A Church Growth Study of the Zuni IndiansRalph Bruce Terry
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The crucial part of the Zuni social structure is the Zuni religion. With the exception of a few, most Zunis still practice their native religion. Even most of the ones who claim to be Christian still participate. Most of the Indians have rejected Christianity as being a white man's religion.

Cults and Ceremonies

Organization and nature. The Zuni religious and ceremonial system consists of a single non-esoteric cult to which all participants in the religion belong and six esoteric cults: (1) the cult of the sun, (2) the cult of the "rain-makers," (3) the cult of the kachinas, (4) the cult of the kachina priests, (5) the cult of the war gods, and (6) the cult of the beast gods.73 At the head of this system is a council of priests which consists of one or more members of the sun priesthood and the heads of the other major priesthoods. The council's executive arm is the two chief bow priests, and the kachina society leaders have an advisory capacity. The council chief is the Sun Priest (Pekwin).74 This council is responsible for breaches in the realm of the sacred.

There is almost no limit to the number of organizations to which a man may belong. All men belong to a kachina society. If a man takes a scalp, he must join the war society. If a person gets sick, he will join a medicine society, although he may also buy membership. Membership in the priesthood is hereditary.75 Women belong to the medicine societies and most of the rain societies. Rarely, a woman may join a kachina society "to save her life."76 They may never join the war or hunters society.77

Ancestor worship. The cult of the ancestors to which everyone belongs is the basis of all Zuni ceremonialism. These ancestors are not specific ancestor-spirits as found in other parts of the world; they are simply the generalized ghosts of the dead. The more distant of the dead are considered much better and more powerful. The dead are a part of the great spiritual essence of the universe, but they are the part that is nearest and most intimate.78

The cult of the sun. This is the smallest cult. It is the priesthood of the Zenith and has no female members. The priests are either members or "sons" of Dogwood Clan. The head of the priesthood is the deputy of the sun, or Pekwin.79 The sun is believed to represent the source of all life and is the supreme deity of Zuni.80 He is called the "Sun-Father."81 In the 1950's, the Sun Priest moved to Gallup and many of his duties lapsed.82

The cult of the "rain-makers." Most of the priests of Zuni belong to the cult of the Uwanami, or "rain-makers," This cult consists of twelve priesthoods which are concerned with the worship of the supernaturals who inhabit the waters of the earth. In June, the priests hold a series of retreats to pray for rain. The retreats last eight days for the major priesthoods, four for the minor. Each priesthood has from two to.six members. Membership is usually hereditary in the matrilineal family residing in the house in which the fetish of the group is kept. There are six major priesthoods (the North, West, South, East, Zenith, and Nadir) and eight minor priesthoods (the Seventh through the Fourteenth). The fifth priesthood (of the Zenith) is the Sun Priesthood (which is not strictly a rain priesthood), and the sixth priesthood (of the Nadir) is associated with the Bow Priesthood. The head of the Priesthood (Shiwanni) of the North, the K'yakwe mossi. is the head of the cult. Women may belong to any rain priesthood.83

The cult of the kachinas. Perhaps the best known of the cults is the cult of the kachinas. This cult contains six esoteric kiva societies, each of which is associated with a direction, an animal, and a color, as shown in Table 1. Most dances in Zuni are performed by these kivas. Every Zuni male belongs to one of these six kiva groups. Over the cult is a director, a member of the Deer clan, his deputy, a member of the Badger clan, and two Bow Priests. Each kiva group also has its own officers who direct its rites and practices.84

Kachinas are spirits: spirits of the dead, spirits of all the mineral, plant, animal, and human forms that have traveled the road of life, spirits of the mythical heroes, the stars, clouds, color-directions--all the spirits except the Earth Spirits, such as the Earth Mother and the Corn Mother. They are not really gods, but rather intermediators, messengers. Thus their chief function is that of rain makers, insuring the fertility and abundance of crops. How many kachinas there are is unknown. Those easily identified must run into two hundred or more.85

