"Thinking inside-of-the-box": Zuni Indian elders' construction of aging

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This study examined the constructions of aging through the eyes of the elders on Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. Classical ethnographic field techniques were used to collect data during 1800 hours of fieldwork on the Pueblo. In Zuni, indigenous constructs of aging are firmly rooted in their traditions. Most elders found it essential to stay on a traditional path, although, it was undeniable that Western constructions also existed in their cosmos. Zuni traditions triangulate with perspectives from the West to form a fluctuating middle that stays within prescribed boundaries of a "box" bounded by the four directions and the zenith and nadir planes. The degree to which an elder remains oral vs. literal, ages in the "Zuni way," and within a sacred domain greatly affects decision-making, as well as action and or inaction in aging behaviors. Understanding perspectives rooted within an "inside-the box" paradigm, valuing the old, the ancestors, sacredness, and the "Zuni way" will assist in deriving relevant theories and programs for these American Indian elders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-56
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Religion, Spirituality and Aging
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging (grant no. 1R03AG17654-01).


  • Aging
  • Ethnography
  • Indian
  • North American


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