A tipi ( TEE-pee), also tepee or teepee and often called a lodge in older English writings, is a tent, traditionally made of animal skins upon wooden poles. Modern tipis usually have a canvas covering. A tipi is distinguished from other conical tents by the smoke flaps at the top of the structure.
The tipi is durable, provides warmth and comfort in winter, is cool in the heat of summer,[note 1] and is dry during heavy rains. Tipis can be disassembled and packed away quickly when people need to relocate and can be reconstructed quickly upon settling in a new area.[note 2] Historically, this portability was important to Plains Indians with their at-times nomadic lifestyle.
The word tipi comes into English from the Lakota language. The Lakota word thípi['t?ipi] means "a dwelling" or "they dwell", from the verb thí, meaning "to dwell".
The wigwam or "wickiup", a dome-shaped shelter typically made of bark layered on a pole-structure, was also used by various tribes, especially for hunting camps. The term wigwam has often been incorrectly used to refer to a conical skin tipi.[note 3]
The conventional translation in French and English for all indigenous dwellings at one time was "lodge", resulting in many compounds and place names such as sweatlodge, lodgepole pine, Red Lodge, and so on.
Types and utility
Crow lodge interior, 1907, showing the poles and outer skin at the top, the inner lining and bedding. The lashing rope is tied off to a wooden stake at the bottom of the photograph. Clothing is suspended on a line tied between two of the tipi poles.
A typical family tipi is a conical, portable structure with two adjustable smoke flaps, multiple poles (historically from 12 to 25 ft or 3.7 to 7.6 m long) called lodge poles. Lewis H. Morgan noted that,
The frame consists of thirteen poles from fifteen to eighteen feet in length, which, after being tied together at the small ends, are raised upright with a twist so as to cross the poles above the fastening. They are then drawn apart at the large ends and adjusted upon the ground in the rim of a circle usually ten feet in diameter. A number of untanned and tanned buffalo skins, stitched together in a form adjustable to the frame, are drawn around it and lashed together, as shown in the figure. The lower edges are secured to the ground with tent-pins. At the top there is an extra skin adjusted as a collar, so as to be open on the windward side to facilitate the exit of the smoke. A low opening is left for a doorway, which is covered with an extra skin used as a drop. The fire-pit and arrangements for beds are the same as in the Ojibwa lodge, grass being used in the place of spruce or hemlock twigs.
Lodgepole pine is the preferred wood in the Northern and Central Plains and red cedar in the Southern Plains. Tipis have a detachable cover over the structure. The cover has historically been made of buffalo hide, an optional skin or cloth lining, and a canvas or bison calf skin door. Modern lodges are more often made of canvas.
Ropes (historically raw hide) and wooden pegs are required to bind the poles, close the cover, attach the lining and door, and anchor the resulting structure to the ground. Tipis are distinguished from other tents by two crucial elements: the opening at the top and the smoke flaps, which allow the dwellers to heat themselves and cook with an open fire; and the lining that is primarily used in the winter, which insulates. Tipis were designed to be easily set up or taken down to allow camps to be moved to follow game migrations, especially the bison. When dismantled the tipi poles were used to construct a dog- or later horse-pulled travois on which additional poles and tipi cover were placed.
Tipi covers are made by sewing together strips of canvas or tanned hide and cutting out a semicircular shape from the resulting surface. Trimming this shape yields a door and the smoke flaps that allow the dwellers to control the chimney effect to expel smoke from their fires. Old style traditional linings were hides, blankets, and rectangular pieces of cloth hanging about 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) above the ground tied to the poles or a rope.
Historically, most tipis in a village would not be painted. Painted tipis often depicted note-worthy historical battles and often featured geometric portrayals of celestial bodies and animal designs. Sometimes tipis have been painted to depict personal experiences such as war hunting, a dream or vision. When depicting visions, "ceremonies and prayers were first offered, and then the dreamer recounted his dream to the priests and wise men of the community. Those known to be skilled painters were consulted, and the new design was made to fit anonymously within the traditional framework of the tribe's painted tipis."
Chum (tent), a similar structure used by various peoples from northwestern Siberia to northern Mongolia.
Goahti, a somewhat similar structure used by the Sami people of northern Scandinavia
^Lewis H. Morgan, "I have seen it in use among seven or eight Dakota sub-tribes, among the Iowas, Otoes, and Pawnees, and among the Black-feet, Crows, Assiniboines, and Crees. In 1878, I saw it in use among the Utes of Colorado. A collection of fifty of these tents, which would accommodate five hundred persons, make a picturesque appearance. Under the name of the "Sibley tent" it is now in use, with some modifications of plan, in the United States Army, for service on the plains." [A Sibley tent has one pole in the center and no flaps for guiding the smoke from the central fire.] (Contributions to N. A. Ethnology, vol. iv., p. 115.)
^With the sides raised; As seen in: Anthropological papers. 1917. p211
^Lewis H. Morgan notes the Dakota call their skin tents, "wii-ka-yo". The following is an extract of his text: "When first discovered the Dakotas lived in houses constructed with a frame of poles and covered with bark, each of which was large enough for several families. They dwelt principally in villages in their original area on the head-waters of the Mississippi, the present State of Minnesota. Forced upon the plains by an advancing white population, but after they had become possessed of horses, they invented a skin tent eminently adapted to their present nomadic condition. It is superior to any other in use among the American aborigines from its roominess, its portable character, and the facility with which it can be erected and struck. "[...]" When the tent is struck, the poles are attached to a horse, half on each side, like thills, secured to the horse's neck at one end, and the other dragging on the ground. The skin-covering and other camp-equipage are packed upon other horses and even upon their dogs, and are thus transported from place to place on the plains. This tent is so well adapted to their mode of life that it has spread far and wide among the Indian tribes of the prairie region." (Contributions to N. A. Ethnology, vol. iv., p. 114.)
^Usually wigwams are a domed structure; conical wooden wigwams are known (as seen here in the background), though, and presumably gave rise to the confusing of the different structures. For more, see: Notes on the Eastern Cree and Northern Saulteaux, Volumes 9-10. By Alanson Skinner. The Trustee, 1911. p12+13.