The answer is – no, they are all the same! These triangular-shaped structures have been the temporary homes of Nomadic tribes throughout the world for hundreds of years, and are still being used to this day. These groups of families have adapted their lives to follow their animals and the seasons over a variety of terrain and as a result, their homes have had to move with them! Tipis could be disassembled and packed away quickly when a tribe decided to move on and could be reconstructed swiftly upon settling in a new area – this portability was an important factor in their lives. Traditionally the tipis were a simple conical structure with adjustable smoke flaps and multiple poles, with a cover made of buffalo skin thrown over. Simplicity was the key word: the fire created the warmth, the hides kept the heat inside and the flaps extracted the smoke from the space while providing a well-lit and atmospheric home.
The word ‘tipi’ comes from the Lakota word ‘thipi’, which means ‘dwelling’ in the language of the nomadic tribes of the Great Plains of America. Today, our tipis, which are ‘Made in Britain’, are relatively unchanged from their ancestral beginnings but we use the latest materials and techniques to bring them into the 21st Century.
Last week we visited the Siberian Exhibition at the Manchester Museum after hearing that tipis were mentioned! Sure enough there was a section all about the ‘Reindeer People’ who keep semi-domesticated Reindeer in large numbers, from a hundred to several thousand. Reindeer migrate with the seasons and as a result, the herders have adapted their lives to follow them and traditionally live in movable wigwam-like dwellings called choom or yarang. They are transported from place to place on sledges pulled by the reindeer and still to this day live like this. Luckily, we have upgraded our reindeer to Land Rover Defenders!