A Church Growth Study of the Zuni IndiansRalph Bruce Terry
Previous SectionNext SectionHome | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6



The social organization of Zuni is quite complex, producing a society that has amazing strength and cohesion. To a great extent the social organization is determined by the Zuni religion and is treated in the section on religion. This section, therefore, deals with that part of the social organization which is not religious in its primary thrust. The religion of Zuni permeates almost all parts of the society, and it is incorrect to speak of a non-religious part of society. The division of Zuni society into kinship, political, and religious sectors as done in this paper for clarity of presentation is completely arbitrary and does not reflect the actual structure of the society. The different elements of Zuni society are integrated to an amazing degree.

Clans. Zuni is presently divided into fifteen matrilineal, totemically named (but not totemically kin), exogamous clans, "each of which is composed of one or more unnamed lineages ."23 They "were formerly grouped on a ceremonial basis into phratries associated with the six directions"24 of Zuni: north, west, south, east, zenith, and nadir. This grouping no longer exists. A person belongs to his mother's clan and is said to be a "child" of his father's clan. He has ceremonial relationships with both. A person is not only forbidden to marry into his own clan; marriage into his father's clan is frowned upon, although it is tolerated.25 The English names of these clans are: Eagle (two divisions), Turkey (two divisions). Badger, Frog (perhaps Toad), Coyote, Tobacco, Elk (perhaps Deer), Tansy Mustard (Redtop Plant), Dogwood (with Macaw and Raven-or Parrot-subdivisions), Corn, Yellowwood, Sandhill Crane, Roadrunner (Chaparral-cock), Bear, and Sun.26 These different clans vary greatly in size.

Although the clans are not primarily religious in nature, each clan has its own clan fetish and its own clan priest to say the proper religious rites over the fetish. The priest is always a member of the household that cares for the fetish.27 While descent is through the women of a clan, religious functions are in the hands of the men of the clan. Only a member or a "son" of a clan may be a priest. When a man marries into a clan, his religious obligations remain with his own clan, not with his wife's.28 Hereditary clan positions are often passed from brother to nephew.29

Family. The economic unit of the village "is the household, which normally is composed of an extended family based upon matrilocal residence."30 While a man is religiously affiliated with his sister's household, he is economically affiliated with his wife's. To the women belong the house and its food and furnishings. The men own the sheep and the car.31

Although Zuni has a predominately matrilocal residence pattern, there are evidences of both patrilocal and neolocal patterns.32 Several of the younger nuclear families have moved into new houses at the edge of Zuni.

Marriage in Zuni is monogamous, with no institution of the sororate and levirate.33 Divorce is relatively easy. A man merely leaves the house with his possessions while a woman puts her husband's things outside her door.34 While a good deal of ceremony was associated with marriage around the turn of the century, today a marriage is contracted when a couple start living together.35 A man uses the same terms his wife uses for her relatives, and she shares his terms for his relatives.36

Children are seldom physically punished by parents or even uncles (as in many matrilineal societies). Instead they are warned, scolded, and told that people will talk about them. Zunis are subject to the pressure of public opinion because shame is one of the methods of disciplining children. If this does not work, the children are told that the A:doshle (a fierce-looking kachina, or masked dancer, that punishes children) will get them.37

There are also ceremonial relationships at Zuni, such as "ceremonial friendship" and a boy's "ceremonial father." A boy becomes a member, not of his father's kiva, but of his "ceremonial father's" kiva. Eggan describes the choosing of the "ceremonial father" as follows:

"The ceremonial father" for the Katcina [sic] initiation is chosen by the boy's own father from the household of the father's sisters. In case a prospective mother has had bad luck with her children she may invite a successful child-rearer to blow into the newborn infant's mouth; this woman's husband then becomes the boy's "ceremonial father" at the Katcina [sic] initiation.38

Values. An important part of the social structure is the value system that underlies it. Although fairly correct generalization can be made about the Zuni value system, it Is impossible to phrase these values in absolutes. For one thing, Roberts' research into the value system at Zuni revealed that even though Zuni presents a fairly solid front to the outsider and appears to be a harmonious community, there is considerable strife and friction beneath the surface. Roberts calls this a case of "contained cultural variation."39 This capacity of Zuni culture to allow a great deal of variance from the predominant values must be kept in mind as these values are examined. Another factor at work is the influence that the Anglo culture exerts on Zuni and thus the amount of variance is continually increasing.

