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ETHNONYMS: Ashiwi, Cibola, Curii, Narsh-tiz-a (Apache), Nashtezhe (Navajo), Quini, Saray (Tiwa), Seven Cities of Cibola, Siyo (Hopi), Sumi, Sunyitai or Su'nyitsa (Keres)


Identification. The Zuni Indians live today on the Zuni Reservation in west-central New Mexico. The name "Zuni" appears to have derived ultimately from Keresan, wherein Acoma and Santa Ana su'ny denotes "a Zuni Indian." It first appears in Spanish as Suñi and Zuni in the entrada reports of Augustin Rodriguez and Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado (1581-82). Alternative spellings occur thereafter. The Zuni refer to themselves as "Ashiwi" and their pueblo as "Itiwana" (Middle Place), "Halona:wa," name of Halona Pueblo, or most commonly now, Zuni.

Location. The Zuni have occupied the Zuni River valley of western New Mexico and eastern Arizona since at least a.d. 700. The present reservation comprises approximately 655 square miles divided into three areas: the main reservation, Zuni Salt Lake (one square mile added in 1978), and Zuni Heaven (Kolhu/wala:wa ) (fourteen square miles added in 1984).

Linguistic Affiliation. The Zuni language is an isolate that may possibly be related to Penutian of central California. If so, glottochronology suggests a separation minimally of seven thousand years.

Demography. Historically, the Zuni population at European contact in 1540 has been estimated at over 6,000. Population was greatly reduced by diseases such as smallpox, influenza, and measles. Since 1903, when medical doctors arrived, the population has steadily increased. Reservation population in February 1988 was 8,299 Zuni (3,984 men, 4,315 women) and 460 non-Indians. Of the Zuni, 2,469 were less than sixteen years old. Many Zuni live off the reservation, but precise figures are lacking.

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence indicates a resident population within the Zuni River drainage for well over a millennium. In 1540 the Spanish entrada led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, came in search of gold to Zuni (the fabled Kingdom of Cibola) described by Fray Marcos de Niza after his 1539 sojourn with Esteban, a Black slave. Coronado and his party defeated the Zuni at Hawikkuh but found that women, Children, and most provisions had been removed to the sacred stronghold mesa, Dowa Yalanne. The men escaped and soon followed. The entrada wintered in the Rio Grande, but passed through Zuni again on the way back to Mexico, having found no gold. Several Mexican Indians remained and were Reported alive by later Spanish explorers, Chamuscado (1581), Antonio Espejo (1583), and Juan de Oñate (1598). Colonization of the Southwest by the Spaniards under Oñate in 1598 involved the Rio Grande valley. The Zuni were largely unaffected until 1629, when they accepted the Franciscans. A mission was built at Hawikkuh in 1629 and another at Halona:wa by 1632. Hostility toward the friars led to the Zuni's killing them at Hawikkuh in 1632. Apparently the missions were then left unattended until after 1660. In 1672, Apaches killed the priest at the rebuilt Hawikkuh mission with suggestions of Zuni complicity. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 drove the remaining Spanish settlers and priests from the Southwest, and missions and their accouterments were destroyed. The reconquest by Diego de Vargas in 1692, However, revealed the Zuni were the only Indians to have preserved Christian ritual objects. De Vargas found the Zuni living atop Dowa Yalanne. They resettled only Halona:wa in 1700, rebuilding the mission. Early in the 1700s, the Zuni killed three Spaniards and briefly fled to Dowa Yalanne. There were also problems with the Hopi, and mutual raiding of villages occurred (the Hopi Wars).

Throughout the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries, Apache and Navajo raiding parties were a problem. Zuni reprisals in a number of instances involved joining with Spanish militia, later Mexican troops (1821 to 1846), and Finally the U.S. Army (1846 to 1865). From the outbreak of the Mexican War, the Zuni were allied to the United States and assisted numerous expeditions/militia with food, shelter, and warriors. Stephen Watts Kearny (1846), John Marshall Washington and James H. Simpson (1849), Lorenzo Sitgreaves (1851), Amiel W. Whipple (1858), and Edward F. Beale (1857-1858, with twenty-five camels!) were among those assisted.

