036-2
  • Herrick, Dennis. (2018) Esteban: The African Slave Who Explored America. University of New Mexico Press, hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8263-5981-0
  • Davis, Nancy Yaw. (2000). The Zuni enigma. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04788-1
  • Eggan, Fred and T.N. Pandey. "Zuni History, 1855–1970". Handbook of North American Indians, Southwest. Vol.9. Ed. By Alfonso Ortiz. Pp. 474–481. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1979.
  • Hart, E. Richard, 2000. "Zuni Claims: An Expert Witness’ Reflections," American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 24(1): 163–171.
  • Hart, E. Richard, ed. Zuni and the Courts: A Struggle for Sovereign Land Rights. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995. ISBN 978-0-7006-0705-1.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. (1984). Zuni kin and clan. AMS Press. ISBN 0-404-15618-5
  • Newman, Stanley S. Zuni Dictionary. Indiana University Research Center, Publication Six. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1967. ASIN B0007F3L0Y.
  • Roberts, John. "The Zuni". In Variations in Value Orientations. Ed. by F.R. Kluckhorn and F.L. Strodbeck. Pp. 285–316. Evanston, IL and Elmsford, NY: Row, Peterson, 1961.
  • Smith, Watson and John Roberts. Zuni Law: A Field of Values. Papers of the Peabody Museum of the American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 43. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum, 1954.
  • Tedlock, Barbara. The Beautiful and the Dangerous: Dialogues with the Zuni Indians, New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

External links[edit]

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