Table 1

Kivas in the Order of Precedence*

Kiva Animal Symbol Color Zuni Directional Home
Hehe:wa--North Mountain Lion Yellow Home of Barren Regions (Long Tail) Muhe:wa--West Bear (Clumsy Blue Home of the Waters Foot) Chuba:wa--South Badger (Black Red Home of the Beautiful Masked Face) Red of Sunrise Ohe:wa--East Wolf (Hang Tail) White Home of Day Ubana:wa--Zenith Eagle Many Hues of Home on High the Sky Hekk'yaba:wa-- Mole Black Home of the Low Nadir (Darkness)
*Gonzales, op. cit., pp. 2, 3; and Field Notes, personal communication with C, April 1971.

The masks worn by the dancers are also called kachinas. They are supposedly invested with spiritual powers. When a man is of some substance, he may have a kachina mask made. He goes through "the initiation of the mask." Then the mask is his and he keeps it in his house. It is buried with him at death. If a man does not have a mask, he may borrow one for a dance. When a man is wearing a mask, he too is called a kachina, since he has supernatural powers while wearing it.86

Miniature copies are made of the kachinas. These "dolls" are also called kachinas, but are not properly so. They are not invested with power; they serve only to help familiarize children with the names and masks of the real kachinas.87

Kachina ceremonials are forms of instrumentalism, mimetic rites for controlling the natural forces of rain, fertility, health, and soundness of mind through the supernatural powers Invoked.88 There are three primary series of kachina dances at Zuni: one held for a period of three months after the winter solstice, a second for the three months after the summer solstice, and the third during the Shalako.89 There are many ceremonials, including two which were apparently adapted from early Catholic festivals: Grandmother's Day in October, and the Harvest Dance centered about the Santo (a small statue of St. Francis).90 Some feel that many of the dances of the kiva groups have been subjected to strong Catholic influence.91

There are two stages of initiation. When a boy is about five to nine years old, he is whipped by the kachinas with yucca whips as a rite of exorcism. When he is twelve to fourteen, he goes through his second initiation. He is whipped again, but this time he is allowed to see the kachinas unmasked and dance with them. He is told the secrets of the kiva and given ceremonial status. If he should die before this, he could not enter Kolhuwala'wa. "the house of the gods." In all these ceremonies, the boy is sponsored by his "ceremonial father."92

The cult of the kachina priests. The cult of the kachina priests is closely related to the cult of the kachinas. The masks, however, are permanent. Each is surrounded by cult observances and has its own cult group. These masks are associated with the long rituals that their Impersonators memorize and deliver on their appearance. These kachina priests include such figures as the Mudheads, the Shalako, and the Council of the Gods.93

The Mudheads or Koyemshi are the clowns of the village. There are ten of them-the father and his nine sons. They are reputed to be the product of an incestuous relationship and thus act idiotic to warn against sexual license. They wear pinkish cotton masks colored with clay from Sacred Lake. These masks have turkey feathers on knobs. The Mudheads' bodies are painted pink, and they wear a black scarf and kilt. Their leader is appointed by a rain priest who chooses the other nine.94

Shalako. One of the most festive Indian ceremonials anywhere is the Zuni Shalako, a ceremonial for the dead. Shalako Day occurs in late November or early December of each year, It is the culmination of a forty-nine day ceremonial for which preparations have required a full year. From five to eight houses have to be remodeled or newly built in preparation for the dancers. There should be eight new houses: one for each of the six Shalako, one for the Council of the Gods and one for the Mudheads; however, sometimes the dancers have to double up.95

