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Zuni Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Zuni Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Zuni language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Zuni pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Zuni Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Zuni"? Where does it come from?
In Spanish, the name was spelled Zuñi and pronounced "zoon-yee." In English, it is usually spelled Zuni and pronounced "zoo-nee." The Spanish borrowed this name from a Keres Pueblo name for the Zuni Pueblo. In their own language, the Zunis call themselves Ashiwi, which means "the flesh people." But today most Zuni people also use the word "Zuni" themselves, especially when they are speaking English.

Where do the Zunis live?
The Zuni are natives of New Mexico. Unlike many Native American tribes, the Zuni Indians were never forced to leave their homelands and are still living there today.

How is the Zuni Indian nation organized?
The Zuni tribe belongs to a confederation called the All Indian Pueblo Council, which makes joint political decisions on behalf of all the Pueblos of New Mexico. The Zuni tribe also has its own local government, with laws, police, and services just like a small country. However, the Zunis are also US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, the Zuni Indians had a theocratic government. That means that the head priest or cacique (pronounced kah-seek) was also the town chief. Today, the Zuni cacique is still an important religious leader, but the tribe is led by an elected governor and tribal council.

What language do the Zuni Indians speak?
Almost all Zuni people speak English today, but most of them also speak their native Zuni language. Zuni is a language isolate, which means it is not related to any known language. Most English speakers find it very difficult to pronounce. If you'd like to know an easy Zuni word, "keshi" (sounds a little like kay-shee) means "hello" in Zuni.

What was Zuni culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Zuni Pueblo. On their site you can find information about the Zuni people in the past and today.

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How do Zuni Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Zuni children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. A Zuni mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Zuni tribe?
Generally, Zuni women were in charge of the home and family. Zuni clans are matrilineal, which means Zuni people trace their family through their mothers. Zuni men were in charge of politics, agriculture and war. Zuni priests, political leaders, and warriors were traditionally always men. Both genders took part in storytelling, music and artwork, and traditional medicine.

What were Zuni homes like in the past?
Zuni people lived in adobe houses or pueblos, which are multi-story house complexes made of large stones cemented together with adobe (a baked mixture of clay and straw). Each adobe unit was home to one family, like a modern apartment. Zuni people used ladders to reach the upstairs apartments. A Zuni adobe house can contain dozens of units and was often home to an entire extended clan. Here are some pictures of Pueblo Indian houses like the ones the Zunis use.

Unlike most old-fashioned Indian shelters, traditional Zuni houses are still used by some people today. Other Zuni families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What were Zuni clothes like? Did the Zunis wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Zuni men didn't wear much clothing-- only breechcloths or short kilts. Zuni women wore knee-length cotton dresses called mantas. A manta fastened at a woman's right shoulder, leaving her left shoulder bare. Missionaries didn't think this dress style was modest enough, so in the 1900's many Zuni women started wearing shifts underneath their mantas. This style is still in use today. Men and women both wore deerskin moccasins on their feet. For dances and special occasions, women painted their moccasins white and wrapped white strips of deerskin called puttee around their shins as leggings. Here is a site with photographs of Pueblo clothing styles, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

The Zunis did not traditionally wear headdresses like the Sioux. Zuni men usually wore cloth headbands tied around their foreheads instead. For special ceremonies, Zuni dancers sometimes wore painted masks or crowns of feathers. Both men and women often wore their hair gathered into a figure-eight shaped bun called a chongo, but some Zuni men preferred to cut their hair to shoulder length and some Zuni women wore their hair long and loose. Except for certain religious ceremonies, the Zunis didn't paint their faces or bodies. But they are famous for their beautiful silver and turquoise ornaments, especially their elaborate necklaces.

Today, many Zuni people still wear moccasins or mantas, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear puttee or kilts on special occasions like a dance.

What was Zuni transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Zuni Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Originally they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Zunis used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry heavy loads. Once Europeans brought horses to America, the Zunis could travel more quickly than before.

What was Zuni food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Zunis were expert farming people. They raised crops of corn, beans, and squash, as well as cotton and tobacco. Zuni men also hunted deer, antelope, and small game, while women gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs. Favorite Zuni recipes included hominy, corn balls, baked beans, soups, and different types of cornbread. Here is a website with more information about American Indian food.

What were Zuni weapons and tools like in the past?
Zuni hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Zuni men fired their bows or fought with spears and war clubs. Here is a website of pictures and information about wooden clubs and other traditional Native American weapons. Zuni tools included wooden hoes and rakes for farming, spindles and looms for weaving cotton (and later wool), and pump drills for boring holes in shells and beads.

What other Native Americans did the Zuni tribe interact with?
The Zunis traded regularly with other tribes of the Southwest, particularly the other Pueblo tribes. The Pueblo trade routes reached into Mexico and to the California coast, supplying Zuni craftsmen with shells and coral for their jewelry. They fought most often with the Navajo and Apache tribes, who frequently raided their territory, and with the Spanish, who who forced many Zuni Indians into slavery and violently suppressed their religion. However, they also learned new traditions from these enemies, including silversmithing from the Navajos and sheep-herding from the Spanish.

What are Zuni arts and crafts like?
Zuni artists are famous for their beautiful pottery and animal-shaped fetish carvings. They also made willow baskets, heishi necklaces, and colorful American Indian rugs. All of these art forms are still flourishing today. Here is an article on the art of Zuni fetish carving.

What kinds of stories do the Zunis tell?
There are lots of traditional Zuni legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Zuni Indian culture. Here is a Zuni story about the changing of the seasons. Here's a site where you can read more about Zuni mythology.

What about Zuni religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Zuni life, and many ome people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Zuni people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Zuni religion or this site about Indian religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Sun Journey, a good historical novel for young readers about a Zuni boy in the 1800's. Younger children may like The Boy Who Made Dragonfly, a picture book of a traditional Zuni myth. Zuni Children and Elders Talk Together is a nice introduction to Zuni culture and family life for younger readers. If you want to know more about Zuni history and culture, two good books are The Zuni and The Zuni Indian Nation. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Zuni Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Zunis

Zuni Indian Tribe
An overview of the Zuni people, their language and history.

Zuni Language Resources
Zuni language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Zuni Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Zuni tribe past and present.

Zuñi Words
Zuni Indian vocabulary lists.

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