History of our tents

Set the scene for your event...


Of all Native American images, none may be more iconic than the tipi. Even though most indigenous North Americans didn't live in this portable domicile, it still evokes immediate identification as "Indian dwelling" in the public eye.
The 1860 Indian Relocation Act forced most Native people onto reservations, thus decimating the Plains nomadic lifestyle. Still, tipis continued to be part of the landscape. Reservation homes were likely to have a tipi erected immediately next to the little box house. And it is critical to know that the tipi is not a mere historical artifact, but continues to define Tribal identity today. Even though tipi design and construction are unique to each tribe, some features remain universal. The door flap faces east. Entering, one turns south, or left (mimicking the movement of the sun) to the women's area where food is prepared. Opposite the door is the men's domain and a place for keeping weapons. The sleeping area lines the northern wall, then the fire ring is in the center. The overhead opening is adjusted for weather, wind, and drawing smoke upwards by two flap poles. Simple, efficient, tipi design makes sophisticated use of thermodynamic properties.

Sides are held down tight to the ground in cold seasons and pulled up during hot months to allow for cooling airflow. There are historical and contemporary examples of tipi liners, which are among a man's most prized possessions, controling the internal climate of the tipi. Along with structural aspects, a tipi simultaneously represents a culture, lifestyle, spirituality and family. The Plains peoples moved to follow game, to access seasonal food sources, and to evade attack. A permanent dwelling wouldn't suffice. Women typically owned and erected their family tipi, attesting to strong matriarchal culture. Men were often the ones to paint a tipi exterior extolling hunting, combat victories or clan affiliation, but women prepared the hides and maintained their homes. With the introduction of the horse larger tipis could be built and transported. Another innovation to change tipi construction was canvas which was easier to sew and far less cumbersome than hide coverings.

Is a Tipi the same as a Wigwam?
Not really, a Tipi was a structure designed for peopl on the move. Plains peolpe had to be able to move with their buffalo herds so needed a home that would be erected and dismantled quickly. With not many trees on the plains poles were very valuable and taken with them each time they moved.
Wigwams on the other hand were used by Native American people living in woodland areas. They were wooden framed houses covered in woven mats or birchbark and were a more permenant structure, not designed to be frequently moved.

Bell Tents:

Bell tents use a simple construction, circular with just one central pole. Guy ropes secure it to the ground along with pegs and they are covered in durable canvas. Derived from the Sibley tent invented by Henry Hopkins Sibley who studied the Native American tipi design during his experditions it shares some characteristics. The bell tent however is markedly different in appearance due to a larger entrance, low walls and no smoke hole. With such a simple traditional design their portability makes for an exceedingly popluar tent for many modern day groups undertaking camping trips.

The Alachigh:

A traditional tent used by Shahsevan nomads in Northern Iran. Shahsevan means "those who love the Shah." Shahsevan ancestors are said to have been formed into a special tribe in about A . D . 1600 by Shah Abbas of the Safavid dynasty. There is no historical evidence to support this story, however, and it is unlikely that there was a single unified tribal group of this name until the early eighteenth century, when Shahsevan tribal warriors are recorded as resisting invading Ottoman forces in the Ardabïl-Moghan region. Soon afterward, several Shahsevan groups were moved to other parts of northern and western Iran, leaving the ancestors of the present Shahsevan tribes of Ardab?l and Moghan unified under a paramount chief who was appointed by the famous Iranian conqueror Nader Shah Afshar. The constituent tribes are mainly of Turkish descent, tracing their origins to Central Asia, although the ancestors of several were probably Kurdish.

Each tent would accommodate an extended family. The inside, where woman mostly worked, was carefully organized. The tribes would keep all their belongings in the tent. Food sacks, fat preserved in goat skin, sour milk, cheese, butter, flour, wheat and wool sacks were placed at the side, with bedding, Kilims and Jâjims (flat tapestry-woven carpets) and small mattresses for sitting in front of them.
There would have been an oven situated in the middle of the tent beside the Chesko, a wooden peg fixed in the center of the tent to which the wooden wheel of the tent top is attached.

Similar in style to a Yurt the Alachigh’s clever design can encompass the same area as a yurt however uses less wood making it much easier to transport.

In the last 250 years, Azerbaijan has often been a battleground between Iran and her neighbors, and the Shahsevan figured prominently in the history of the period. Early in the nineteenth century, Russian invaders established their present frontier with Iran. The Shahsevan, deprived of the greater part of their traditional winter quarters in the Moghan steppe, became increasingly lawless. The raids sometimes disrupted trade and settlement far into both Russia and Iran and caused friction between the two countries, although neither government hesitated to exaggerate the extent of Shahsevan raiding. In 1909, after the constitutional revolution in Iran, most Shahsevan chiefs and their followers joined a Tribal Union with the neighboring tribes of Waradagh and Khalkhal, sacked the city of Ardab?l, and threatened, with secret Russian encouragement, to march on Tehran in the name of Islam to restore the deposed Mohammed 'Ali Shah. In 1910 Tehran government forces defeated them, but from 1911 until they were disarmed by Reza Shah in 1923, they maintained their independence of the government. Old men today preserve vivid memories of those times and of their victories over the Cossacks sent against them by Russia. From 1923 to 1978, they remained loyal to the rulers in Tehran, in conformity with their name. Soon after the Islamic Revolution, their name, with its Royalist connotation, was changed to "Elsevan" (lit., "those who love the people or tribe"). During the 1960s and 1970s, massive government-backed irrigation schemes were put into effect in Moghan, removing much of the remaining winter pastureland and forcing many more nomads to settle. After the Revolution, there was a brief revival of tribalism and pastoral nomadism, but it seems likely that the direction of change is irreversible. (The "ethnographic present" in this article, except where indicated, is the 1960s.)

