Apache wickiup, by Edward S. Curtis, 1903
Apache wickiup

A wigwam, wickiup, wetu (Wampanoag), or wiigiwaam (Ojibwe)[1] is a semi-permanent domed dwelling formerly used by certain Native American tribes and First Nations people and still used for ceremonial events. The term wickiup is generally used to refer to these kinds of dwellings in the Southwestern United States and Western United States, while wigwam is usually applied to these structures in the Northeastern United States as well as Ontario and Quebec in central Canada. The names can refer to many distinct types of Native American structures regardless of location or cultural group. The wigwam is not to be confused with the Native Plains teepee, which has a very different construction, structure, and use.


Paiute wickiup

The domed, round shelter was used by numerous northeastern Native American tribes. The curved surfaces make it an ideal shelter for all kinds of conditions. Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Lowlands resided in either wigwams or longhouses.

These structures are made with a frame of arched poles, most often wooden, which are covered with some sort of bark roofing material. Details of construction vary with the culture and local availability of materials. Some of the roofing materials used include grass, brush, bark, rushes, mats, reeds, hides or cloth.

Dakota-style tipis and Ojibwe wigwam, White Earth, Minnesota, 1928
Ojibwe wigwam, from an 1846 painting by Paul Kane

Wigwams were most often seasonal structures although the term is applied to rounded and conical structures built by Native Americans/First Nations people that were more permanent. Wigwams usually take longer to put up than tipis. Their frames are usually not portable like a tipi.

A typical wigwam in the Northeast had a curved surface which can hold up against the worst weather. Young green tree saplings of just about any type of wood, 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m) long, were cut down and bent. While the saplings were being bent, a circle was drawn on the ground. The diameter of the circle varied from 10 to 16 feet (3.0 to 4.9 m). The bent saplings were then placed over the drawn circle, using the tallest saplings in the middle and the shorter ones on the outside. The saplings formed arches all in one direction on the circle. The next set of saplings were used to wrap around the wigwam to give the shelter support. When the two sets of saplings were finally tied together, the sides and roof were placed on it. The sides of the wigwam were usually bark stripped from trees. The male of the family was responsible for the framing of the wigwam.

Mary Rowlandson uses the term Wigwam in reference to the dwelling places of the Native Americans that she stayed with while in their captivity during King Philip's War in 1675. The term wigwam has remained in common English usage as a synonym for any "Indian house"; however this usage is incorrect as there are known differences between the wigwam and the tipi within the Native American community.

During the American revolution the term wigwam was used by British soldiers to describe a wide variety of makeshift structures.[2]

Wickiups of the west

Wickiups were used by different indigenous peoples of the Great Basin, Southwest, and Pacific Coast. They were single room, dome-shaped dwellings, with a great deal of variation in size, shape, and materials.

The Acjachemen, an indigenous people of California, built cone-shaped huts made of willow branches covered with brush or mats made of tule leaves. Known as Kiichas, the temporary shelters were utilized for sleeping or as refuge in cases of inclement weather. When a dwelling reached the end of its practical life it was simply burned, and a replacement erected in its place in about a day's time.

Below is a description of Chiricahua wickiups recorded by anthropologist Morris Opler:

The home in which the family lives is made by the men and is ordinarily a circular, dome-shaped brush dwelling, with the floor at ground level. It is eight feet [2.4 m] high at the center and approximately seven feet [2.1 m] in diameter. To build it, long fresh poles of oak or willow are driven into the ground or placed in holes made with a digging stick. These poles, which form the framework, are arranged at one-foot [0.30 m] intervals and are bound together at the top with yucca-leaf strands. Over them a thatching of bundles of big bluestem grass or bear grass is tied, shingle style, with yucca strings. A smoke hole opens above a central fireplace. A hide, suspended at the entrance, is fixed on a cross-beam so that it may be swung forward or backward. The doorway may face in any direction. For waterproofing, pieces of hide are thrown over the outer hatching, and in rainy weather, if a fire is not needed, even the smoke hole is covered. In warm, dry weather much of the outer roofing is stripped off. It takes approximately three days to erect a sturdy dwelling of this type. These houses are "warm and comfortable even though there is a big snow". The interior is lined with brush and grass beds over which robes are spread....[3]

