A Teepee also known as tipi refers to a conical tent used by nomadic tribes and tribal dwellers while hunting on the Great Plains. Teepees were made from animal skins supported by wooden poles. Teepees are associated with Native Americans residing in the Great Plains. Native Americans from other places typically lived in domed dwellings called the “wigwam” which is quite different from the teepee. Teepees were portable and suited the lifestyle of the nomadic tribes as they could be easily set up and broken down when they left a particular area.
The origin of the word teepee can be traced back to the Lakota language and is also known as tepee or tipi. The Lakota word thipi consists of the verb thi which means “to dwell” and a plural suffix pi meaning “they dwell.” Verbs in the Lakota language are commonly used as nouns as found in the word teepee used in the language to mean a “dwelling”. Most Native Americans no longer live in traditional teepees. Modern teepees are constructed with canvas and are built for ceremonial purposes or for a historical record of a past heritage.
A teepee was used by the Native Americans particularly of the Plains tribes. The frame of the cone-shaped structure was built with wooden poles covered traditionally by buffalo hide or other animal skins. The construction of a tepee required about ten to twenty wooden poles converged at a central point and bound with ropes to hold it securely. The wooden frame is then covered with the hide tent having a door. Each family would carry wooden poles and hide tents as they moved from one place to another. The teepees were designed to facilitate easy setting up and disassembling when required by the nomadic tribes. While the original teepees were twelve feet high, later on they were built in almost double the original height when the Plains tribes started using horses.
The Teepee was extremely durable and useful in all the seasons. They were warm and comfortable in the harsh winters while cool in the peak of summer. Besides they provided adequate shelter and were dry during the rainy season. The portability of the teepees made it indispensable to the nomadic tribes. Teepees could be easily constructed when the tribe chose to settle in a particular area. Similarly they could be disassembled with ease and packed away conveniently when the tribe wanted to move away from the area.
Most teepees constructed in villages were plain and lacked any decorations. However some Plains Indians decorated the teepees with images of magical animals and gods. Some teepees were adorned with paintings of tribal patterns or scenes reflecting the occupant’s experiences during hunting or war. Teepees were traditionally embroidery using dyed porcupine quills depicting tribal patterns, battle scenes, animal designs and so on. Numerous materials such as buffalo horns, tails, bear claws, buckskin were used to decorate the exterior of the teepee.