Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another Cherokee Learning Detour from My Family Research

Houses of the Cherokees

Wattle and Daub Houses

Wattle and daub houses (also known as asi, the Cherokee word for them) are Native American houses used by southeastern tribes. Wattle and daub houses are made by weaving rivercane, wood, and vines into a frame, then coating the frame with plaster. The roof was either thatched with grass or shingled with bark.

          rivercane frame    *   plastered and thatched

Wattle and daub houses are permanent structures that take a lot of effort to build. Like longhouses, they are good homes for agricultural people who intended to stay in one place, like the Cherokees and Creeks. Making wattle and daub houses requires a fairly warm climate to dry the plaster.

The Cherokee Indians lived in settled villages, usually located near a river. Cherokee houses were made of rivercane and plaster, with thatched roofs. These dwellings were about as strong and warm as log cabins.The Cherokees also built larger seven-sided buildings for ceremonial purposes, and each village usually had a ball field with benches for spectators. Many Cherokee villages had palisades (reinforced walls) around them for protection.

At the time of contact, the Cherokee were a settled, agricultural people living in approximately 200 fairly, large villages. The typical Cherokee town consisted of 30 to 60 houses and a large council house. They built permanent, well-organized villages in the midst of extensive cornfields and gardens throughout the fertile river valleys of the Cherokee country.

In these villages, homes ranged around a central plaza used for dances, games, and ceremonies. At one end of the plaza, the council house, or townhouse, held the sacred fire, symbol of the Creator and embodiment of the spirit of the town. Often the townhouse stood on an earthen mound from the earlier Mississippian culture, although the Cherokee themselves did not build mounds during the historic period. However, the mounds sometimes grew with successive, ceremonial rebuildings.

Ancient Cherokee Village
Ancient Cherokee Village
The size of the townhouse varied, depending on the size of each village, since it had to be large enough for all the people to meet to discuss community matters and hold festivals. Council houses, as they were also called, were made of saplings (young trees) and mud. The Cherokee would gather at the council house for parties, political assemblies and religious ceremonies. Bunched around the council house was a collection of extended family homes.

Cherokee Summer house
Cherokee Summer House
Some cherokees lived in a different style of house in the summer than the winter. Summer houses were in the shape of a square or rectangle. Upright poles formed the framework. The outside was covered with bark, wood or woven siding coated with earth and clay. This type of construction with clay is called wattle and daub. The cherokee dwelling was usually quite large, because Cherokees lived in extended matrilineal families consisting of the mother's parents, the parents, children, and unmarried siblings of the mother of the house. A husband joined the family of his wife.

Cherokee Summer house
Cherokee Winter House
During the winter, some Cherokee lived in a smaller, circular, dome shaped structure that looked like a beehive or an upsidedown basket. It was partially sunken into the ground. This style of Cherokee lodge was called an asi. Being smaller and lower than the summer homes, it was easier to keep warm in winter.

In later years, many Cherokee, lived in the same kind of houses the European settlers lived in -- log cabins and wooden houses. A typical log cabin had one door and a smoke hole in the center of the roof.

Cherokee Clothing

Breechcloths leave the legs bare, so Native American men often wore leggings to protect their legs. Native American leggings are tube-like footless pant legs, usually made from buckskin or other soft leather. They are not connected to each other--there is one separate legging for each leg. Both leggings are tied onto the same belt that holds the breechcloth with thongs that attach at the hip. 

Legging styles varied from tribe to tribe. Sometimes they were fringed, like the ones in this picture. Sometimes they were painted with colorful patterns or decorated with beadwork or quillwork designs. Many Indian men tied garters (straps, thongs, or bandana-like cloths) around their leggings at the knee to help keep them in place.

Women and girls also wore leggings in many tribes, but female leggings were shorter and were not attached to a belt, simply gartered at the knee.

A breechcloth is a long rectangular piece of tanned deerskin, cloth, or animal fur. It is worn between the legs and tucked over a belt, so that the flaps fall down in front and behind. Sometimes it is also called a breechclout, loincloth, skin clout, or just a flap.

In most Native American tribes, men used to wear some form of breechclout. The style was different from tribe to tribe. In some tribes, the breechcloth loops outside of the belt and then is tucked into the inside, for a more fitted look. Sometimes the breechcloth is much shorter and a decorated apron panel is attached in front and behind.

A Native American woman or teenage girl might also wear a fitted breechcloth underneath her skirt, but not as outerwear. However, in many tribes young girls did wear breechcloths like the boys until they became old enough for skirts and dresses

The Cherokee Indians used to make long dugout canoes from hollowed-out logs. Over land, the Cherokees used dogs as pack animals. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

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