Seminole Chickees: Unconquered Architecture

By Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

While we constantly aim to engage with and educate our visitors, we also strive to break down stereotypes and represent Seminoles as modern and diverse. We want our visitors to walk away with the understanding that although they share many commonalities with other tribes, Seminoles also maintain their unique culture and traditions.

Chickees Are Not Tipis

We get excited when our visitors ask us questions. In particular, the one we hear quite frequently is “did Seminoles live in tipis?” Most visitors, especially if they are from Florida, would be able to look at a chickee and say, “Yes, I have seen those before!”  Often confused with a tiki hut or other open-sided thatched structures, the chickee (or Seminole home) was traditionally constructed of palmetto and cypress. Over time, chickees adapted to incorporate the use of more readily available materials such as pressure-treated pine for the structural components.  While similar in appearance and materials to other thatched dwellings, a structure can only be called a chickee if constructed by Seminoles or Miccosukees.

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Who Needs Air Conditioning?

Our visitors are sometimes astonished when we tell them that Seminoles lived in chickees year-round. Most people who live in enclosed homes cannot picture living in a home without walls.  However, we ask our visitors to imagine the temperature difference when you incorporate beautiful cross-breezes versus trying to stay cool in the middle of August in an enclosed structure with no air conditioning.  The temperature beneath a chickee is 10-15 degrees cooler than the outside air.  As a result, the chickee is comfortable in less than ideal temperatures.  In addition, the open sides enhance structural stability during hurricanes as the winds blow straight through it.  Chickees fare quite well during inclement weather and typically suffer only from some ruffled palm fronds.

For the most part chickees are not primary homes for Tribal members. However, they are still a prevalent and critical part of Seminole culture. Today, chickees are as unique as their owners.  They have adapted with time yet remain a hallmark of Seminole tradition.

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Cultural History Beyond a Simple Internet Search

When I Googled “Seminole chickee,” the Tribe’s website surprisingly does not come up as the top result. As more people come to know and understand the unique architectural and cultural history of indigenous peoples, we hope that researchers, students, and the interested public will come to the tribes themselves for information.  If you would like to come visit the museum and utilize our amazing library for research, feel free to call us at 877-902-1113 to set up an appointment with our research coordinator.  Also, be sure to check out our online database, as well as Florida Memory’s wonderful collection of images and information. You will be glad that you did!

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