Why go to Zuni? You can go to appreciate the beautiful Zuni-made pottery and jewelry. You can go to see ancient ruins. You can go to appreciate dances and ceremonies. You can also go to be amazed at the Zuni language which is a “language isolate” which means that it has no connection to any other Native American language.
The language has been maintained amazingly and with integrity for 7,000 years! An amazing feat when you consider the size of the population, just over 6,000 people currently (the Zuni make heroic efforts to teach the children Zuni and so the language is NOT endangered!).
And if you go, be respectful. Be humble. And, above all, appreciate that religious ceremonies and dances are sacred and not for your entertainment. Zuni is a community of people who are not on display for tourists.
The Zuni Pueblo sits just 35 miles south of Gallup and can easily be visited as a day trip from Gallup or Albuquerque and in conjunction with a visit to El Moro National Monument. The Inn at Halona, a centrally located Bed and Breakfast is a great option for spending a little extra time in Zuni and exploring the area. Thanks to our friend, Barry, for the great tip!
The Zuni Pueblo is the largest of the 19 New Mexico Pueblos and covers about 700 square miles. Amazingly, there is evidence that the Zuni and their ancestors farmed in their present location for as many as 4,000 years…the history runs deep here!
A great first stop in town is the Zuni Visitors Center. From there, you can arrange your visit and, if you wish, arrange a tour. Visitors are encouraged to see Zuni with a guide to ensure that you are introduced to the community and are aware of visitor etiquette. Guides can introduce you to an Artist Workshop tour and the Hawikuh ruins and the Great Kivas. It is recommended that bookings are done a week in advance for the more popular tours. The Zuni Tourism website lists many of the events happening in Zuni and also dates when all businesses may be closed for religious holidays. Check the website as you plan your time in Zuni.
Only take pictures with explicit permission and do not push the issue if permission is not granted. You may be able to get a photography permit at the Visitor’s Center, however permits are never granted for religious dances and activities. I suggest taking cues from those around you and when in doubt, do not take pictures. It is better to be respectful than to have a picture. Do note that this is a serious, hard fast rule and violations of the photography rule are subject to both Tribal and Federal penalties.
Visitors can see the exterior only of the old Spanish mission as it has deteriorated significantly. The village site at Hawikuh is worth a visit. In 1680, the Zuni joined forces with many other pueblo communities to drive the Spanish out of what would become New Mexico. After the resistance, the Zuni moved to the Dowa Yalanne mesa and, once peace was established, they moved to their current location in about 1692. If you visit some of the archaeological sites, do recognize that they are an important part of the cultural heritage of the Zuni people and considered sacred. The Zuni believe that their ancestors live on as spirits in the ruins and bless them with rain, prosperity, long life, and so on. Any destructive behavior, including collecting pot shards or vandalism, is a punishable offense.
The central artery of town has many shops that sell Zuni-made jewelry and pottery. The Zuni are known for mosaic-patterned, inlay jewelry where each piece is completely unique. Be sure to try some kneel-down bread while you are in town!