|Spirit of the Eagle Presentations
| Nothing can surpass the tipi as a well designed, portable dwelling. Although there
is no solid evidence to prove where the tipi originated from, each Native people has its
own story to explain its existence. No matter where it came from its beauty and true
functionality cannot be denied.
Tipi sizes varied over time and tribe. The earliest homes were very small averaging
14-16 feet tall. Small homes were used at this time because dogs pulled the poles
and covers from place to place. As horses were introduced to the Plains homes became
larger. This was due to the fact that they could carry much more, up to six times as
much, in fact!
In creating a cover women began planning well in advance. For an average sized
home of sixteen foot twelve well tanned buffalo hides needed to be obtained. Much
time was taken to select the correct hides. Each of the hides had to scraped clean of
all meat and fat. It was staked to the ground and allowed to dry thoroughly and the
hair was also removed. Once all hair was removed the skin needed to be soaked to
make it pliable for braining. Buffalo brains were rubbed into the hide to preserve the
skin. As the skin dried it was stretched repeatedly to allow the fibers to remain loose
and pliable. The end result was a rather large, soft piece of leather.
Once all of the skins were ready women would work together to sew the skins into
the cover of the home. Sinew, a long tendon, which came from the back of the buffalo
was split into long threads and used to sew the skins together. To sew the cover
together the skins were laid out on the ground and cut to roughly a semi-circular
shape. Then women would use buffalo bone awls to pierce holes in the skins to join the
individual pieces together with the sinew.
Tipi poles selected were the straightest and smoothest available. Lodgepole pine
trees were favored by many but some used red cedar. Poles had to be light and
strong to support the weight of the cover and durable enough to be used for
transportation. The amount of poles depended on the size of the home being
constructed. For example a home 16 foot tall would use approximately fourteen poles.
The frame of the tipi was created by tying three poles together to make a tripod.
The tripod was raised to a standing position. A majority of homes faced to the East
for many reasons. By having the door face East, the tipi door would face away
from the prevailing winds helping to make it safer and allowing the smoke to rise up
correctly through the smoke hole in the center. After the tripod was raised the
remaining poles were placed against the frame, equally spaced. The cover was tied to
the last pole. This pole was placed opposite the door to the West of the home. The two
were raised together and placed against the frame. It was now time to pull the cover
around the frame to the front. It was held together by small lacing pins that
extended from above the door to smoke hole. The last two poles were then used to hold
open the smoke flaps. Smoke flaps could be moved on the outside of the home to
prevent rain from coming in through the center of the home.
Ambitious women would decorate their homes in many ways. Four circular
rosettes or stars would be created using dyed porcupine quills that would be sewn to
leather. Placement of the rosettes on the cover was to the four quarter directions
roughly Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, and Southwest. Another form of
decorating the home was Tinklers that would be made of porcupine quills, leather,
deer toes and Horse hair. These items would be sewn to the cover and created a wind
chime effect as the wind would blow. The sound was said to call the Buffalo and
ensure a successful hunt.
One last item of decoration to the outside of the tipi was sewn to the back of the
cover. This piece of decoration was placed just below where the cover was tied to lift
pole. Tinklers were also placed down the back of the cover. This piece of decoration
served as a method of identifying individual covers from one another when they were
rolled for transport. Since this portion of the cover was available to be seen when
rolled up, one could easily look at the decoration to identify their home.
After the outside cover was in place an inner liner or tiozan was then tied to the
poles. This liner extended from the floor of the tipi to approximately five to six feet
off the ground. In the past the buffalo skin tiozan was made of a few pieces. Since
it was made in this manner,not all the pieces had to be used all the time. This inner
liner helped to control the draft and force the smoke out through the top of the tipi.
Therefore in warm weather when no fire was needed the tiozan could even be omitted.
Tiozans were painted in many styles and were even decorated with porcupine quills
and beads. It also served the function of stopping shadows from showing on the
outside of the home when a fire was lit. More modern tipis will have one continuous
tiozan extending around the entire inside of the home.
Once the tiozan was in place the furnishings were then placed inside the home.
In the center of the home, beneath the opening, was the fireplace The fire was used to
heat the home and provide light. Behind the fire was placed the altar. In the altar
offerings of cedar, sage and sweetgrass were burned. Buffalo skins were placed on
the floor around the home surrounding the fire. A single home was occupied by a
man and women and their children and perhaps a widowed grandparent.
Since tipi dwellers lived a nomadic lifestyle and moved as the buffalo herds moved,
furnishings had to be light and durable. Backrests made of willow branches that
had been dried and straightened functioned as chairs. These chairs were leaned
against carved tripods to hold them in place. Many bags and pouches sewn from
the buffalo skin carried all of the necessities for life. They were then set on the floor
around the outside edge, which helped to secure the ozan to the ground. Food was
stored in large parfleches, which was made from buffalo skin that was tanned but
left stiff and not softened. Parfleches made into matching pairs then were tied to
the sides of the horses when travelling.
At night the fires that were lit inside the home illuminated the covers. This
mellow glow would give light to the area around the tipi. Inside the homes stories told
and dreams existed. The wind blew and the tinklers filled the air with a beautiful
sound. Off in the distance songs could be heard and games played. Life was great.
When the buffalo moved so did you. Hope you enjoyed this overview of tipi life.