With Americanization came tremendous encroachments on what were recognized as Zuni lands during the Spanish and Mexican periodsabout 15 million acres were involved. The Zuni reservation boundary was officially established in 1877 and reflected less than 3 percent of the original area utilized. Reservation lands were officially extended beginning as early as 1883 through the assistance of the Bureau of American Ethnology ethnologist Frank Hamilton Cushing. He accompanied Matilda Coxe and James Stevenson, fellow anthropologists, in 1879 and stayed at Zuni for several years, becoming an adopted tribal Member and a bow priest. These early anthropologists began a century-plus collaboration with the tribe. Recently, anthropologists have taken an active role in assisting the Zuni in land claims cases and other endeavors.


The original area used by the Zuni contains sites indicating Paleo-Indian occupation dating approximately 10000 to 6000 b.c. The Archaic period follows with more numerous sites reflecting a foraging way of life. The introduction of maize from Mexico in 1500 b.c. eventually resulted in a shift from foraging to horticulture. The traditional ancestral Zuni area embraces both Mogollon and Basketmaker-Pueblo (Anasazi) developments, beginning about a.d. 200. At this time, villages of several pit-structures, the introduction of ceramics, and greater dependence on maize are noteworthy. Population and site frequency increased through time. Within the Zuni River drainage proper, painted ceramics developed about a.d. 700, and by 1000, above-ground masonry pueblos appeared. From about 1000 to 1150, the area was incorporated into the Chacoan system centering in Chaco Canyon to the north, with numerous outliers reflecting well-planned masonry structures featuring Great Kivas (one can see, at Zuni, the Village of the Great Kivas and other sites). With the collapse of the Chacoan system, the ancestral Zuni began to build larger, aggregated pueblos, often with over a thousand rooms. Irrigation to ensure crop production probably began at this time. At Spanish contact the Zuni resided in six pueblos along a twenty-five-mile section of the Zuni River. One of the sites, Halona:wa, is present-day Zuni.

Following reconquest, the present Zuni was the focus for Zuni life and culture, but a number of seasonally occupied sites were constructed and used in the central area early in the seventeenth century. These villages were associated with farming and peach orchards; they were also outposts for grazing livestock and places where religious ceremonies could be held without Spanish interference. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, after Navajo and Apache raiding ceased, farming villages were established at Nutria, Pescado, and Ojo Caliente where excellent springs for irrigation exist. These villages, though largely in ruin, continue to be occupied, as does Tekapo, founded early in the twentieth century at the terminal point of an irrigation canal associated with Blackrock Dam on the Zuni River.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Zuni were horticulturists, with maize of several colors, beans, and squash as the primary cultigens grown in dry, floodwater, or irrigated fields. Crops were supplemented by the gathering of numerous wild plants and the hunting of animals (mule deer, rabbits, antelope, mountain sheep, and others, including bison on the plains). Communal hunts, which involved considerable ritual activity, were not uncommon. Following Spanish contact, wheat, melons, peaches, and other plants were introduced, as were sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and burros. Aboriginally, turkeys and dogs were domesticated, and eagles were caged or tethered for ritual use of their feathers. Sheep quickly became the dominant animal (for both wool and meat).

Today, all available range land (95 percent of the Reservation) has been assigned in ninety-five grazing units/sheep ranches and four cattle pastures operated by two cattlemen's associations. The reservation was fenced in 1934. Range improvements are ongoing, and sheep and cattle provide a growing source of income. Although trading in turquoise, shell, piñon nuts, salt from Zuni Salt Lake, plants/herbs, and other materials has not ceased, with the coming of the railroads (to Gallup in 1882) and Americanization, there was a shift from bartering to a cash economy. Employment on the reservation is limited to positions associated with federally funded tribal programs, trading posts, and other commercial enterprises. During the 1970s a candle factory and a subsidiary plant of a major electronics company were established, but were shortlived. Cottage industry involving jewelry and other craft Production began to be an important source of income during the 1920s and reached a zenith in the 1970s; today, most households are involved on either a part- or full-time basis. Events of the 1970s, particularly the "jewelry boom," nearly brought an end to subsistence farming pursuits. Sources of off-reservation employment include fire fighting with the U.S. Forest Service and a variety of jobs in Gallup.

