A Church Growth Study of the Zuni IndiansRalph Bruce Terry
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Chapter 2


This chapter contains a survey of the culture of the Zuni Indians in order to provide a base for the analysis in Chapter 4. The information in this chapter comes primarily from the research of various anthropologists over a ninety year period. It has been supplemented with personal investigation in order to determine any changes in the culture. The geographical setting and cultural traits of Zuni are presented, with special emphasis on the social organization and religious life of Zuni. There is also a section on culture change at Zuni.


Geography. Zuni Pueblo is located a little over thirty miles south of Gallup, New Mexico in the middle of the over 440,000 acre1 Zuni Reservation as shown in Figure 1. Four miles east of the pueblo is Blackrock, the administrative compound where government employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Federal Aviation Agency, and the Public Health Service along with other individuals reside.2 Blackrock boasts of a small airport, a 36-bed PHS hospital, an electronics parts assembly plant, and an FAA station. The reservation also includes four farming villages which are inhabited mostly in the summer: Ojo Caliente, Nutria, Pescado, and Tekapo. The socio-religious activities of the whole reservation, however, center around the village of Zuni.

Fig. 1 Zuni Reservation - click to view enlargement.

Zuni Pueblo is situated on the Zuni River about three miles west of Towa Yalanne,3 the sacred mountain of the Zunis. As shown in Figure 2, the town has four trading posts, four elementary schools (two of which are mission affiliated), one secondary school, a post office, a branch bank, a telephone company, a barbershop, a laundromat, two drive-In restaurants, one service station, and several jewelry stores. The administrative headquarters has been moved from Blackrock to the new tribal council building in the pueblo. In the center of town, near the dance plaza, is the 270-year old Catholic mission, now restored and in use every Sunday. There is another Catholic mission, a Christian Reformed mission, and a Baptist mission in town. Just west of the village is the Mormon church building, and the building for the Church of Christ is located in Blackrock. Zuni Pueblo is situated on the site of Halona, one of the famed "seven cities of Cibola" which Coronado marched north to New Mexico to find. It is the oldest continuous settlement in the United States.

Fig. 2 Zuni Pueblo - click to enlarge.

The ruins of Hawikuh, the principal settlement of Coronado's time, are located about fifteen miles southwest of the pueblo. In 1909 a dam was constructed at Blackrock for irrigation purposes. A dam was also constructed at Pescado in 1931, and in the period 1932-38 five dams were built along the Rio Nutria.4 The northwestern portion of the Zuni reservation is dominated by the two mesas called the Zuni Buttes or Kwili Yalanne.5 While these landmarks reach an elevation of 7225 feet above sea level, Zuni Pueblo is about 6291 feet at its highest.6 The average annual rainfall on the reservation is about thirteen inches. In the summer the average high temperature is about 93 degrees while the average low is 45 degrees, 3h the winter the average high is 60 degrees and the average low is -7 degrees.7

Zuni presently has a population of almost 6,000. Due to better health conditions, the rate of population increase in Zuni is very high. Figures 3 and 4 show how the population has increased at Zuni.8

Fig. 3 Zuni Population Growth 1680-1970 - click to enlarge. fig. 4 Zuni Population Growth 1900-1970- click to enlarge.

As regards physical characteristics, Zuni adults are short of stature and light of bone.9 They are medium dark complexioned and have oriental-type features. "The men are inclined to leanness, while by contrast, the women after bearing several children, increase in weight, as do the women of other pueblos, so that by middle age obesity is pronounced."10

Language. Although Spanish was the trade language of the Zunis until the latter part of the nineteenth century, at present, due mainly to the American schools, most of the population under 55 can not only speak but also read and write English. English is a second language, and abstract concepts are not communicated or understood well in it by most Zunis. The main language spoken in the village is Zuni. This is the language in which religion and emotions are expressed. Most children do not learn to speak English until they enter kindergarten, and they usually have trouble with the grammar. "If a Zuni is observed talking too much English with anyone, outsider or fellow Zuni, lie is ridiculed for being meni:ashe:'a-the Zuni term for those who follow white ways."11

Swadesh has classified Zuni as a Penutoid language,12 while Sapir has classified it as an Aztec-Tanoan language.13 "Suffice it to say for the present that Zuni has no close affiliation with any other known language. . . . [Thus] once a Zuni leaves the reservation, he must always deal with alien languages."14 It is sometimes said that language and culture are interrelated. This is demonstrated in the case of the Zunis, who have no feeling of forgiveness in the constant bickering that occurs in the village, by the fact that the language has no word to express the idea of forgiveness.15

Material culture. Zuni houses fall into two different categories. The older houses in the center of the pueblo are one-story adobe houses with typically three to six rooms. They are often built around a plaza. The newer ones are frame or block houses. Cooking is still often done in the beehive-shaped earthen outdoor ovens. Modern conveniences are also to be found in the village. A modernized public water system was installed in the mid-thirties. The Rural Electric Association brought power to the community in 1950.16 Around 1960 a sewage system was installed17 and the streets are soon to be paved. The Zunis now mainly wear Anglo clothes. The women are sometimes seen wearing a large shawl. Only during ceremonies are the native clothes of fifty years ago seen.

