The Zuni Indians are a tribe of Pueblo Native Americans found in the Southwestern United States. Over the years the Zuni tribe has developed a rich culture with many traditions, rituals and symbols. To this day, there are many Zuni symbols that are used in different forms of artwork as well as Native American designs and symbols. Perhaps the most commonly used Zuni Symbols are the Zuni sun symbol and the Zuni bear symbol, although, there are many other symbols that have unique and important meaning in the Zuni culture.
To the Zuni tribe, the Zuni sun symbol is essential. According to Zuni tradition, Awonawilona was the creator of the world who became the sun and made “mother-earth” and “father-sky.” The Zuni sun symbol has a kachina mask for a center and has rays pointing in the cardinal directions or rays surrounding the mask in every direction. To get an idea of what the Zuni sun symbol looks like, look at the New Mexico state flag. This symbol is actually called the Zia sun symbol but when the kachina mask is added to the center it becomes a version of the Zuni sun symbol.
The Zuni bear symbol is another important symbol to the Zuni tribe. The symbol is a bear shape with an arrow from its mouth swirling to its stomach and a tail; the arrow from the mouth to the stomach is called the heartline, which signifies force. In the Zuni culture, the bear is considered the most powerful of animals and is believed to be the guardian of the west. The Zuni believe that the bear symbol has the power to transform passions into true wisdom and that it carries powers or qualities that help strengthen the owner. The bear is one of six cardinal guardian animals along with the badger, mountain lion, wolf, mole and eagle.
Other important symbols that are fairly recognizable are the Owl and the Paluluka. The owl, while in many cultures is associated with wisdom, the Zuni symbol is associated with darkness and considered a bad omen. The Zuni Indians respect the owl, however, it is considered to be the disguise of the departed soles of wise elders and leaders’ spirits. The Paluluka is a feathered sky-snake. This rain and lightning deity is believed to have created the waterways. Typically fond in Zuni pottery but also found in jewelry the symbol represents storms and the changing seasons most commonly associated with thunderstorms, lightning and sudden violent changes. The Zuni symbol is something as simple as a snake with feathers on its head or used with turquoise the snake appears to encompass the turquoise-blue as if to control the surrounding water.
The Zuni tribe has developed their symbols over the years to be meaningful, creative and powerful. Zuni symbols are still used in many different ways including tattoos, tepees, totem poles, musical instruments, clothes, war paint and jewelry. Recognizing the symbols meaning and relevance behind the piece of jewelry or artwork adds depth and character to each unique piece.