Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Little Taste Of History (26)

Topic: The North American Indian Pre: 1900 #2

Dwellings and House-Building

North of the Pueblo region the general house plan may be described as circular. Among the Haida and others of the Alaskan coast, and extending down to the Columbia, the prevailing type was of boards, painted with symbolic designs and with the famous heraldic totem-poles, carved from cedar-trunks, standing at the entrance. Along the Columbia were found great communal houses. California had several distinct types, of which the dug-out and the dome-shaped clay-built house, entered from the top, were perhaps most common. The Piute, Apache, Papago, and others of Nevada and Arizona had the wikiup, an elliptical structure covered with reed mats or grass. The Navaho Hogan was a circular house of logs, covered with earth, and entered through a short passageway. The square-built stone or adobe dwelling of the Pueblo marked the northern limit of the Mexican culture area. These pueblos, they were called by the Spaniards, were aggregations of continuous rooms occupied by different families, so that the whole village sometimes consisted of but a single house, sometimes several stories in height.

The roofs were flat, a projection of the lower wall within the room served for seats and beds, and the fireplace was in one corner, instead of in the centre, as was almost universal elsewhere. For better security against the wild tribes, the outer walls of the lower story were often without doors or windows, entrance being gained through trap-doors in the roof by means of ladders, which were pulled up at night. For the same reason, many of the pueblos, especially in ancient times, were placed upon high mesas, or on shelves on the sides of almost inaccessible cliffs, whence the name "cliff-dwellers." The prevailing type on the plains was the conical skin tipi (a word of Sioux origin), no other being so easily portable and so well adapted to withstand the violent winds of the treeless prairies.The Pawnee, Arikara, Mandan, and one or two other tribes living close along the Missouri River built earth-covered log houses, somewhat like those of the Navaho, but much larger. The Wichita in the south built stationary houses of grass thatch laid over poles. About the upper lakes was found the bark-covered tipi, while east and southeast was the wigwam, a rectangular structure of stout poles, overlaid with bark or mats of woven rushes, and in general form closely resembling a rounded wagon top. Among the Iroquois it became the communal "long house." In the Gulf States were found houses, either rectangular or circular, of upright logs plastered over with clay.

The Pueblo villages had underground KIVAS, or public rooms, where the men of the various secret orders made their preparations for the great ceremonials. It corresponded somewhat to the medicine lodge of the plains tribes, built of green cottonwood branches for the celebration of their annual sun-dance, while among the Gulf tribes its place was supplied by the circular log "town house." Some of the Eastern and Southern tribes had also dead-houses, temples, and public granaries. In general, an Indian village was a scattering settlement, but with many of the Eastern tribes the more important towns were compactly built and strongly stockaded. (14)

Sources Utilized to Document A Little Taste of History

Photo Credit: "Painted lodges - Piegan (The North American Indian)" Original photogravure produced in Boston by John Andrew & Son, c 1900. Repository: Northwestern University. Library., Evanston, Ill. Creator: Edward S. Curtis. Library of Congress.

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