Industrial Arts. Crafts included pottery, blanket and belt weaving, basketry, fetish carving, turquoise (and shell) bead making, and metalworking after Spanish contact. Although silversmithing began in the late nineteenth century, it did not reach major importance until the 1920s with the assistance of reservation and Gallup traders. A progression from clusterwork to mosaic inlay and, more recently, needlepoint and channel work has brought international prominence to Zuni. Fetishes, glass beadwork, kachinas, paintings, prints, and ceramics are available to the trader and tourist market. Sash and belt weaving is being revitalized, but basketry is near extinction.

Trade. Since prehistoric times, Zuni have maintained an important position in trade with other Pueblos, Navajo, Apache, Mexican Indians, and other groups. Hawikkuh, ethnohistorically, was the nexus of trade; present-day Zuni (Halona:wa) continues the tradition. While major trade in wheat and other crops no longer exists, trade in jewelry and other crafts, as well as salt and piñon nuts, continues.

Division of Labor. There has been a major shift from traditional patterns (men worked in fields, harvested crops belonged to the women) to a nonagricultural cash economy wherein both women and men are frequently involved in wage earning. Expectations are that a husband will give his wife his earnings. Livestock ownership traditionally resided with males, with related males sharing flock/herd duties and dividing proceeds after sales. Today, women may be involved via inheritance from their fathers. Within households many married couples work together in jewelry production, dividing the work by personal preference. Preparing food for Ceremonial occasions and bread baking continues to be women's work, and wood gathering and chopping generally resides with males.

Land Tenure. Since Americanization, land has been passed down through either male or female lines, rather than being controlled by matrilineal clans. Today, land associated with houses and farming tends to be viewed as personal property with surveyed boundaries. Cattle and sheep grazing areas are divided among tribal members with registered use rights.


Kin Groups and Descent. As of 1977 there were fourteen matrilineal, exogamous, and totemically named clans. A child is born into the clan of his or her mother and is viewed as a child of the father's clan. Clans with large memberships may have subclans within them. Although there has been some intermarriage with non-Zunis, the clan structure remains strong and viable. Its most conspicuous workings may be seen during ceremonies.

Kinship Terminology. A basic Crow system operates with some modification in kin terms. The Zuni system incorporates blood kin and conjugal relatives, as well as clan and ceremonial kin, and appears highly complex with inconsistencies to non-Zunis.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. One does not marry within one's clan, and though one should not marry within the father's clan, this does occasionally occur. Marriage traditionally could take place with or without courtship, but it always entailed gifts, discussions with the girl's mother or father, and the girl's own choice. Since the 1970s, courting has followed basic American mainstream patterns; marriages are formalized by a church ceremony, by a justice of the peace with a tribal Marriage license, or by living together. Divorce is easy, although with a cash economy and nontraditional material possessions, separation can be more complicated. A male returns to his mother's house with his personal possessions and little else. Children belong to their mother's matrilineal clan, and therefore illegitimacy does not exist. Alimony payments are unknown.

Domestic Unit. Traditional extended matrilocal Households continue; however, nuclear housing has become Common with federal HUD assistance. Subdivisions fan out around the village, and much development has occurred at Black Rock, two miles east of Zuni.

Inheritance. Matrilineality continues to play a significant role in inheritance of homes and personal property, though males have considerably more say about sheep and cattle disposition. Modernization of the pueblo, especially since the 1970s, has tended to alter traditional division patterns. Bitter disputes within extended families, in part a result of nuclear family housing, are not uncommon.