The woman not only makes the furnishings of the home but is responsible for the construction, maintenance, and repair of the dwelling itself and for the arrangement of everything in it. She provides the grass and brush beds and replaces them when they become too old and dry.... However, formerly "they had no permanent homes, so they didn't bother with cleaning." The dome-shaped dwelling or wickiup, the usual home type for all the Chiricahua bands, has already been described.... Said a Central Chiricahua informant:

Both the teepee and the oval-shaped house were used when I was a boy. The oval hut was covered with hide and was the best house. The more well-to-do had this kind. The teepee type was just made of brush. It had a place for a fire in the center. It was just thrown together. Both types were common even before my time ...

A house form that departed from the more common dome-shaped variety is recorded for the Southern Chiricahua as well:

When we settled down, we used the wickiup; when we were moving around a great deal, we used this other kind...[4]

"Wigwam" in different Algonquian languages

The English word wigwam derives from Eastern Abenaki wigwôm, from Proto-Algonquian *wi·kiwa·ʔmi.[5][6] Others have similar names for the structure:

  • wigwôm (with vowel syncope) in Abenaki
  • wiigiwaam in the Anishinaabe language
    • wiigwaam (with vowel syncope) in Eastern Ojibwe and in Odaawaa
    • wigwam (with vowel syncope) in Potawatomi WNLAP spelling
    • miigiwaam in the Algonquin language as an alternative (with the indefinite prefix m- instead of the definite third-person prefix w-)
  • ookóówa in the Blackfoot language (without the possessive theme suffix -m)
  • mâhëö'o in the Cheyenne language (with the indefinite prefix m- instead of the definite third-person prefix w- and without the possessive theme suffix -m)
  • wiikiaami in the Miami-Illinois language
  • wikuom in the Mi'kmaq language
  • wicuw in the Mohegan language[7]
  • ȣichiȣam in the Nipmuck language
  • wikëwam in Unami


  • wiikiyaapi in Fox
  • mīkiwāhp in Cree (with the indefinite prefix m- instead of the definite third-person prefix w-)
  • mīciwāhp in Montagnais (with the indefinite prefix m- instead of the definite third-person prefix w-)
  • wikiop in Menominee
  • wîkiyâpi in Sauk

Use of similar dwellings elsewhere today

Somali Aqal lodge

Near identical constructions, called aqal, are used by today's nomadic Somali people as well as the Afar people on the Horn of Africa. Pieces of old clothing or plastic sheet, woven mats (traditionally made of grass), or whatever material is available will be used to cover the aqal's roof. Similar domed tents are also used by the Bushmen and Nama people and other indigenous peoples in Southern Africa.

In Britain, similar structures known as bender tents are built quickly and cheaply by New Age travellers, using poles from the woods (often hazel) and plastic tarpaulins.

Yaranga has similar shape, but have internal yoronga-room inside the dome.

See also

  • Sweat lodge—a ceremonial sauna that is often built in the wigwam style
  • Hogan (hooghan in Navajo)—a dwelling that uses earth in its construction
  • Quiggly hole or kekuli or Kickwillie hole—a type of pit-house common in the Northwest Plateau of North America


  1. ^ "Wigwams, also called wetus, were houses used by the Algonquian Indians who lived in the woodland regions. Wigwam means "house" in the Abenaki tribe and wetu means "house" in the Wampanoag tribe." A Historical Look at American Indians. [books.google.com/books?id=iavZMkdjp0MC]
  2. ^ For a complete description, see "We are now ... properly ... enwigwamed." British Soldiers and Brush Huts, 1776–1781, John U. Rees, 2003 (originally published in the Military Collector & Historian, volume 55, number 2 (Summer 2003), 89-96.
  3. ^ Opler: 22–23
  4. ^ Opler: 385–386
  5. ^ "wigwam". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  6. ^ "wigwam". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House.
  7. ^ Fielding, Stephanie (2006). "A Modern Mohegan Dictionary" (PDF). Cornell University Library. The Mohegan Tribe. Retrieved 21 October 2021.