Most families now have an automobile, which often as not is a pickup truck. It is not unusual to see hitchhikers riding into Gallup in the back of a pickup. Up until about 1940, however, there were Zunis who had not traveled as far away as Ojo Caliente.18

Economic life. Presently the pueblo's per capita income is estimated at $582 a year.19 This works out to an average yearly family income of about $3700. Probably the largest single trade in Zuni is silversmithing and working with turquoise. Farming and sheep raising are other prominent occupations. Many Indians either work for the government or drive into Gallup to work.

Although property used to be "owned" by households, the Anglo system has gradually taken over, and now most property on the reservation is "owned" by individuals. This is "owned" in a special sense for actually the property is owned by the tribe, and an individual may lease his land, but he may not sell it.20

Education. The first school in Zuni was a Presbyterian day school begun somewhere around 1880. Since that time, education has been continuous but by no means universal;21 however, most children since the 1930's have been to school. The Zuni culture itself is transmitted mostly in the households and in the kiva groups (religious cults). The schools have served more as an element of culture change than as an element of culture transmission.

Recreation. Anglo sports and pastimes have taken the place of native forms of recreation, such as the footrace and storytelling. Basketball is probably the favorite sport at Zuni. Elementary children can be seen on the playground playing such games as tag, foursquare, and jumprope.22

1Bertha P. Dutton, Friendly People; The Zuni Indians (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1963), p. 6. [return]

2These three government agencies will be designated by BIA, FAA and PHS respectively in the rest of this paper. [return]

3Also spelled Taaiyalone, Towa Yallane, Towayallone, Dowa Yalanne. The Zunis pronounce the "T" like a "D"; it is unaspirated. Zuni words such as Towa Yalanne and Shalako which are in common English usage around Zuni are not underscored in this thesis. [return]

4Dorothea C. Leighton and John Adair, People of the Middle Place: A Study of the Zuni Indians (New Haven, Connecticut: Human Relations Area Files, 1963), p. 7. [return]

5Ibid., p. 6. [return]

6Ibid., p. 100. [return]

7Ibid., pp. 7, 8. [return]

8Ibid., p. 8a{ Matilda Coxe Stevenson, "The Zuni Indians: Their Mythology, Esoteric Societies and Ceremonies." Twenty-third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1901-1902 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904), p. 286; Dutton, op. cit., pp. 15, 25; G. E. E. Lindquist, The Red Man in the United States (New York: George H, Doran Company, 1923), p. 270} Francisco Atanasio Dominguez, The Missions of New Mexico, trans. Eleanor B. Adams and Angelico Chavez (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1956), p. 202; and Edward A. Marinsek, "The Effect of Cultural Difference in the Education of PuetB.0 Indians" (unpublished study, The University of New Mexico, September 1958), p. 4. [return]

9Leighton and Adair, op. cit., p. 9. [return]

10Ibid. [return]

11John Adair and Evon Vogt, "Navaho and Zuni Veterans: A Study of Contrasting Modes of Culture Change," American Anthropologist. LI (October-December 1949), 555. In this quote and throughout the thesis the following Zuni orthrography has been adopted for consistency: ":" may replace "" for the long vowel and "'" may replace "?" for the glottal stop. [return]

12John M. Roberts, "The Zuni," Variations in Value Orientations. ed. Florence Rockwood Kluckhohn and Fred L. Strodtbeok (Evanstan, Illinois: Row, Peterson and Company, 1961) , p. 289, citing Morris Swadesh, "Problems of Long-Range Comparison in Penutian," Language, XXXII. 1 (1956). pp. 17-41. [return]

13Roberts, loc. Cit. [return]

14Ibid. [return]

15Field Notes, personal communication with C, April 1971. For a study of Zuni grammar see Stanley Newman, Zuni Grammar (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1965). p. 37. [return]

16Leighton and Adair, op. cit., pp. 11, 12. [return]

17Dutton , op. cit. , p. 20. [return]

18Adair and Vogt, op. cit., pp. 559. 560. [return]

19[Gallup, New Mexico] Independent, January l6, 1971, p. 1. [return]

20Field Notes, personal communication with D, February 1971. [return]

21Leighton and Adair, op. cit., p. 128. [return]

22Field Notes, personal observation, February 1971; and personal communication with C, April 1971. [return]

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