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Wigwam

Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Native American | 1 Comment

(1) A name for an Algonquian dwelling, an arbor-like or conical structure in which, from Canada to North Carolina, was employed the same general mode of erection, which varied mainly in the plant materials (saplings, barks, rushes, or flags) used, and which differences in soil and climate changed here and there to a certain extent. The word, which appears in English as early as 16341 was, like the terms skunk, musquash, etc., borrowed from Abnaki by the colonists of E. Massachusetts, who adopted it as the name for an Indian habitation, in preference to the term wetu (witu) used by the natives among whom they settled. The Massachuset Indians, like the Narraganset, used also as the name for a house the word wetuom (wituóm), formed from the same base. Eliot2 , who was ignorant of the origin of the word under consideration, mentions, we may suppose through an inadvertence, a word wekuwomut (for wetuomut), which he interprets ‘in his house,’ and adds: “hence we corrupt this word [to] wigwam.” This erroneous etymology, based on a word nonexistent in the Massachuset dialect, and, in fact, impossible in any Algonquian dialect, has unfortunately been copied by nearly every English dictionary.

The Abnaki word wigwám, literally ‘dwelling,’ is from wigw; ‘he dwells,’ + the formative -am. from the Algonquian root wig, wik (ig, ik, in composition),’ to dwell,’ and is cognate with Micmac wigwâm, Mohegan wikwâm, Lenape (Delaware) wikwam, and Chippewa wigiwam (from wigiw,’ he dwells,’ a word obsolete in Chippewa but preserved in Cree), and Nipissing wikiwâm, and by change, in this dialect, of w to m, mikiwâm. The Virginia Renape seem not to have employed the word wikwâm used by their relatives of the N., but substituted for it the term kómŭk, which, like its cognates in other Algonquian dialects (Lenape gámĭk or mĭk, Abnaki mĭk, Cree and Chippewa mĭk, Masac huset kómŭk, Narraganset kómŏk, etc.), was always used in compounds, and never disjunctively. The word wigwang used by Beverley3 is merely a corruption of the northern vocable wigwâm, with which he was evidently unfamiliar.

(2) A name applied by travelers to the dwellings of Indians other than those of Algonquian stock, or to the habitations of the natives of countries other than North America, as for example: “Their houses or wigwams, which they [the Caribs] call carbets”4 ; “The Fuegian wigwam resembles, in size … a haycock”5 ; “rude jackales, somewhat resembling the wigwams of the Pawnees”6 .

(3) A name applied by the founders of the Tammany Society of New York City to their headquarters.

(4) A name sometimes applied to a large structure in which a nominating convention or other political meeting takes place.

Certain summer hospital tents for children are known as ” wigwams,” and there is also a “wigwam shoe” or “wigwam slipper.”

Footnotes

  1. Wood, New England’s Prospect, 65, 1634 

  2. Eliot, Indian Grammar Begun, 11, 1666 

  3. Beverley, History of Virginia, in four parts 1705 

  4. Stedman, Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, I, 403, 1806 

  5. Darwin, Jour, of Researches, 212, 1845 

  6. Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, I, 286, 1851 


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