The Ouled Nail:

Ouled Nail is a dance term that falls entirely in the realm of tradition and folklore. (It is pronounced "oooled nile".) Actually, they are a Berber tribe whose territory extends from Biskra to Jelfa in Algeria. They are said to have originated in the "Montes des Ouled", and are quite prosperous due to the manner in which the women of the tribe earn their living: by dancing and prostitution. Yes, Habibi, we have to face the facts, and the facts clearly point out that some of our belly dance history and tradition includes the SHHH word: prostitution!
Little girls are trained from an early age in the art of dancing and lovemaking. They leave their desert town between the ages of nine and twelve to go into the cafes and practice their trade. If they do not decide to stay in the oasis towns of the Sahara to guide younger incoming Ouled Nails, they return to their desert homes about fifteen years later and get married. The quality of the marriage depends greatly on the type of dowry they have saved for themselves. The Ouled Nails have to obtain sufficient wealth to secure a good marriage. After the marriage, an Ouled Nail settles down to being a good wife and mother.

The costumes of the Ouled Nail are always magnificent, but in an unusual way. They are heavily made up, eyes darkened with kohl, faces tattooed and adorned with heavy jewelry. Their black hair is oiled and worn in braids on both sides of the face, looped up and held in place by big earrings. They have always gone unveiled even when almost all the women in North Africa wore veils.
The costume focuses on a profusion of jewelry, bracelets, earrings and necklaces. They are known to wear huge bracelets with studs and spikes an inch or two long projecting from them in order to protect themselves from "handy" gentlemen. They wear a spangled veil held in place by gold fillets. Their skirts are voluminous.
They wear the money they earn in various ways over their dresses. One common way is in long necklaces. Another is to hold the skirts and shawls together with coins. A third way is to ornament their beautiful headdresses. Sometimes these elaborate headdresses are even topped with ostrich tips!
The dancing style of the Ouled Nail is heavy, intricately symbolic, and quite earthy. After several dances in costume, the dancers would retire behind a screen, and then reappear completely nude, except for headdress and jewelry, to continue their performance. Shoulder shimmies, undulations, and snake arms are common upper body movements. Twisting movements in the hips were also usual.

Ted Shawn, the famous American dancer and husband of Ruth St. Denis, witnessed the dance of the Ouled Nail in the early 1900's and is quoted to say: "It is not a suggestive dance for the simple reason that it leaves nothing to the imagination, and because of this unashamed animality, revolts the average white tourist to the point of being unable to admire the phenomenal mastery which these women have of parts of the body over which have no voluntary control at all."
The Ouled Nail serve the main oases of the Sahara, and some of the towns became notorious resorts because of their business there, and are still notorious to this day.
In 1893, a man named Sol Bloom brought the first glimpses of belly dance to America by sponsoring various groups from the Middle East and North Africa to perform in the Chicago World's Fair. The Ouled Nail were among these tribes. Their music uses traditional instruments and can be found today on a wonderful recording by Aisha Ali, entitled "Music of the Ouled Nail".

The Grand Pavilion - Yurts

The name Yurt comes from the Turkic word for the imprint left on the ground where one once stood. They traditionally consist of a circular wooden structure covered in felt made from the wool of the sheep herded by the farmer. Designed to be portable so the people could move with their flock. The frame consists of one or more expanding lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, bent roof poles and a crown.
The Mongolian Ger is slightly different in design with one or more columns to support the crown and straight roof poles. The (self-supporting) wood frame is covered with pieces of felt. Depending on availability, the felt is additionally covered with canvas and/or sun-covers. The frame is held together with one or more ropes or ribbons. The structure is kept under compression by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by a heavy weight hung from the center of the roof. They vary with different sizes, and relative weight.

The traditional decoration of a yurt is primarily patterned. The patterns are generally derived from sacred ornaments with a certain symbolism. Symbols representing strength are among the most common, including the khas (swastika) and four powerful beasts (lion, tiger, garuda and dragon), as well as stylized representations of the five elements (fire, water, earth, metal, and wood), considered to be the fundamental, unchanging elements of the cosmos. Such patterns are commonly used in the home with the belief that they will bring strength and offer protection. Repeating geometric patterns are also widely used. The most widespread geometric pattern is the continuous hammer or walking pattern (alkhan khee). Commonly used as a border decoration it represents unending strength and constant movement. Another common pattern is the ulzii which as a symbol of long life and happiness. The khamar ugalz (nose pattern) and ever ugalz (horn pattern) are derived from the shape of the animal's nose and horns, and are the oldest traditional patterns. All patterns can be found among not only the yurts themselves, but also on embroidery, furniture, books, clothing, doors, and other objects.

Western cultures have embraced the Yurt/Ger design with many styles seen across the globe. They tend to be used for a variety of purposes in western society, from fulltime housing to classrooms or camping accommodation.