By Sarah Corbett
The Zuni people of the American South west are a peaceful people, whose lives and beliefs are closely tied to the mountains, deserts and forests of their sacred homelands. They speak a distinctly different language to other groups share, and which has maintained it’s integrity for over 7000 years.
The Zuni make a religious pilgrimage every four years on the Barefoot Trail to Kołuwala:wa, also called Zuni Heaven or Kachina Village; a 12,482-acre detached portion of the Zuni Reservation about 60 miles southwest of Zuni Pueblo. The four-day observance occurs around the summer solstice. It has been practiced for many hundreds of years and is well known to local residents.
Coming of age, or , is celebrated differently by boys and girls. A girl who is ready to declare herself as a maiden will go to the home of her father’s mother early in the morning and grind corn all day long. Corn is a sacred food and a staple in the diet of the Zuni. The girl is declaring that she is ready to play a role in the welfare of her people.
When it is time for a boy to become a man, he will be taken under the wing of a spiritual ‘father’, selected by the parents. This one will instruct the boy through the ceremony to follow. The boy will go through certain initiation rites to enter one of the men’s societies. He will learn how to take on either religious, secular or political duties within that order
The Zuni people settled along what is now known as the Zuni river before 2500 BC. Their systems of irrigation alloed their people to farm successfully and thrive. The members of these farming communities made beautiful pottery, Baskets and jewellery.
Early examples of Zuni metal work ( circa 1830) were made from copper and brass which had been reused from Old kettles, in around 1872 a Navajo silversmith called Atsidi Chon, who had traded for sometime with the Zuni people for livestock, taught a Zuni blacksmith named Lanyade the art of silversmithing. This meant that much of the early silver jewellery of the Zuni was similar to Navajo pieces. Pre 1920 the jewellery produced was for Zuni people and other tribes to wear, however by 1930 much of the jewellery produced was for the tourist trade.
From around 1920 the familiar Zuni styling using small stone inlays was developed. These fall into three main construction types:
Petit point is a very time consuming and delicate technique, where each stone is set in it’s own bezel. Petit point turquoise jewellery is unique to the Zuni people and is not made anywhere else in the world.
Needle point jewellery is created by needle shaped pieces of stone which are created by exceptional Lapidary experts. The needle point stones are arranged together into fine attractive designs, and are generally worn by women.
Inlay jewellery was originally created by Zuni Idians located 32 miles south of Gallup , New Mexico. Utilizing coloured stone pieces intricate designs are set into a silver Bezel, and then sanded flat and polished.
An iconic shape of Southwestern Indian necklace is the squash Blossom necklace, or ‘ChilBitan’
meaning flower like bead, or literally ‘ Bead which spreads out’. The flower is unlikely to represent a squash blossom, and more likely to imitate emblems worn by Spanish and Mexican dandies. This style of necklace probably did not come into existence until after 1880.
Today jewelry making thrives as an art form among the Zuni. Many Zuni have became master silversmiths