Oral Traditions

Zuni dancers at Bandelier
Zuni Youth Dance at Bandelier

photo by sally king

"Participating in our traditional dances, learning our stories and songs, maintaining our beliefs, practicing our traditional skills, and speaking our languages are essential to continuing the Pueblo cultures today." – Affiliated Pueblo Committee

Pueblo oral traditions are a continuous dialogue about all aspects of life including beliefs, stories, songs, dances, and skills. Oral traditions were fundamental to the survival of the Ancestral Pueblo people and are integral to the identity of the Pueblo people today.

Histories and Dances
Some stories recount the Pueblo people’s movement to or from the Pajarito Plateau. Others teach lessons and share vital information. Although most stories are only spoken, some are depicted in paintings, petroglyphs, or dances.

Map of current Pueblo languages

NPS Collection

Language is the crucial element for maintaining oral traditions. Two languages were spoken by the Ancestral Pueblo residents of the Pajarito Plateau: Keres and Tewa. Spoken, but not written, these indigenous languages were the primary tools for passing knowledge on to the next generation. These, and many other indigenous languages, are still spoken today in New Mexico.
"Continuing our languages maintains our identities in an ever-changing world. Our languages link us to our ancestral heritage and homelands." – Affiliated Pueblo Committee

traditional craft
Pueblo people still practice traditional crafts that have been passed down from generation to generation.

photo by sally king

Beliefs are integral in shaping Pueblo perspectives of the universe and the peoples’ relationships with it. Colors – green, red, blue, yellow, white and black - define directions on the earth. The seasons define daily activities such as storytelling, planting, and dancing. Respecting the earth and all that it provides is emphasized in stories, songs, and dances.

"Through oral traditions and dances we know that the spirits of our ancestors are still present in our homes on the Plateau." – Gary Roybal, San Ildefonso Pueblo

Some skills that were fundamental to the survival of the Ancestral Pueblo people are continued today as a part of traditional Pueblo culture. Many Pueblo people make pottery, baskets, paintings, clothing, and drums using traditional materials and designs. The knowledge and techniques needed to maintain these skills are passed on from generation to generation – an important facet of continuing the Pueblo culture.

"Stories are more than just stories. Their origins have special meanings. They can teach a lesson or be for fun. They are often told in relation to a traditional calendar or season. They are our history." – Affiliated Pueblo Committee
Zuni migration story
An artist's depiction of the Zuni migration story.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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