What is Wigwam?
Wigwam is referred to by many names, but essentially it is a small, semi-permanent dwelling first constructed and used by certain Native Americans tribes. It is a domed, round, hut-like structure, while some of its derivative forms also look more triangular and tent-like. It can be made up of numerous items, whichever of them are available locally.
Common building materials include grass, shaped wooden poles, tree branches, shaved bark, brush, reeds, hide or cloth. These dwellings are most commonly referred to as wickiups in the Southwestern and Western parts of the United States, while being called wigwams in Northeastern regions of the United States and in Canada. The Native American tribe Wampanoag uses the name wetu to refer to these dwellings.
While wigwam have outgrown their place as the de-facto dwellings for a myriad of Native American tribes, after all these years they still have the purpose of being useful in ceremonies. Wigwam, wickiup and wetu are terms applicable for a wide variety of dwellings and aren’t bound to a single idea or notion. Nor are they bound to a single location or cultural group.
These structures were very well designed, as the rounded shape and dome at the top sheltered its occupants from harsh weather conditions. Speedy wind could flow around the structure due to its curved nature, rain or snow wouldn’t pile on the rooftop and heat would get spread over a larger surface area due to the seamless shape.
Wetu aren’t portable since they have a different structure (and thus also take longer to set up) as compared to other popular tribal dwellings of the time, such as tipis. Tipis or teepees, are conical tents, with a stack of wooden branches or carved poles angled towards a single point at the top of the structure and would be tied off at the top. Tipis used to be covered using animal skins and hide, but canvas is used nowadays.
Wigwam are made from young tree saplings for best results due to the flexibility of these saplings. The base of the wickiup was a drawn circle on the ground, anywhere from x to x feet across. Then, saplings were bent and placed all along the circumference of the circle in a way that a pair of saplings would form an arch. After the base was ready, more saplings were wrapped around it to give the structure support.
Structures closely resembling wickiups, called aqals, are used by the nomadic Somali people as well as Afar people dwelling on the Horn of Africa. As mentioned before, materials locally available are used for construction such as old clothing, plastic sheets, or woven mats (made of grass). There are a few other tribes in South Africa that also have similar dwellings, such as the Bushmen and Nama people.
A popular knitting company derives their name from the popular Native American dwellings. The company (Wigwam) website has a detailed account of their history and one of the sections entails how their company name was changed in 1957, with the reason behind the name being – “The best guess stems from a pair of crossed knitting needles with yarn rounding out the top, which resembles an actual American Indian hut known as a wigwam. With its domed top, one can still see the resemblance in the company’s logo in use today.”
About a week ago, IKEA Russia’s Instagram account posted a guide covering 6 different types of home-made forts that parents can build to keep their children entertained at home. One of the 6 featured forts is a wigwam style fort, as seen below.