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Middle School Study: Understanding Homes of the Cherokee Indians

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 11/26/2012

Cherokee Indian homes held a special significance to those that lived in them. In fact, much can be determined about the current state of the tribe by simply paying attention to who resides in what home.

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    Style of Living

    Cherokee Indian homes offer just one example of how Native Americans lived in the past. Much of the designs of all Indian homes were based on the style of life of the tribe. Tepees are some of the most commonly known types of Indian homes, but not all Indians lived in these types of homes. In fact, the only Indians that did use these types of homes did so because they migrated a lot. Their homes needed to be easy to take apart and put up.

    Tribes like the Cherokee Indians did not use tepee style homes because they did not migrate often. Instead, they built homes that were more stable. These homes were called "asi" by the Cherokee Indians. They were made of items called "wattle" and "daub." The wattle is a combination of various woods and vines that were woven together to provide a framework for the house. The daub is a plaster-like substance that was placed over the wattle as a way to fill in the gaps and put a solid barrier between the home and the elements. These homes generally had no windows and only one door.

    Cherokee Indians did not migrate because they were involved in agriculture. This is also the reason for the location of the homes, usually in warm climates where the daub could easily dry and solidify.

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    Reasons For Division

    The Cherokee Nation is a nation that takes into consideration the very spirit of the individual when it came to living arrangements and other things. This nation lived in small villages that were often divided up into peace homes and war homes. A war chief, who had to be male, and a peace chief, male or female, would preside over the different sections of housing. These groups were often known by colors such as the "red homes".

    A large building in the center often served as a meeting place for the tribal council, where chiefs and Blessed Women would meet in an effort to make decisions concerning the tribe. Interestingly enough, the Blessed Women were eventually phased out of these meetings after the Cherokee were influenced by European traders, whose society focused more on male dominance than female dominance.

    In times of war, warriors were sent to live in the war homes. This was in an effort to avoid infecting the entire tribe with any negative energy brought about by the warrior's participation in battle. This energy was thought to cling to the warrior, who even kept separate from the other villagers, still had to undergo vigorous cleansing rituals each morning.

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    Inside the Homes

    Cherokee Indian homes were developed according to a matriarchal system. In today's American household, children carry the names of their fathers because we use a patriarchal system. The Cherokee nation did not. instead, it was the bloodline of the mother that was followed. A common misconception today is that the daughter of a war chief would be considered a princess. This is simply not possible in such a system. Were the Cherokee nation ever to consider a daughter of anyone to be a princess, it would have been the daughter of a female peace chief.

    Since this was a matriarchal society, upon marriage, a family would move into the woman's mother's house rather than the man's father's house. Last names would have been based on the mother, not the father.

    The roles of the people within the homes were decided by gender, with no one task being any more important than the other. Though the men hunted and farmed while the women cooked and cleaned, this was not a designation based on importance, but on skill and gender roles.

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    What Did You Learn?

    Cherokee Indian homes, like most other homes, were built based on the traditions and style of living of the tribe. Since Cherokees were an agricultural society based on a matriarchal system, there homes were built and arranged accordingly. Spiritual beliefs, the existence of a matriarchal system and means of feeding the tribe were the very foundations on which the existence of these wattle and daub houses were based.