Zuni - 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 members—individuals 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 ways—internally, 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.

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User Contributions:

this totally helps me on a social studies project!!
evelyn gonsalez
How do I cite this website? I am working on a paper and want to make sure not to plagiarize.
so do the Zuni have rain dances yes or no plz help?
Hello, I'm am a full blood Zuni. And yes we do have rain dances during the summer.
what do the men wear during hunting and rituals? What did the houses look like?
I need info on the annual dance and I can not find any, will you please add info on their dance?
Thank you so much for sharing this information on the Zuni religion. I am heading across country by myself this summer and and hoping to spend some time with Zuni to understand more. I have great respect for the Zuni tribe.
Thank You sooo much, Need this very bad. Because im researching Zuni Indians for research project.
Thank You sooo much, Need this very bad. Because im researching Zuni Indians for research project.
thanks it helped lot for my projeckt at scool for the zuni.
This site helped me a lot I couldn't find the Zuni religion at all until now
Non-Zuni visiters are now allowed for the Shalako sacred ceremony.
Hi, my name is Bob
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How does the Zuni tribe please their gods. Do they sacrifice anything?
My daughter doing a school project she is in Oklahoma and she would like to know what the clothing means for woman of the zuni traditional clothing...can someone help plz

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