History of the Tipi

A tipi (also teepee, tepee) is a conical tent originally made of animal skins or birch bark and popularized by the American Indians of the Great Plains. The dwelling was remarkably durable, and gave warmth and comfort to its inhabitants during harsh winters, was dry during heavy rains, and cool during the heat of summers. Its portability was an important factor since most Plains Indians were highly mobile, and it could be broken down and packed away quickly when a tribe decided to move, and could be constructed just as quickly when a tribe settled in a new area. Tipis are associated with Native Americans who lived on the plains, although Native Americans from places other than the Great Plains built different types of dwellings.

The word "tipi" comes into English from the Lakota language (one of the three major varieties of the Sioux language); the word consists of two elements: thí, meaning "to dwell," and pi, which means "they dwell." In practice thípi means house. The term "wigwam" is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to a dwelling of this type.

Tipis consist of four elements: a set of ten to fifteen sapling poles, a canvas, an inner canvas lining, and a canvas door. Ropes and 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 innovations: the opening at the top and the smoke flaps, which allow the dweller to cook and heat themselves with an open fire, and the lining, which supplies a steady, controlled flow of fresh air to fire and dwellers. Tipis are designed to be easily set up to allow camps to be moved.

The tipi was designed to enable an indoor fire for heating and cooking. The fire is set in the center of the floor. Two smoke flaps at the top of the tipi can be adjusted with long poles. These smoke flaps are set at right angles to the wind, preventing the wind blowing in. The liner adds insulation in winter as well as circulating air within the tipi. In hot weather the lining is not used and the outside skin is unpegged and is rolled up to create ventilation.

The tipi is the ideal shelter, being both warm in winter and cool in the summer.

Sioux Tipi

Souix tipi circa 1908
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Sioux Warrior

Sioux Warrior
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