Clyde Kluckhohn, in constructing tentative binary weighting of the prevalent value emphasis of Zuni from Roberts' research, concluded that the Zunis felt the universe to be orderly, unitary, and good;40 however, Roberts' research revealed that even though more people still held to the view that man and nature were in harmony, a significant number believed that man was subject to nature and an even greater number believed that man was superior to nature.41 Kluckhohn also determined that Zuni was group rather than individual oriented, but that the emphasis within the group was on self rather than on others. Other values that Kluckhohn felt were present included an emphasis on dependence rather than autonomy, activity rather than acceptance, discipline rather than fulfillment, mental effort rather than physical, relaxation rather than tension, and awareness of the present rather than the future.42 This last value trait was one of the few things that Roberts found significant. He found a predominant emphasis in present and past over future.43

The Zunis are a group-oriented people, as has been often said. The conclusion to the night chant of one of the Shalako birds reads, "Always with one thought /We shall live."44 Zuni society is highly integrated and cooperative.45 This expresses itself in public opinion that makes it presumptuous to seek either leadership or personal success.46 To be a good Zuni, a man must avoid office.47 In fact, if a person is particularly individualistic, he may be tried as a sorcerer.48 The two main forces of social pressure are tradition and public opinion.49 These forces are extremely strong in Zuni. People cannot disregard them and remain in the pueblo. They either have to conform or else leave and live with strangers the rest of their lives.50

Zuni society is also steeped in ceremonialism, most of which is tied to Zuni religion. The society is essentially a theocracy oriented around religious observance. Zuni social ranking is primarily a religious affair and largely inherited. It has little to do with one's economic status. A wealthy man is one who has the privilege of conducting certain religious ceremonies.51 In line with Zuni ritual are two cultural "themes": (1) to share religious knowledge is to dissipate ritual efficacy, and (2) to increase secrecy is to insure power.52

Partly because of these "themes" and the fact that the white man is introducing new values that threaten Zuni religion and partly because of ethnocentrism, there is an antagonism to white men and white ways. This antagonism is hidden by a surface friendliness which is the only side of Zuni a casual visitor sees.53 This antagonism goes even deeper against Spanish-Americans. Because of the Spanish conquest of Zuni, all "Mexicans" are excluded from the pueblo during ceremonials.54

Another trait of Zuni culture is moderation. Disagreements rarely break out into physical violence. Ecstasy and orgy have no place in Zuni religion. Life is looked on as a happy experience to be lived quietly and peaceably;55 however, this trait has changed a good bit since Benedict's time. Benedict reported that such things as drinking and suicide were not only missing from the culture, but were uncongenial with it. In 1912, when drinking seemed to be making some headway among the younger generation, the Zuni elders banned the use of liquor;56 however, since about 1938 drinking has been allowed and is now a significant problem on the reservation. Drugs are also becoming a problem and several suicides have taken place in the village in the last few years.57 There has also been a change in the sexual ethics code. Whereas Stevenson reported that when she first came to Zuni in 1879 almost every girl was virtuous, today immorality is the rule.58 One of the qualifications for the Miss Zuni contest is that the girl must not be the mother of more than one child.59

23Fred Eggan, Social Organization of the Western Pueblos (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950). p. 177; Dutton, op. cit., p. 15. [return]

24Eggan, loc. cit. [return]

25A. L. Kroeber, Zuni Kin and Clan (New York: The American Museum of Natural History, 1917), pp. 48, 91. [return]

