Saturday, May 26, 2012

Houses of Indian Tribes North of New Mexico

The growth of the idea of house architecture in general is a subject more comprehensive than the scope of this volume. But there is one phase of this growth, illustrating as it does the condition of society and of the family in savagery and in barbarism, to which attention will be invited. It is found in the domestic architecture of the American aborigines, considered as a whole, and as parts of one system. As a system it stands related to the institutions, usages, and customs presented in the previous chapters. There is not only abundant evidence in the collective architecture of the Indian tribes of the gradual development of this great faculty or aptitude of the human mind among them, through three ethnical periods, but the structures themselves, or a knowledge of them, remain for comparison with each other. A comparison will show that they belong to a common indigenous system of architecture. There is a common principle running through all this architecture, from the hut of the savage to the commodious joint-tenement house of the Village Indians of Mexico and Central America, which will contribute to its elucidation.
The indigenous architecture of the Village Indians has given to them, more than aught else, their position in the estimation of mankind. The facts of their social condition in other respects, which, unfortunately, are obscure, have been much less instrumental in fixing their status than existing architectural remains. The Indian edifices in Mexico and Central America of the period of the Conquest may well excite surprise and even admiration; from their palatial extent, from the material used in their construction, and from the character of their ornamentation, they are highly creditable to their skill in architecture. But a false interpretation has, from the first, been put upon this architecture, as I think can be shown, and inferences with respect to the social condition and the degree of advancement of these tribes have been constantly drawn from it both fallacious and deceptive, when the plain truth would have been more creditable to the aborigines. It will be my object to give an interpretation of this architecture in harmony with the usages and customs of the Indian tribes. The houses of the different tribes, in ground-plan and mechanism, will be considered and compared, in order to show wherein they represent one system.
A common principle, as before stated, runs through all this architecture, from the "long-house" of the Iroquois to the "pueblo houses" of New Mexico, and to the so-called "palace" at Palenqne, and the "House of the Nuns" at Uxmal. It is the principle of adaptation to communism in living, restricted in the first instance to household groups, and extended finally to all the inhabitants of a village or encampment by the law of hospitality. Hunger and destitution were not known at one end of an Indian village while abundance prevailed at the other. Joint-tenement houses, each occupied by one large household, as among the Iroquois, or by several household groups, as in Yucatan, were the natural and inevitable result of their usages and customs. Communism in living and the law of hospitality, it seems probable, accompanied all the phases of Indian life in savagery and in barbarism. These and other facts of their social condition embodied themselves in their architecture, and will contribute to its elucidation.
The house architecture of the Northern tribes is of little importance, in itself considered; but, as an outcome of their social condition and for comparison with that of the Southern Village Indians, it is highly important. An attempt will be made to show, firstly, that the known communism in living of the former tribes entered into and determined the character of their houses, which are communal; and, secondly, that wherever the structures of the latter class are obviously communal, the practice of communism in living at the period of discovery may be inferred from the structures themselves, although many of them are now in ruins, and the people who constructed them have disappeared. Some evidence, however, of the communism of the Village Indians has been presented.