The Zuni (Indians of North America) by Nancy Bonvillain

By Nancy Bonvillain

A portrait of the Zuni of the yank Southwest examines their thriving tradition of farmers, developers, and investors and notes how their skill to conform enabled them to outlive pivotal advancements in background.

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Women wore cotton blouses, skirts, and sashes, while men wore cotton shirts, sashes, and aprons over deerskin leggings. Cloth was often dyed with bright mineral or vegetable pigments, and clothing was decorated with embroidered geometric designs. By skillfully developing their crafts and making good use of their resources, the Zunis lived in prosperity. Their comfortable and secure way of life was described in 1540 by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a Spanish officer who led an expedition through the Southwest: They have very good homes and good rooms with corridors and some quite good rooms underground and paved, built for the winter.

Each village had its own pekwin and council. The pekwin was named to the position by a council of priests and could be removed from office by that same council if the people disapproved of his behavior. To become a pekwin, a man had to have a generous and kind disposition and to be respected by all; in addition, he had to be a member of the Dogwood clan. The pekwin was officially installed in office during a ceremony conducted by the head Rain Priest of the village, who would place a staff made of feathers in the chief ’s hands, recite a prayer, and then blow on the staff four times.

But the primary difficulty for Zuni farmers was not labor but the water supply. The climate in the Southwest is generally dry, with rainfall averaging only ten to fifteen inches per year. The rain that does fall comes in sudden and severe storms in summer months, which can drown or wash away young plants. The only other natural sources of water in the region are the small Zuni River and a few springs. To make the best use of available water, the Zuni farmers developed a system of floodwater irrigation, which involved building small dams and canals with mud walls to direct water from rainfall and overflowing streams to the crops.

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