The purpose of this page is to get you better acquainted with the symbolism behind Plains Architecture. Much of this information is based on Peter Nabokov and Robert Eastman's book Native American Architecture. You may either read this page chronologically or skip ahead to any of the following topics:
The most common types of domestic architecture on the Great Plains included earthlodges, grass houses, tipis. Common ceremonial structures were sun dance lodges and sweathouses.
Painted tipis were one important kind of pre-contact pictographic writing. But what did they say? Peter Nabokov and Robert Easton note that
The Kiowa of the southern Plains and the Blackfeet of the northern Plains were renowned for their decorated tipis. For the Blackfeet a standard arrangement of panels was customary (165).
I have analyzed the modern reproduction shown below using the Blackfeet symbolism given by Nabokov and Easton. What is the difference between telling the story of one's life and visions in this format and in the format of Black Elk Speaks?
This Tipi is an "image map": to discover the symbolism behind any section click on that section
"The tipi required only wood poles, stakes, pins, hide covers, and hopes to provide a quickly assembled and easily dismantled shelter in both sweltering and freezing weather. To erect a tipi, a three- or four-pole frame was lifted into place. The preferred wood was young, straight, and extremely long lodgepole pine, but red cedar was an acceptable second choice...Women sewed the semicircular cover together with sinew for thread, making sure their stitching produced a waterproof cover" (Nabokov and Easton 153).
Nabokov, Peter and Robert Easton, Native American Architecture. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.
Tipi Image-map Graphics from Nomadics Tipi Makers. All other images have links to their original sources.