The Shalako Festival at Zuni Pueblo is held at this time of year. It was originally held on the 49th day after the tenth full moon. It has been changed to coincide with a weekend near that time to allow people to return to Zuni to take part. The exact date is announced by the Zuni Bow Priests.


The annual announcement of the date is made on the eighth evening before the event. The Shalako Ceremony has a dual purpose: to thank the gods for the harvest of the year and to bless newly built houses.

Until 1990, the sacred ceremony was open to the public. Now, you can only attend with a specific invitation.

Each kiva in the pueblos selects two men, one to portray one of the six Shalako (spiritual beings or Kachinas), and one to take the role of the alternate dancer. The Shalako are very tall, dwarfing the Kachinas that accompany them.


The Koyemshi, Kachinas representing the father and his nine children accompany the Shalako and interpret for them as they move towards the village. Shulawitsi, Little Fire God, and his father, Shulawatsi An Tatchu, precede the Shalako. The Little Fire God is a young boy, carrying a torch and lighting fires as he goes. They lead the Council of the Gods and their helpers into the Pueblo. They are protected by the Warriors of the Six Directions.


The Council of the Gods makes its way around the village at dusk and then the procession turns toward the village. They come down Greasy Hill and enter Zuni from the south. Each Shalako enters a designated house where the creation of the Zuni is chanted. After midnight, feasting is held throughout the village, and then the Shalako dance until dawn when they leave the plaza to return to their spiritual homes.


Understand that this is a simple explanation of a complicated ceremony that has been held for centuries and around which much of the Zuni religion revolves. It is one of the most sacred ceremonies held in America.

There are many depictions of the Shalako. One of my favorites is a pencil/charcoal drawing by Zuni artist Johnny Secatero (1945-2010), On the Way to Shalako, showing the procession making its way down Greasy Hill to the village.


See all Katsinas in the Gallery