Socialization. The "Zuni Way" begins with infants being tightly bound to a hard-backed cradle board. Childhood is characterized by general permissiveness. Mother's brother may be asked to assist in reprimands, and threats of visits by Boogie Man kachinas are not uncommon for repeated naughty behavior. Aggressive and hostile acts are discouraged. Educationfrom Head Start through high schoolis emphasized as a key factor to improved opportunities in life. The University of New Mexico has a vocational branch at Zuni.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The interconnectedness of the Zuni social, political, and religious systems and their complexities have been described as almost impossible for non-Zunis to comprehend. In essence, no part of the system can be isolated. At the base is the maternal household; it is the social, economic, and religious unit composed of elder members of the maternal lineage, their daughters with their children, unmarried sons, and male in-laws. Within this setting, the status of women is high, particularly for matrons. Males joining households as husbands may achieve relatively high status almost immediately because of knowledge and skills that bring financial support to the family, but their ties and obligations to their maternal households continue.

Political Organization. Aboriginally, members of the bow priesthood controlled both internal and external political matters. The functioning of the bow priests as a council, an arm of the all-powerful religious priests, may date to preContact times. The Spanish instituted the positions of governor (with a cane of office), lieutenant governor, and assistants perhaps as early as the late 1500s and certainly by 1692 (the reconquest). The head bow priest normally would be governor. Installation by the head priests involved presenting the individual with the Spanish cane and, later, another one from Abraham Lincoln (the Lincoln cane). Selection and appointment by the religious hierarchy continued until 1934, when a nominating committee was selected to present two nominees to the priests. At a public meeting, the individual receiving the most "male stand-up" votes was installed as governor; the other, as lieutenant governor. They then had some say about the remaining members of the council. Women, although not officially excluded, did not vote until 1965, when secret balloting was also initiated.

Significant changes occurred in 1970, when the Zuni constitution was ratified. Terms of office for the governor and council were set at four years, and salaries for the first time were guaranteed from federally derived funds via the Bureau of Indian Affairs. On July 1, 1970, the Tribal Council, following application, gained control of all functions of both the Tribal Council and the reservation with an Indian agent (the secretary of the interior's representative) acting as adviser to tribal programs. This was part of an overall comprehensive development plan whereby Zuni would receive increased funds to bring numerous improvements and job opportunities to the reservation. Funding was based on Federal Law 25 U.S.C. 48, passed in 1834; Zuni was the first to apply. The funding led to forty-three modernization programs, and today the pueblo, with its paved streets, sidewalks, and streetlights, appears little different outwardly from other Southwestern communities its size.

Social Control. Aboriginally, the bow priests were central figures in social control. Many infractions were directly tied to accusations of witchcraft; punishments included public whipping and even death. The last public trials of witches were held in 1925, but belief in witchcraft continues. Now it is resolved privately between the person who catches the witch in the act and the witch. Any infractions against the gods are punished directly by them. Gossip and ridicule play an active role in social control; sacred clowns may publicly expose improper behavior in the plaza on various occasions. Zuni also has a tribal police force and jail, as well as access to the state police, the sheriff's office, and federal agents (the FBI in Gallup) as needed.

Conflict. Internal problems appear to have been minimal given the functioning theocratic aboriginal system. During the twentieth century, factionalism, involving pro- and anti-Catholic groups, religious hierarchy versus political groups, and various combinations, has been a problem. Political differences in 1940 resulted in the Sun Priest (highest priest) refusing to serve; he moved to Gallup and the office lapsed with his death in 1952. In 1984, the religious hierarchy, acting on behalf of the people, requested the return of the canes of office from the Tribal Council, citing gross neglect of duty. The priests appointed an interim council, but it was not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs until an election was conducted. Most recently, in 1990, the religious hierarchy objected to the Tribal Council's plan with the National Park Service for the first cultural park on a reservation after it was approved by Congress. A pueblo-wide vote was taken, and negative results ended the plan.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The "Zuni Way" is an all-encompassing approach to the universe. Everything within it is sacred, and through religion, harmony and balance are maintained. Ancestors, nature, and zootheism are major aspects. Offered are numerous prayers and prayersticks and the sprinkling of sacred white maize meal with bits of turquoise, shell, and coral in order to give thanks and to maintain balance and harmony. Disharmony is caused by infractions of proper behavior, and evil per se is equated with witchcraft. Spanish missionaries attempted to destroy the native religion, and some converted to Catholicism and other Christian faiths. But though many have compartmentalized Christianity with Zuni religion, the latter remains strong and viable. Stability is provided through four interlocking subsystems: clans, kivas (kachina society), curing societies, and priesthoods. Each operates independently, but synchronically, to fulfill both psychological and physical Zuni needs. Within the Zuni supernatural order, "The Ones Who Hold Our Roads" are supreme; these are Sun Father and his wife, Moon Mother. Earth Mother is also of great importance. Another deity, Old Lady Salt, is Sun Father's sister, and White Shell Woman is his mother (or maternal grandmother). Other deities include Turquoise Man, War Gods, Beast Gods, and a number of kachinas who require impersonators of the highest character.

