solstice ceremonies of are a vital and traditional part of Zuni culture. The ceremonies occur in both summer and winter solstices, but the most important ceremony occurs during the winter solstice. The ancestors of the Zuni people lived in what is now the southwestern U.S. over 5,000 years ago, and today their decedents continue to celebrate the winter solstice.
The roots of the Zuni culture, and thus the solstice, lie within the Anasazi culture that existed millennia ago in what is today the southwest United States. The Anasazi people, believed to be the ancestors of the Zuni and other Pueblo people simply disappeared 600 years ago, leaving behind their homes and belongings after inhabiting the area for close to 5,000 years (Roberts).
The Zuni New Year begins at the winter solstice. The ceremony called Yatakya-ittiwanna-quin-techikya (“sun middle-at place arrives”), or Tetsina-wittiwa (“winter middle”) marks the beginning of these celebrations. The Peqinne, chief of the zenith observes the movements of the sun daily. When the sun coincides with a specific mark on the mountain Tawayalanne, he tells the ‘bow chiefs’ and the war chiefs who in turn tell the other five high priests, who assemble in the house of the Kyaqimassi, Shiwanni of the north (The Curtis Collection).
The days leading up to the solstice are marked by a number of activities that include many members of the tribe. Feathered prayer sticks are placed at a shrine on the mountain Tawayalanne for a period of twenty one days. On the twenty-second morning, Peqinne chief of the zenith goes to the mountaintop and announces that the tenth day after that day the sun will arrive at a specific spot on mountain Tawayalanne. At that time, he also announces that the tribe will celebrate the sun’s arrival and four day appearance before he head south (The Curtis Collection).
For four days before the solstice, fraternities, individuals, and priesthoods make more prayer sticks. Men of specific clans make an image of the younger war god. On the afternoon of the day before the solstice an appointed man prepares a fire as the sun sets. The images of the war gods are brought to the kiva, and a night of prayers and offerings ensues (The Curtis Collection).
On the day of the solstice, each household plants prayer sticks in the fields. These are intended for specific ancestors and deities. No fire is allowed outside the houses for ten days (The Curtis Collection).
Today, the ancient Zuni traditions of celebrating the winter solstice remain alive. In modern New Mexico, the Zuni reservation makes up 640 square miles, and still celebrates Shalako, part of the 48-day-long winter solstice ceremony (Hoxie). At Zuni Pueblo, the sun priest sets the date of the winter solstice festival (Roberts). The most important holiday of the year for modern Zuni in western New Mexico remains the winter solstice festival of Shalako. Tribal paintings that include those depicting the winter solstice festival are being painstakingly repainted (Keith).
In conclusion, the Zuni celebration of the winter solstice is an enduring testament to the spirituality of the Zuni people. The Zuni ancestors once lived in the southwestern United States over 5,000 years ago, only to disappear about 600 years ago. Today’s Zuni likely carry within their culture some remnants of this ancient civilization, and in their modern recreations of the winter solstice ceremonies they enact traditions that may be thousands of years old. As such, the Zuni celebrations of the winter and summer solstice provide a fascinating glimpse of ancient American Indian culture.
Keith, Katherine Drouin. Zuni murals connect two cultures. (Zuni kachinas in Catholic mission). National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 1999. LookSmart Database. 21 March 2004. http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m1141/21_35/54343098/p1/article.jhtml
The Curtis Collection. Zuni Solstice and Harvest Ceremonies. The North American Indian, Volume 17. 21 March 2004. http://curtis-collection.com/zunisolsticeceremonies.html
Roberts, David. 1997. In Search of the Old Ones. Touchstone Books.
Hoxie, Frederick E. editor. 1996. Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York.
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