Indian tepees looked primeval and colorful as well as exuded with a certain feel of tribal security and solidarity. In the 18th to 19th centuries, they were built mainly to protect Native American families from heat, rain, wind and other weather elements. The tepees were sturdy enough to withstand disturbances from the external environment. This living arrangement by the natives was necessary to support their nomadic existence in which they had to move around to look for places favorable for hunting and farming.
Assembling a tepee
Tepee is also known as “tipi”. It is a cone-shaped tent made of animal hide and wooden poles that used to be the usual dwelling of nomadic Native Americans living on the Indian Plains and other terrains in America. Teepees could be easily assembled and disassembled. A tribe commonly stayed in one place for a considerable length of time but would quickly disassemble their dwelling when they needed to settle in a new region. Other Native Americans who were settled in other places and engaged in other means livelihood generally lived in other forms of dwellings that were more permanent.
More than just shelters
The Native Americans regarded tepees as more than just shelters. For them, their abodes also served as their domain that no invader must dare intrude in. The manner by which tribes would position their tepees was generally based on different directions. The door would face the east where the sun rises, giving way for the western winds to drift on the back part. This was the ideal alignment for tepees, as it was believed to bring auspicious lives to the people.
Some tribes would leave their tepees plain with no adornments. For them it was suffice that they had marked their territories by the mere presence of their dwellings. Their abodes were well guarded by members of the tribe for each one was committed to keep loyalty to their kin and fellow tribe people. Other groups like the Blackfoot tribe painted their tepees with elaborate and colorful decorations. The patterns and designs represented certain symbols that they considered as protection for the families living in the tents.
Paint designs and themes
The sources of ideas for the designs painted on a tepee were usually from dreams or visions of the Native Americans. Sometimes, after going through a period of fasting and communing alone with nature, they would come up with visualizations that they later interpreted by painting the images on their dwellings. American Indians would also give high respect to their ancestors and most of their visions epitomized the wisdom and teachings of their elders.
Since the designs were inspired by their personal visions and dreams, duplication was not allowed. The owner of the tepee became the exclusive holder of the patterns and no one could copy them. The Native Americans believed that anyone who would imitate a design that did not come from his own vision would be penalized with sickness or death. Even if a tepee would wear out, the original design would be transferred to the owner’s new tepee. The old tepee would then be offered as a sacrifice by drowning it under lake water.