26Dutton, op. cit., p. 15, from a personal communication with E. J. Ladd in 1959. Basically the same list is found in Stevenson, op. cit., p. 293, along with the Zuni names of the clans. Roberts, op. cit., pp. 291-292, gives a somewhat different list which can be traced to Eggan and on to Cushing. Rattlesnake, listed by Roberts, is not a clan, but a medicine society. A good comparison is found in Kroeber, op. cit., pp. 93-94 and Table 2. [return]

27Eggan, op. cit., p. 190. [return]

28Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934), p. 75. [return]

29Dutton, op. cit., p. 16. [return]

30Eggan, op. cit., p. 177. [return]

31Benedict, op. cit., pp. 75, 76; and Field Notes, personal communication with C, April 1971. [return]

32Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, op. cit., p. 56. [return]

33Eggan, op. cit., p. 193, citing Li An-che, "Zuni: Some Observations and Queries," American Anthropologist, XXXIX (new ser., 1937), 73. [return]

34Benedict, op. cit., pp. 74, 108. [return]

35Eggan, loc. cit., citing An-che, loc. cit.; and Field Notes, personal communication with C, January 1971. [return]

36Eggan, op. cit., p. 187. [return]

37Leighton and Adair, op. cit., p. 100; and Robert J. Havighurst and Bernice L. Neugarten, American Indian and White Children (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1955), pp. 79, 80. [return]

38Eggan, op. cit., p. 192, citing E. C. Parsons, "Zuni Names and Naming Practices," ([n.p.]: [n.n.], [n.d.]), p. 173. [return]

39Roberts, op. cit., p. 301. [return]

40Clyde Kluckhohn, "Toward a Comparison of Value Emphasis in Different Cultures," The State of the Social Sciences, ed. L. D. White (Chicago: [n.n.], 1957), cited by Felix M. Keesing, Cultural Anthropology (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1958), p. 180. [return]

41Roberts, op. cit., pp. 284-316. [return]

42Kluckhohn, loc. cit., cited by Keesing, loc. cit. [return]

43Roberts, loc. cit. [return]

44Clara Gonzales, The Shalakos Are Coming (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1966), p. 13, citing Ruth L. Bunzel, "Zuni Ritual Poetry," Forty-seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1929-1930 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1932), pp. 611-836. [return]

45Eugene A. Nida, Customs and Cultures (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1954), p. 95. [return]

46A. L. Kroeber, Anthropology (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1948), p. 594. [return]

47Benedict, op, cit., p. 99. [return]

48Paul Radin, Primitive Religion (New York; Dover Publications, Inc., 1957), p. 236. [return]

49Havighurst and Neugarten, op. cit., p. 9. [return]

50Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1959), p. 73. [return]

51Dutton, op. cit., p. 22; and Nida, op. cit., pp. 53, 46, 83, 128. [return]

52Adair and Vogt, op. cit., p. 556. [return]

53Ibid., and Roberts, op. cit., p. 113. [return]

54Dutton, op. cit., p. 25. [return]

55Benedict, op. cit., pp. 106, 107, 126, 127; and Ruth Benedict, "Psychological Types in the Culture of the Southwest," An Anthropologist At Work, ed. Margaret Mead (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1959), p. 258. [return]

56Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., pp. 89, 90, 117; and Benedict, "Psychological Types," op. cit., pp. 252, 260. [return]

57Field Notes, personal communication with E, February 1971. [return]

58Matilda Coxe Stevenson, "Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians," Thirtieth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1908-1909 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1915), p. 44. [return]

59Field Notes, personal communication with F, February 1971. [return]

Back to top | Next: 2.3 Other Aspects of Zuni Culture

Bruce Terry's Home Page
Bruce Terry Home Page
Last Updated September 16, 2002
Page developed by Ben Cheek and maintained by .

Copyright © 2002 Ralph Bruce Terry. All rights reserved.