June 18, 2024
Mongolian Culture

The Parallels of Mongolian Yurts vs Tipis

The Parallels of Mongolian Yurts vs Tipis

Let's discuss yurts vs tipis (or 'teepees')! In the vast world of alternative living structures, the Mongolian ger (commonly known in Canada and the USA as a yurt) and the North American tipi stand out for their unique designs, rich cultural histories, and practical functionalities. Both have been used for centuries by nomadic cultures and are making a resurgence in modern times as eco-friendly and versatile living spaces. Let’s delve into the fascinating parallels between these two structures.

We’ll discuss:

  • Historical Significance 
  • Structural Design
  • Cultural & Spiritual Significance
  • Modern Adaptations

As we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st, it’s fitting to explore the rich cultural heritage and ingenious designs of these traditional dwellings, recognizing the wisdom and resilience of the cultures that created them.

Historical Significance

Mongolian Ger: The ger, a circular dwelling with a wooden frame covered in felt, has been the primary home of Mongolian nomads for over 3,000 years. Its design is perfectly suited to the harsh climates of the Central Asian steppes, providing warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. The portability of the ger allows nomadic families to move with their herds, ensuring their survival in a challenging environment.

Indigenous Tipi: The tipi has been used by Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains in North America for thousands of years. Constructed with a framework of wooden poles and covered with animal hides or canvas, the teepee is designed for easy assembly and disassembly. "The Cree people use 15 poles to make the structure of the teepee. For every pole in that teepee, there is a teaching. So there are 15 teachings that hold up the teepee. Other Nations use 16 poles, and maybe more." The poles allowed for portability, essential for tribes who followed the migration patterns of buffalo herds, their primary food source.

  • Source: https://yorktontribalcouncil.com/teepee-teachings/

Structural Design

Mongolian Ger: The ger's circular shape and low profile make it highly resistant to strong winds, a common feature on the open steppes. The lattice walls, central support columns, and radial roof poles (called ‘huns’) create a sturdy and self-supporting structure. The felt covering provides excellent insulation, which is crucial for the extreme temperature fluctuations in Mongolia.

Indigenous Tipi: The conical shape of the tipi also provides excellent wind resistance and stability. The tipi's design allows for efficient heating, with a central fire pit providing warmth that radiates throughout the structure. The smoke flaps at the top can be adjusted to control ventilation, a smart solution for managing both smoke and indoor temperature.

Cultural and Spiritual Significance

Mongolian Ger: The ger is not just a dwelling but a sacred space reflecting many Mongolian cultural and spiritual beliefs. The door traditionally faces south (it used to face east in the past), and the cardinal directions have the most significance. The ger is a representation of the world and the universe. The central hearth is the heart of the home, representing family unity and the source of life. It is not anchored to the ground, so as not to harm the earth, Within the ger, the space is often divided into specific areas for men (west) and women (east), reflecting traditional gender roles and responsibilities. The toono (the center dome) is known as the most sacred part of the yurt - which connects the earth to the sky. Additionally, the ger serves as a place for important cultural ceremonies and rituals, such as weddings and celebrations of life events. 

The decoration inside a ger often includes colourful tapestries, symbolism (often hand-painted on the woodwork), and family heirlooms, each with significance. The interior layout typically follows a pattern. The altar, usually placed opposite the entrance, holds religious and cultural items, emphasizing the importance of spirituality in daily life. When entering a Mongolian ger, refrain from knocking on the door, as one is always welcome - emphasizing the deep sense of community. Additionally, you must enter with your right foot first and ensure you don’t step on the threshold, as the door frame hosts the family or dwelling’s protective spirit. 

Indigenous Tipi: For many Indigenous tribes, the tipi is imbued with deep spiritual significance. The structure is often considered a microcosm of the universe, with the central fire representing the sun and the smoke flaps symbolizing the connection to the heavens. The arrangement and construction of the tipi reflect profound cultural and spiritual meanings, with each element representing aspects of the natural world and spiritual beliefs.

The entrance of the tipi traditionally faces east, greeting the rising sun and signifying a connection to the cycles of nature. The poles of the tipi are seen as symbolic of the connection between the earth and the sky, and the structure as a whole represents the womb of Mother Earth, providing shelter and nurturing the inhabitants.

Inside the tipi, the space is often arranged to reflect the tribe’s social and cultural values. The fire at the center is a focal point for family and community gatherings, storytelling, and ceremonies. The tipi also serves as a place for teaching and passing down traditions, with the interior decoration often depicting stories, symbols, and clan affiliations that carry deep cultural significance.

  • Source: https://www.nwac.ca/assets-knowledge-centre/2013-NWAC-Tipi-Making-Instructions.pdf

Modern Adaptations

Mongolian Ger: Today, gers are gaining popularity in North America as eco-friendly, organic and versatile living spaces. Companies like Groovy Yurts are bringing authentic Mongolian yurts to Canada and the USA, offering an alternative to traditional housing. Modern adaptations can include insulation upgrades, additional windows, house wrap (for humid areas), and solar panels, making gers suitable for year-round living and glamping experiences. The insulation and vertical walls are advantageous when used as a living space. 

Indigenous Tipi: Tipis have also seen a resurgence, particularly in the context of eco-tourism and outdoor adventures. Modern materials like canvas and weatherproof coatings have made teepees more durable and easier to maintain. They are now used for everything from glamping sites to educational programs that teach about Indigenous cultures and sustainable living practices.

Final Notes

Both the Mongolian ger and the North American tipi are testaments to human ingenuity and adaptability. They seem to have common origins. They offer valuable lessons in sustainable living, portability, and the importance of cultural heritage. As interest in alternative living structures grows, these timeless designs inspire and provide practical solutions for modern challenges. 

By understanding the rich histories and practical designs of the Mongolian ger and the tipi, we can appreciate their enduring appeal and relevance in today's world. At Groovy Yurts, we are proud to bring the tradition and functionality of authentic Mongolian gers to North America, providing unique and sustainable living solutions for all.

This National Indigenous People's Day, we honour the incredible ingenuity and cultural significance of traditional Indigenous structures. Join us in celebrating the wisdom and resilience of these timeless designs.

Note: Dear reader, we welcome your feedback. We recognize the profound distortions and omissions that have characterized indigenous history. If you have suggestions for improvement or any pertinent information to contribute (whether it be North American or Mongolian), please contact us or leave a comment. We are committed to making necessary revisions to ensure accuracy and respect.

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