  • Opler, Morris E. (1941). An Apache life-way: The economic, social, and religious institutions of the Chiricahua Indians. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (Reprinted in 1962, Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1965, New York: Cooper Square Publishers; 1965, Chicago: University of Chicago Press; & 1994, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,ISBN 0-8032-8610-4).

External links

Media files used on this page

Apache Wickiup, Edward Curtis, 1903.jpg
TITLE: Apache Wickiup CALL NUMBER: LOT 12310-A [item] [P&P] Check for an online group record (may link to related items) REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-101173 (b&w film copy neg.) SUMMARY: Rounded structure made out of grass, with baskets in front. MEDIUM: 1 photographic print. CREATED/PUBLISHED: c1903. CREATOR: NOTES: H37672 U.S. Copyright Office. Edward S. Curtis Collection. Curtis no. 898. SUBJECTS: Indians of North America--Dwellings--Southwest, New--1900-1910. Apache Indians--Dwellings--1900-1910. Wickiups--Southwest, New--1900-1910. FORMAT: Photographic prints 1900-1910. CARD #: 90710167 eo:Vigvamo ru:Вигвам
Ribs of Apache wickiup.jpg
View of a Native American Apache wickiup branch framework, probably in Arizona, shows fence posts and a saguaro cactus.
Cusco Piedra de los doce angulos.jpg
Author/Creator: Unukorno, Licence: CC BY 3.0
Cusco, street Hatun Rumiyoq ("the one with the big stone"), with its stone of 12 angles
Ute wickiup.jpg
View of a man and a horse standing near Native American wickiups which are constructed of tree boughs in a tepee-like fashion.
Big single-family home 2.jpg
Big single-family home
Chiricahua medicine man.jpg
View of a Native American Apache camp, Arizona, shows a Chiricahua Apache medicine man with his family inside a brush wickiup.
Snow pic of old frame wickiup.jpg
The wooden frame of a dome shaped wickiup, built by Native Americans (Crow), stands abandoned in snow on the bank of an iced over river.
Somali aqal.jpg
Author/Creator: Charles Roffey, Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0
A traditional Somali nomad's hut (aqal) near en:Boorama. Image taken by Charles Fred on flickr. The creator has granted GFDL licensing and permission for use in the wikimedia project.
Ojibwe wiigiwaam and Dakota-style tipis, White Earth 1928.jpg
Ojibwa wigwam.jpg
detail: Ojibwa wigwam.
Traditional grass hut in Eswatini.png
Author/Creator: MBAGroup6, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Traditional grass hut in Eswatini
Apache wickiup.jpg
View of two Native American Apache women outside their cloth covered wickiups in a camp in Arizona. They wear print skirts, blouses and shawls and hold baskets. A basket, pitch covered basket jar, metal coffee pot, cup, can, and a horse show in the camp.
Nu-nu-shi-unt, the dreamer.jpg
An unidentified Native American (Paiute) man sleeps on blankets inside of a wickiup; a small hut of branches over interlocking poles and an open side, southern Utah.
Label on print: "Indians of the Colorado Valley. No. 43. U-ai nu-ints. A tribe of Indians living on the Rio Virgen, a tributary of the Colorado, in Southern Utah. Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by J. W. Powell, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington. Published by Wm. B. Holmes, 646 Broadway, New York."
A wikiup, a type of cone-shaped hut covered with brush or mats made of tules, utilized by aboriginal Indian tribes throughout the Southwestern U.S.