DocumentCitationsKeywordsRelated Material

“Zuni Origins and Migrations”

by T.J. Ferguson

The stories Zunis tell about the origin of their people El Morro, Inscription Rock“El Morro, Inscription Rock,” David Grant Noble (Photographer) and their migration to the Middle Place are called Chimik'yanakona penane. All tribal members have heard these stories. Religious leaders remember the stories in detail.

Since there are several religious groups in Zuni, the Chimik' yanakona penane stories have many variations. This map is a composite picture of some of the sites and trails mentioned in Zuni migration stories. The long journeys involved in the Zuni people's search for their home in the Middle Place are an example of the movement of peoples on this continent over thousands of years. In Zuni stories of origin and migration, the earth is the source of all life.

Below are some highlights from the combined Zuni origin stories.

~ ~ ~ ~

The Zunis were created in the fourth world. Their immortal gods led them up through the third, second, and first worlds into the light of day. They emerged deep inside a canyon somewhere along the Colorado River. After the people had washed the slime from their bodies and split the webs between their fingers and toes, they at last appeared the way they look today.

General Direction of Zuni Origin and Migration“General Direction of Zuni Origin and Migration,” Troy Lucio (Artist)

From their place of emergence, the A'shiwi, as the people called themselves, began their journey. They were searching for their home at Middle Place, the center of all the oceans and the lands and the heavens.

The A'shiwi journeyed through the deserts and canyons of the region now known as Arizona and New Mexico. Sometimes they built villages and stayed for “four days and four nights” (some Zunis believe this actually means four years).

El Morro, Atsinna Pueblo (ancestral Zuni pueblo)“El Morro, Atsinna Pueblo (ancestral Zuni pueblo),” David Grant Noble (Photographer)

Each watering place or village site along the origin trail became a sacred shrine to the Zunis. They remember these shrines in prayers and pilgrimages to this day.

At Sunha:ck'yabahu Yalanne (the San Francisco Peaks), the people were given medicinal plants to strengthen and sustain them.

The people stayed for a time in the Little Colorado River valley. There they were offered a choice between two eggs: a plain egg or an egg with bright blue spots. One group of Zunis chose the plain egg, which hatched a parrot with extraordinary feathers. This group journeyed south into the Land of Everlasting Sunshine and (it is told) never returned. The second group chose the blue spotted egg. The people were dismayed when the egg hatched a black raven, but they continued on.

The people again split into three groups. One group followed the Little Colorado River. At the place where it joined the Zuni River, they found Lake Koluwala:wa. A village lies under that lake. This is where the Kokko or Katsinam live. Beautiful singing and dancing can be heard place beneath Koluwala:wa. Zunis believe that after they die, they return to the lake to join their ancestors.

The Zunis searching for the Middle Place journeyed to Hanlibinkya. This is the place where the clans got their names. The ancient symbols of the clans are petrogylphs carved in the sandstone walls of the canyon.

The next place they stopped, Heshoda Yalla, was already occupied. The twin War Gods led the Zunis in an epic battle to defeat the resident people. The victorious Zunis took some of the vanquished Heshoda Yalla into their tribe.

Continuing on, the A'shiwi at last arrived at the Middle Place. The place they called Halona:Itiwana is now known as Zuni Pueblo.

Zuni Water Jar/Olla“Zuni Water Jar/Olla,” Unidentified Zuni (Artist)

The map shows the migration route of a group of Zunis who went south to Shohk'onan Im'a (Flute Mountain or Escudilla Peak). From there they journeyed north to Heshoda: Yalta or A'tsina (El Morro) in the Zuni Mountains. Their trail eventually led them back to join the others at Halona:Itiwana.

Finally, after many encounters and settlements, the group that had migrated north also rejoined the tribe at the Middle Place.

As the Zuni people neared the Middle Place, a water spider called K'yhan'asdebi helped them to locate Itiwana, the exact center point of the universe. K'yhan'asdebi stretched his legs to touch the four oceans—east, south, west, and north—and also the zenith and nadir. With his legs touching the six cardinal directions, the spider's heart rested on the exact center point of the Middle Place. The Zunis knew they were home.