On the fortieth day the Mudheads come to warn against sexual license and then go into retreat. Then in the mid-afternoon of the forty-eighth day the Council of the Gods reappears. First comes Shula:wits'i the Fire God accompanied by his "ceremonial father." He is a young boy of around 10 years of age who is a member of the Badger clan. Next comes Saya: Dasha ("Longhorn"), Rain God of the North, who is impersonated by a rain priest of the kiva of the North. He is accompanied by Hududu, his deputy, Rain God of the South, who is impersonated by a warrior of the kiva of the South. Hududu, who appears to be an owl, derives his name from the sound he makes. These are followed by two Yamu Hakdo who represent the east and the west. Finally two Salimobiya warriors come carrying yucca sticks to chastize offenders. They represent the six kivas. Only two kivas participate in this way each year and these two can be told by the colors of the warriors. The Council conducts a ceremony at each of six sacred locations in the village and then goes into retreat in the Longhorn House.96

In the late afternoon the six Shalakos come down from Greasy Hill and stop for ceremonies at Hebadina, a shrine marking the Middle Place of the world. These bird-like figures that stand ten to twelve feet tall are the messengers of the rain gods. All six are alike.97 Wilson describes them as follows:

They have cylindrical turquoise faces with protruding eyes that roll up and down, long wooden beaks that snap, and upcurving tapering turquoise horns on either side of their heads. They wear big ruffs of raven feathers, black-banged wigs and towering fan-shaped crests of black-and-white eagle tail-feathers.98

At sundown the Shalako leave Hebadina and cross the Zuni River on a footpath. The giant masks are set down on the north bank of the river. After dark the Shalako are escorted to their houses which are to be blessed. Long memorized chants are followed by feasting. Similar ceremonies take place with the Council of the Gods and the Mudheads. After midnight dancing begins and continues until sunrise. At that time, Longhorn ascends to the roof of his house and utters a prayer for his people. In the late morning the Shalako are escorted across the river. In the early afternoon races are held and the gods depart for another year.99

The cult of the war gods. The Priesthood of the Bow is the most esoteric of all the cults. Only men belong. There are twelve degrees in the order, distinguished by distinctive badges. There are two chief priests, Elder Brother Bow Priest and Younger Brother Bow Priest, who serve the Council of the Priests. The Bow Priesthood also provides other priests for services. The cult of the war gods also serves as the guardian of the shrines of the two war gods: Ahayu:da and Matsaylima, who are believed to be single in spirit, yet dual in form, the children of the Sun God.100 Although it used to be necessary to have taken a scalp to be a member, now old scalps or dogs' scalps can be used.101

The cult of the beast gods. The cult of the beast gods is composed of at least twelve societies, one of which is the hunters society, another the clown society, and most of the rest medicine societies. The gods of this cult are associated with the six directions: north- Mountain Lion, west-Bear (the most powerful), south-Badger, east- Wolf, zenith-either Eagle or Knife-wing, and nadir-either Mole or Gopher.102 Stevenson lists the following twelve societies: the Non-meat-fasters, Galaxy or Clown, Hunters' or Coyote, Wood or Sword- swallowers. Great Fire, Eagle-down with Rattlesnake branch, Ant, Spiral Shell, Little Fire, Cactus, Games, and Mythological. She also mentions the Struck-by-lighting society.103 Cushing gives a different list and includes the Knife and Insect societies.104 Ant, Wood, Great Fire, Hunters', and Cactus are associated with the war society or bow priesthood. Membership is voluntary and usually includes both men and women. Only the Hunters' and Cactus Societies exclude women.105 A person usually becomes a member after a doctor of the society has healed him, Different societies specialize in different diseases, and the cures, often with medicinal plants, are carefully guarded secrets.106


Gods. The Zunis are polytheists. They worship the spirits of beings such as the sun, the earth, the corn, the ancestors, the water- spirits, the prey animals, and the gods of war. All these different beings are called a:wona:willona "the ones who hold our roads."107 Probably the being worshipped who comes closest to being the supreme creator is the Sun Father.

