The Zuni or Ashiwi are one of the Pueblo peoples, most of whom live in the Pueblo of Zuñi. Their Pueblo is located on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico, about 35 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico and 150 miles west of Albuquerque. The current Pueblo lies at 6300 ft elevation, under painted desert, sandstone buttes. At this elevation, scrub pine forests are prevalent in the high desert. Deer and elk are found nearby.
Before the Spanish colonization and missionaries, the Zuni lived as other Pueblo Peoples, their farming being supplemented by hunting and fishing. Zuni religious beliefs guided their way of life and involved numerous ceremonies and significant rites of passage.
Before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Zuni lived in six different villages. After the revolt, until 1692, they took refuge in a defensible position atop Dowa Yalanne, a steep mesa 2 miles southeast of the present Pueblo of Zuñi. Dowa meaning "corn," and Yalanne meaning "mountain." After the establishment of peace and the return of the Spanish, the Zuni relocated in their present location, only briefly returning to the mesa top in 1703.
Life for the agricultural Zuni people revolves around their religious beliefs. They have an annual cycle of religious ceremonies, with beliefs centered on the three most powerful of their deities – Earth Mother, Sun Father, and Moonlight-Giving Mother. December ceremonies, in which the Shalako dance close to the time of the Winter Solstice, are quite sacred and typically closed to outsiders.
Many Zuni have become master silversmiths and perfected the skill of stone inlay. They found that by using small pieces of stone they were able to create intricate designs and unique patterns. Small oval-shaped stones with pointed ends are set close to one another and side by side. The technique is normally used with turquoise but is often combined with other semiprecious stones, in creating necklaces or rings. Carved stone animal fetishes, jewelry, needlepoint, and pottery are popular items. The bear, coyote, eagle and turtle are commonly used as motifs.
The claim has been made that the U.S. town with the greatest percentage of artists, per capita, is the Zuni Pueblo. If this is not correct, it is very close to being. A short time in the village and it becomes apparent that every household has at least one family member who is an artist, often there are several.
Though the Zuni are one of the Pueblo Peoples, due to the size of their reservation and the notoriety they have gained for their artwork, they are often identified as a distinct, on their own People, much like their cousins to the northwest, The Hopi.