Religious Practitioners. In reality, all Zuni are religious practitioners and religion begins in the home. One's clan may determine positions within the religious system. All males are initiated into the kachina society and become members of one of six kiva groups. The father or mother selects his kiva when he is born, but he may change membership. Initiation occurs in two stages: between ages five and nine, and between ten and fourteen; after this, the male can dance and wear a kachina mask. The kachina society is headed by kachina chief and the kachina spokesman, each of whom has a kachina bow priest assistant. There is also a dance chief for each of the six kivas. Twelve curing societies (Cults of the Beast Gods) are open to both male and female membersindividuals may join by choice, by being guilty of trespass, or by being cured of illness. Each has four officers. Membership normally is for life. Sixteen rain priesthoods (six daylight and ten night priests) exist; most have from two to five ranked assistants and may also have one or two female assistants. Some priests come from specific clans either because sacred bundles associated with them are housed by these clans or because clan affiliation is mandatory (for example, the sun priest and the house chief). The final two priesthoods are bow priesthoods (cult of the war gods), and the priest must have taken a scalp.

Ceremonies. All of the above groups perform calendrical ceremonies and rituals; some are public, others are secret. Each kiva group normally dances four times a year (summer, prior to the harvest, prior to the winter solstice, and winter proper). The internationally famous Shalako ceremony and feast in late November or early December requires year-long preparation and has reportedly brought five thousand or more visitors annually in recent years. But as of June 1990, Shalako has been closed to the public and non-Indians. In addition to numerous annual pilgrimages, quadrennial rituals and ceremonies include the boys' initiation into the kachina cult and pilgrimages to Zuni heaven, the home of most kachinas and some ancestors.

Arts. Numerous items are made for religious purposes: highly elaborate masks and costumes, kachina dolls presented to girls and women who represent them, bows and arrows to boys, jewelry worn by dancers, moccasins (painted or dyed red), women's leggings, fetishes, prayersticks, images of the war gods (Ahayuda ), wood slat altars, and various insignia of societal membership. Dancing, religious text recitation, and singing (both newly created kachina songs as well as older ones, some of which are in Keresan or archaic Zuni) are also important.

Medicine. Sickness is caused by taboo infractions or witchcraft. A tremendous variety of medicinal plants, which are either collected or traded for with other tribes, is used in curing. These are administered in a variety of waysinternally, often as teas, rubbed on the skin, or smoked. The curing societies are associated with specific maladies and effect specific cures. A modern hospital (U.S. Public Health Service) is located at Black Rock for general health, dental, and eye care. Serious problems involve ambulance transport to the Gallup Indian Hospital or air service to Albuquerque's Bernalillo County Indian Hospital.