Myths. The Zunis have many myths, many of which may even be contradictory. There is no uniform explanation of beginnings. Three myths stand out, however.108

One myth relates how the Sun Father impregnated the Earth Mother and she brought forth the Beloved Twins. Upon being commissioned by the Sun Father, they descended to the fourth great cave under the earth and led mankind up to the third cave, the second, the first, and then finally onto the surface. This is the reason why the sun, the earth, and the Twin Gods are worshipped.109

Another myth relates how the Zunis journeyed from the far northwest in quest of Idiwana. the "middle place" of the world. They finally found it at Zuni Pueblo. Thus Idiwana is the esoteric name for Zuni. But then a great flood came and covered the whole earth. The Zunis found refuge on the top of Towa Yalanne.110

The third popular myth tells of the formation of the kachinas. During their wanderings, the Zunis crossed a stream. In midstream some of the children changed into frogs and water snakes. The women dropped them and they escaped down stream. Searchers found the children in a house under Sacred Lake. They had been transformed into kachinas. It was decreed that all the dead should go to Sacred Lake. The kachinas came to visit the people, but some of the people died. Thus the kachinas no longer come in person but various people copy their costumes and headdresses and imitate their dances.111

Shrines and sacred places. One of the most sacred spots in Zuni is Hebadina, the hole which the Zunis suppose to be the center of the earth. It is marked by a shrine built of a few slabs of rock and is situated only a few hundred yards west of the Christian Reformed Mission, to the south of the road to Ojo Caliente.112 Several shrines are located on Towa Yalanne, and secret ceremonies are held in caves. On the southwest side of the mountain, in a hole halfway up the mesa, is a large sacred cave, in which a number of wooden figures were kept in the past. On the top of the northwest side of the mesa, another shrine is located.113

Elements of Zuni religion. One of the most obvious elements of Zuni religion is the use of fetishes. Every society in the cults and all of the clans have their own fetishes. The power in a fetish is considered a living thing and thus the fetishes must be cared for and ceremonially fed, usually with corn meal. Zuni fetishes relate mostly to the animal gods, and primarily to the prey gods. All true fetishes are supposed to be either actual petrifactions of the animals they represent, or were such originally. Thus, although some fetishes are carved, the most valuable are natural concretions that have a distinct resemblance to various animals. Fetishes are used for hunting, diagnosing and curing diseases, initiations, war, gambling, propagation, witchcraft, and detection and protection against witchcraft.114

Zuni religion is based on compulsive magic. Results depend upon absolutely correct repetition of rituals. Ritual has a foremost place in Zuni religion. A staggering amount of word-perfect ritual must be memorized. Because the religion is not ecstatic, the Zunis have no shamans; they only have priests. The medicine men do not work alone, but are part of a fraternity. The Zuni phrase for a person with power is "one who knows how." Imitative magic is also used in the ceremonials.115

In the same way, prayers are not the spontaneous outpouring of the heart, but the recitation of fixed formula. Zuni prayers are not remarkable for their intensity. Singing and dancing are also ritual activities at Zuni. These activities are often accompanied by the sprinkling of sacred corn meal (mixed with ground white shell and turquoise), the planting of prayer sticks (colored sticks, covered with many colored feathers and topped with eagle and turkey feathers), and the offering of food or tobacco to shrines and masks.116

Zunis also practice abstinence (teshkwi) from sexual intercourse, quarreling, some foods, and certain types of work as a part of their religion. Fasting is a requirement for ceremonial cleanness. Zunis also observe taboos. Various washings and whippings serve as forms of purification.117

Zuni religion does not provide a sense of sin. Thus there is no need felt for pardon. The Shalako do not bring pardon, but good cheer and fecundity. There is no placation of evil forces in Zuni. There is no antithesis between good and evil or between heaven and hell; however, if a man violates the taboos, his punishment is sure. The Zunis see their religion in some sense as universal. Prayers are offered, not just for the Zunis themselves, but for whites and for all the different nations of the world as well.118

