Earth Lodge

Earth lodge. A dwelling partly under ground, circular in form, from 30 to 60 ft in diameter, with walls about 6 ft high, on which rested a dome-shaped roof with an opening in the center to afford light within and to permit the egress of smoke. The entrance was a passageway projecting from 6 to 14 ft long. The method of construction was first to draw a circle on the ground and excavate the earth within it from 2 to 4 ft deep. About 1 ft within the circle were set crotched posts some 8 or 10 ft apart, on which were laid beams. Outside these posts were set others, one end of them braced against the bottom of the bank of earth at the periphery of the circle, and the other end leaning against the beams, forming a close stockade, an opening being left at the E. side for the entrance. Mid way between the center of the excavation and the stockade were planted 4, 6, or 8 tall crotched posts, forming an inner circle. In the crotches were laid heavy beams to support the roof. The bark was stripped from all the posts and beams. The roof was formed of long, slender, tapering tree trunks, stripped of bark. The large ends were tied with strings of the inner bark of the elm to the beams at the top of the stockade, and the middle to those resting in the crotches of the inner circle of posts. The slender ends were cut so as to form the circular opening in the center of the roof, 2 or 3 ft in diameter. Outside this framework branches of willow were placed close together across the posts of the wall and the beams of the roof, and bound tightly to each pole, beginning at the ground and continuing upward to the central opening. Over the willow branches a heavy thatch of coarse dried grass was laid, tied in bundles and arranged so that it would shed water. Over the thatch was placed a thick coating of sods, cut so that they could be lapped, and laid like shingles. The wall and roof w r ere after ward carefully tamped with earth and made impervious to rain. The long entranceway was built in the same manner as the lodge, and thatched and sodded at the same time. The grass of the sod continued to grow, and wild flowers brightened the walls and roof of the dwelling. The blackened circle around the central opening in the roof, produced by the heat and smoke, was the only suggestion that the verdant mound was a human abode. Within, the floor was made hard by a series of tampings, in which both water and fire were used. The fireplace was circular in shape and slightly excavated. A curtain of skin hung at the opening from the passageway into the lodge. The outer door was covered with a skin that was stiffened by sticks at the top and bottom, which was turned to one side to give entrance to the passageway. The couches of the occupants were placed around the wall, and frequently were in closed by reed mats which could be raised or lowered. More than one family some times occupied a lodge, and in such case the families took different sides. The back part, opposite the end served for the keeping of sacred objects and the reception of guests. In the winter curtains of skin were hung from the beams of the inner circle of posts, making a smaller room about the fireplace. The shields and weapons of the men were suspended from these inner posts, giving color to the interior of the dwelling, which was always picturesque, whether seen at night, when the tire leaped up and glinted on the polished blackened roof and when at times the lodge was filled with men and women in their gala dress at some social meeting or religious ceremony, or during the day when the shaft of sunlight fell through the central opening over the fireplace, bringing into relief some bit of aboriginal life and leaving the rest of the lodge in deep shadow. Few, if any, large and well-built earth lodges exist at the present day. Even with care a lodge could be made to last only a generation or two.

Ceremonies attended the erection of an earth lodge from the marking of the circle to the putting on of the sods. Both men and women took part in these rites and shared in the labor of building. To cut, haul, and set the heavy posts and beams was the men s task; the binding, thatching, and sodding that of the women.

The earth lodge was used by the Pawnee, Arikara, Omaha, Ponca, Osage, and other tribes. A similar abode was found in the Aleutian ids., on Kodiak id., and in s. w. Alaska. There were habitations among some of the California tribes that had features in common with the earth lodge, and there are evidences of relation ship between it, the Navaho Hogan, and one form of Pima dwelling.

Among the Pawnee are preserved the most elaborate ceremonies and traditions pertaining to the earth lodge. These tribes are said to have abandoned the grass house of their kindred at some distant period and, under the teaching of aquatic animals, to have learned to construct the earth lodge. According to their ceremonies and legends, not only the animals were concerned with its construction the badger digging the holes, the beaver sawing the logs, the bears carrying them, and all obeying the directions of the whale but the stars also exercised authority. The earlier star cult of the people is recognized in the significance attached to the four central posts. Each stood for a star the Morning and Evening stars, symbols of the male and female cosmic forces, and the North and South stars, the direction of chiefs and the abode of perpetual life. The posts were painted in the symbolic colors of these stars red, white, black, yellow. During certain ceremonies corn of one of these colors was offered at the foot of the post of that color. In the rituals of the Pawnee the earth lodge is made typical of man s abode on the earth ; the floor is the plain, the wall the distant horizon, the dome the arching sky, the central opening the zenith, dwelling place of Tirawa, the invisible power which gives life to all created beings.

The history of the distribution of this kind of dwelling among peoples widely scattered is a problem not yet fully solved. See Grass lodge, Habitations. (A. C. F.)

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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