The Zuni or A:shiwi are a Native American tribe, one of the Pueblo peoples, most of whom live in the Pueblo of Zuni on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico, United States. Zuñi is 55 km (35 miles) south of Gallup, New Mexico and has a population of about 12,000, with over 80% being Native Americans, with 43.0% of the population below the poverty line as defined by the U.S. income standards. Many of the people do not consider their low income and lifestyle to be poverty They are known for their unique culture and cuisine.
Zuni traditionally speak the Zuni language, a unique language (also called an "isolate") which is unrelated to any other Native American language. The Zuni continue to practice their traditional religion with its regular ceremonies and dances and an independent and unique belief system. 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 Zuni, like other Pueblo peoples, are believed to be the descendants of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples who lived in the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Southern Colorado and Utah for centuries. Archaeological evidence shows they have lived in their present location for about 1,300 years. However, 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 (2 miles) southeast of the present Pueblo of Zuni. "Dowa" meaning "corn", and "yalanne" meaning "mountain." After the establishment of peace and the return of the Spanish, the Zuni relocated in their present location, only briefly returning to the mesa top in 1703.
In 1539, a Spanish exploratory party under the Moorish slave Estevanico arrived, though the villagers eventually killed him. This was Spain's first contact with any of the Pueblo peoples.
Frank Hamilton Cushing, a pioneering anthropologist associated with the Smithsonian Institution, lived with the Zuni from 1879 to 1884. He was one of the first participant observers and an ethnologist.
A controversy during early 2000s involved 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. The mine would have extracted water from the aqueducts.
Zuni traditionally speak the Zuni language, a unique language (also called an "isolate") which is unrelated to any other Native American language. The Zuni continue to practice their traditional religion with its regular ceremonies and dances and an independent and unique belief system.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.
A controversy during early 2000s involved 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. The mine would have extracted water from the aquifer below the lake and would also have involved construction between the lake and Zuni. The plan died in 2003 after several lawsuits.
In the earlier days of that age when Native Zuni clans roamed an area that is now the Southwestern United States, they made pottery for food and water storage. Women made pottery according to the clan's tradition of functionality and design. Clay for the pottery is sourced locally and thanks is given to the Earth Mother according to ritual prior to extraction. It is prepared first by grinding, and then sifting and mixing with water. After the clay is shaped into a vessel or ornament, it will be scraped smooth with a scraper. Then a thin layer of finer clay will be applied to the surface for extra smoothness. Next the vessel will be polished with a stone. Then the piece is painted with home-made organic dyes using a traditional yucca brush. The function of the ware is determined by its shape, and its design and painted images. To fire the pottery the Zuni used sheep dung in traditional kilns which had not changed for hundreds of years. However, most contemporary Zuni pottery is now fired in modern, electric kilns. While the firing of the pottery was usually a community enterprise, silence or communication in low voices was essential in order to maintain the original "voice" of the "being" of the clay and the purpose of the end product. The selling of pottery and other traditional arts and crafts is a major source of income for many of the Zuni, and an artisan may be the sole financial support for their immediate family as well as others. They made pottery, clothing, baskets.
Life for these agricultural people revolves around their religious beliefs. They have a cycle of religious ceremonies which takes precedence over all else. Their religious beliefs are centered on the three most powerful of their deities – Earth Mother, Sun Father, and Moonlight-Giving Mother. The Sun is especially worshipped. In fact the Zuni words for daylight and life are the same word. The Sun is, therefore, seen as the giver of life. Each person's life is marked by important ceremonies to celebrate their coming to certain milestones in their existence. Birth, coming of age, marriage and death are especially celebrated.
Zuni religiously pilgrimage every four years on the Barefoot Trail to Kothluwalawa, also called Zuni Heaven or Kachina Village; a 12,482-acre detached portion of the Zuni Reservation about sixty miles Southwest of Zuni Pueblo. The four-day observance occurs around the summer solstice, practiced for many hundreds of years and is well known to local residents.
Another pilgrimage conducted annually for centuries by the Zuni and other southwestern tribes is made to Zuni Salt Lake for the harvesting of salt during the dry months, and for religious purposes. The lake is home to the Salt Mother, Ma'l Okyattsik'i and is led to by several ancient Pueblo roads and trails.
Coming of age, or rite of passage, is celebrated differently by boys and girls. A girl who is ready to declare herself as a maiden, will go to the home of her father's mother early in the morning and grind corn all day long. Corn is a sacred food and a staple in the diet of the Zuni. The girl is, therefore, declaring that she is ready to play a role in the welfare of her people. When it is time for a boy to become a man he will be taken under the wing of a spiritual 'father', selected by the parents. This one will instruct the boy through the ceremony to follow. The boy will go through certain initiation rites to enter one of the men's societies. He will learn how to take on either religious, secular or political duties within that order.
The Zuni were and are a peaceful, deeply traditional people who lived by irrigated agriculture and now by the sale of traditional crafts. Some Zuni still live in the old style Pueblos, while others live in modern flat-roofed houses made from adobe and concrete block. Their location is relatively isolated, but they welcome respectful tourists. Carved stone animal fetishes, jewelry, needlepoint, and pottery are popular items.
Many Zuni also became master silversmiths and perfected the skill of stone inlay. They found that by using small pieces of stone they were able to create intricate designs and unique patterns. Small oval-shaped stones with pointed ends are set close to one another and side by side. The technique is normally used with turquoise in creating necklaces or rings. Another technique they have mastered is needlepoint.