Witchcraft is also practiced and is considered bad. People are afraid of witches and it is believed that those who are individualistic or wealthy attract witches because the witches are jealous. This serves as a curb on individuality in the village.119

Personal religion and ethics. In spite of the emphasis on community ritual, Zuni personal religion is very much alive. When soldiers went away to World War II, several carried prayer meal and amulets with them and almost all said their prayers in the Zuni language under the tension of combat.120 Also the Zuni religion imposes an effective ethic on the people, such as truthfulness and gentleness.121

The soul. According to Zuni belief, man has a spiritual substance, a soul, which is associated with the head, the heart, and the breath. The head is the seat of skill and intelligence, the heart is the seat of the emotions and of profound thought, and the breath is the symbol of life. A feather is the pictorial representation of the breath.122

Death. Death is a time of mourning for the Zunis. It calls for special precautions, especially for the living spouse, for death is thought to be contagious. Funeral rites are very simple. The body is washed and dressed in the clothing of fifty years ago. The body is taken by truck to the cemetery in front of the old Catholic mission. There the grave is dug, for men on the south side of the graveyard, and for women on the north. People are buried on top of one another, and the ground level inside the cemetery has risen somewhat. The graveyard is no longer Catholic, but Zuni. Most all Zunis that have died within the last two and one-half centuries have been buried there. The head is placed at the east end of the grave so that the body, as it lies on its back, faces the Sacred Lake Village (Kolhuwala'wa) at the confluence of the Zuni and Little Colorado Rivers. The spirit of the deceased supposedly dwells around Zuni for four days and then departs for Kolhuwala'wa.123

73Radin, op. cit., pp. 235, 237; Roberts, op. cit., pp. 291, 292. It should be noted that this is an arbitrary division. Cushing, for example, divides the esoteric groups into a martial class, an ecclesiastical class, a medical class, a hunters class, and the dance groups. Frank H. Cushing, My Adventures in Zuni (Palmer Lake, Colorado: Filter Press. 1967), pp. 30. 31. [return]

74Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 478; and Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., p. 67. There is some disagreement as to the number on the council, but this is probably due to the overlapping of positions. [return]

75Bunzel. "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 476; and Benedict, "Psychological Types," op. cit., p. 256. [return]

76Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., p. 68. [return]

77Dutton, op. cit., p. 17. [return]

78Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 483; and Radin, op. cit., pp. 235, 236. [return]

79Eggan, op. cit., p. 204. [return]

80Dutton, op. cit., p. 22. [return]

81Field Notes, personal communication with C, January 1971. [return]

82Leighton and Adair, op. cit., p. 202. [return]

83Eggan, op. cit., p. 204; Stevenson, "The Zuni Indians," op. cit., pp. l67, 168; Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., pp. 513-516; Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., pp. 65, 66; and Kroeber, Zuni Kin and Clan, op. cit.. pp. 175, 176. There is confusion regarding the relationship between the Priesthood of the Nadir and the Bow Priesthood. This is because when Stevenson did her research in 1896, Nai'uchi was both head of the Priesthood of the Nadir and the head Bow Priest. [return]

84Dutton. op. cit., p. 22; Eggan, op. cit., pp. 215, 2l6; and Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 518. [return]

85Frank Waters, Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism (New York: Ballantine Books, 1950), pp. 283-285. [return]

86Ibid.; and Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., p. 70. [return]

87Waters, loc. cit. [return]

88Ibid. [return]

89Ibid., p. 286. [return]

90Kuipers, op. cit., p. 134. [return]

91Radin, op. cit., p. 238. [return]

92Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., p. 69; Ruth M. Underhill, First Penthouse Dwellers of America (Santa Fe: Laboratory of Anthropology, 1946), p. 76; Leighton and Adair, op. cit., p. 105. At the second initiation, there is evidence that native cultural values are strengthened. Havighurst and Neugarten, op. cit., report that an acculturation ratio of acculturate culture to native culture for their tests was .80 for ages 11 to 13 and .38 for ages 14 to 18. This indicates that something causes a significant rejection of white culture about age 14. [return]

93Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., pp. 70, 71. [return]

94Paul Coze, "Of Clowns and Mudheads," Arizona Highways, XXVIII, 8 (August 1952), 18, 25-27. [return]

95Waters. op. cit., pp. 288-297; Wilson, op. cit., p. 171; and Gonzales, op. cit., p. 3. [return]

96Waters, loc. cit.; Wilson, op. cit., pp. 173, 174; and Gonzales, op. cit., pp. 3-8. [return]

97Waters, loc. cit.; Wilson, op. cit., p. 175; and Gonzales, op. cit., p. 8. [return]

98Wilson, loc. cit. [return]

99Gonzales, loc. cit. [return]

100Cushing, op. cit., pp. 30, 31. [return]

101Field Notes, personal communications with C and with D, February 1971. [return]

102Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 528. [return]

103Ibid., pp. 6, 7, 413. [return]

104Cushing, loc. cit. [return]

105Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 528. [return]

106Stevenson, "Ethnobotony," op. cit., p. 36. [return]

107Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op., cit., p. 486. In refering to a:wona:willona Bunzel states in footnote 12: "This term Mrs. Stevenson erroneously interprets as referring to a bisexual deity; creator and ruler of the universe. The term is never used in this sense, nor was I able to find any trace of such a concept among them. The confusion seems to be due to the fact that the missionaries have hit upon this term as the nearest equivalent to 'God.' The Zunis, accordingly, always translate the term 'God.' When asked if a:wona:wi'lona is man or woman they say, 'Both, of course,' since it refers to a great class of supernaturals. The following texts show that the term is applied to any being addressed in prayer." [return]

108This emphasis may be on the part of the anthropologists, not the Zunis. [return]

109Waters, op. cit., p. 216. [return]

110Stevenson, "Ethnobotony," op. cit., p. 35; and Dutton, op. cit., p. 23. [return]

111Radin, op. cit., p. 292. [return]

112Lelghton and Adair, op. cit., pp. 13, 14; and Earle R. Forrest, Missions and Pueblos of the Old Southwest (Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1929), P. 187. See p. 11. [return]

113Forrest, op. cit., p. 188; Adam Clark Vroman, "Zuni," The American West, III, 3 (Summer 1966), 54; and Field Notes, personal observations, March and June 1971. [return]

114Frank H. Cushing, Zuni Fetishes (Flagstaff, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 1966), p. 12; and Tom Bahti, "Introduction," Zuni Fetishes, op. cit., p. iv. [return]

115Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., pp. 488-507; and Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., pp. 60, 61, 96. [return]

116Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," loc. cit.; and Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., pp. 61-63. [return]

117Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," loc. cit.; and Benedict, "Psychological Types," op. cit., p. 254. [return]

118Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 486; Wilson, op. cit., p. 179; Havighurst and Neugarten, op. cit., pp. 150, 155; and Field Notes, personal communication with A, January 1971. [return]

119Adair and Vogt, op. cit., pp. 550, 551. [return]

120Ibid., p. 549. [return]

121Wilson, op. cit., p. 172. [return]

122Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," op. cit., p. 481. The idea about the importance of the heart may well have been borrowed from the missionaries. Zunis will affirm that it is so, but rarely use the idea in everyday conversation. Field Notes, personal communication with C, April 1971. [return]

123Kroeber, Zuni Kin and Clan, op. cit., p. 204; Leighton and Adair, op. cit., p. 116; Underhill, op. cit., p. 79; Gonzales, op. cit., pp. 1, 10; and Benedict, Patterns of Culture, op. cit., pp. 109-111. The words "spirit"' and "soul" are not used in a technical sense here. [return]

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