Death and Afterlife. Witchcraft is commonly viewed as causing death; but kachina dances, which continue for an extended series of days, and dreams wherein the dead appear to lure the living can bring about death as well. Infractions of Religious rules can cause either the individual or someone close to that person to die. Thunderstorms in January and observed landslides foretell the death of rain priests within a year. Likewise, a Shalako impersonator who falls, especially during the final races, is expected to die within a year. The time of an Individual's death is predetermined by a person's "invisible road." If one commits suicide or dies from grief or other premature cause, the individual may not enter the afterworld until "the road" is fully traversed. Following death, the deceased lies in state at home for an evening. During this time, the body is washed by specific female clan relatives and dressed in traditional clothing. Blankets and clothing brought by the assembled group are buried with the Individual during the morning. It is preferred that burial occur within twenty-four hours of death. Rather than the overly crowded Campo Santo in front of the mission, the new Panteah cemetery south of the village is the final resting place. The spirit ("wind") of the deceased remains within the home for four days following death. It passes out the open door and resides at one of several locations. Bow priesthood members become lightning makers; rain priests join their kind "in the waters of the world;" medicine society members go to Shipapulima, Place of Emergence. The majority of Others go to kachina village/Zuni heaven to participate in activities there or return as clouds or "invisibly" to Zuni while dancing is going on. Following death, the name of the deceased ceases to be used, except for rain priests, whose names are invoked by extant members to bring rain.


Crampton, C. Gregory (1977). The Zunis of Cibola. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Ferguson, T. J., and E. R. Hart (1985). A Zuni Atlas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Leighton, Dorothea C, and John Adair (1966). People of the Middle Place: A Study of the Zuni Indians. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files Press.

Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. (1979). Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 9, Southwest. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Wright, Barton M. (1985). Kachinas of the Zuni. Flagstaff, Ariz.: Northland Press.



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ZUNI. People in the Zuni region of western New Mexico organized into settled communities in pueblos between a.d. 950 and a.d. 1150. The Zuni or Ashiwi people speak a unique language called Zunian and trace their ancestry to both the Anasazis, who used to reside in the area, and the Mogollon people from the south, who joined the Zuni's ancestors between 1350 and 1540. They were hunters, farmers, and traders, connected to extensive trade routes. Their religion is enmeshed in their social order, where clans are crosscut by memberships in religious societies, a system that mutes rivalries and contributes to the consensus some anthropologists have seen as a distinctive feature of Zuni culture. Zuni religion centers on kachina gods and dances, a tradition found among many of the pueblos in the Southwest. The Spanish encountered the six villages of Zuni when an expedition seeking the legendary Seven Cities of Cíbola reached the pueblo in 1539. A military expedition returned in 1540, and Zunis came under nominal Spanish control. The Zunis took part in the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in 1680, but suffered less than other pueblos from the cruelties of the reconquest. The region became part of Mexico when it won independence from Spain in 1821, and then became part of the United States in 1848, following the Mexican War. In 1879, the Zunis were visited by the first of many anthropologists. At times in the decades that followed, Zunis engaged in confrontations with the U.S. government in defense of its sovereignty and tribal lands. It entered the consciousness of Americans through such works as Frank Hamilton Cushing's Century magazine series "My Adventures in Zuni" (1882–1883), Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture (1934), and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1934). With the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, Zunis adopted government by an elected tribal council advised by religious leaders. The Zuni population expanded during the twentieth century, from fewer than 1,700 to more than 9,000. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the pueblo was relatively prosperous, with an economy that rested in part on production of jewelry and distinctive Zuni fetishes, and in part on work for state and federal government agencies.


Ferguson, T. J., and E. Richard Hart. A Zuni Atlas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

Peynetsa, Andrew. Finding the Center: Narrative Poetry of the Zuni Indians. Translated by Dennis Tedlock. New York: Dial Press, 1972.

Roscoe, Will, The Zuni Man-Woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991.


See alsoAncestral Pueblo (Anasazi) ; Tribes: Southwestern .


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Zu·ni / ˈzoōnē/ (also Zu·ñi / ˈzoōnyē/ ) • n. (pl. same or Zu·nis) 1. a member of a Pueblo Indian people of western New Mexico. 2. the language of this people.• adj. of or relating to this people or their language.


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Zuni Pueblo Native Americans who live on the Zuni reservation in w New Mexico, USA. The present pueblo is on the site of one of the seven Zuni villages discovered by Marcos de Niza in the early 16th century and identified as the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. In 1540, Coronado sacked the villages, and following a revolt in 1680 the Pueblo abandoned the site for fear of reprisal from the Spanish. Modern Zuni maintain their tradition and skills.