Below is a photo taken of the interior of the longhouse reconstruction at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Midland, Ontario, taken during my visit there in August of 2009. I grew up on the Eastern Cherokee reservation in Western North Carolina and came to anthropology through my interest in learning more about the history of my home community. As I became interested in Cherokee history at a much deeper time depth I started to learn more and more about the related Iroquoian peoples. So the content of this blog will almost certainly end up being heavy on Iroquoian-related material.
The first time I saw a longhouse reconstruction (at the wonderful Ganondagan State Historic Site near Rochester, N.Y.) I was taken aback by how different it was from Cherokee domestic architecture. The Cherokee lived in small paired structures typical of the Southeastern United States, often referred to as ‘summer houses’ and ‘winter houses’ in the anthropological literature. The occupants were not a nuclear family in the suburban American sense as it was common for at least three generations to be in residence there. But I imagine that the longhouse arrangement would have felt communal in an uncomfortable way to a Cherokee accustomed to less expansive quarters.
On the other hand, I can imagine that to someone who has spent his or her life sheltered in a longhouse, the traditional Cherokee house altogether cramped and a little lonely. The term by which the Cherokee were known in the different Iroquois languages is sometimes glossed as ‘dwellers in caves.’ Given that the Cherokee winter house was semi-subterranean, a better gloss is probably ‘they live in holes,’ which also conveys, I suspect, something of the foreignness with which the Iroquois viewed that particular living arrangement.