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
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.
How do you pronounce the word "Zuni"? Where does it come from?
In Spanish, the name was spelled Zuņi 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.
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
on her back--a custom which many American parents have
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 Zuni adobe homes
and other Indian houses.
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
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 American Indian 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 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?
Sorry, but we cannot help you with religious information. Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately
in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about the
or this site about Indian religion in general.
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
Thanks for your interest in the Zuni Indian people and their language!