TIPIMAGE.GIF - 8kb Tipila:
Symbol of Earth and Sky

So far, we've learned that the symbol has something to do with our Tipi. We also discovered that the symbol is part of a "picture code" of our tribe. There are many other picture codes, and each of them has very extensive meaning, just like the one we had.

From the book we got, we also found out about the work of a man named Ronald Goodman, over at the Sinte' Gleska University.

He's one of the people who wrote the book we have, called "Lakota Star Knowledge". Most people we know felt like he did some good work with that book, so we're going to refer to it also in this web quest.

It seems he and the folks there at Sinte Gleska University got started on this kinda like we did, asking around about things. Following is a quote from Mr Goodman on what they found.

One of the central artifacts of Lakota star knowledge is the earth and star maps.
On the earth map are hills and ridges, rivers and valleys.
On the star map are Lakota constellations and important individual stars.
We are told by Mr. Stanley Looking Horse,
father of the keeper of the original Sacred Pipe, that,
"They are the same, because what is on earth is in the stars,
and what is in the stars is on the earth."

Ronald Goodman


When we compared it, our symbol was a lot like ones found on the maps. This made us ever more determined to find out more about the Earth & Star Maps. Where did they come from? When were they made?

Mr. Looking Horse tells us more about the maps in another quote from the book, Lakota Star Knowledge.

'When our grandfathers came onto the reservation, they had three things: two hides and them sticks. One hide was a star map, the other was on earth. 'maka' map--buttes and rivers and mountains, even creeks clear out to Colorado Springs. Star map and earth map, they were really the same, because what's in the stars is on the earth, and what's on the earth is in the stars. Them sticks were used for time, telling time...' "

Stanley Looking Horse

What did these maps look like? What size were they? What did the symbols on the map represent? How were the maps used?

We couldn't help but wonder, did my aunt know about these maps, and the symbol and what we would find? As we explored further we finally reached what we'd been looking for all along, an explanation of the symbol.

We found some answers in Mr. Goodman's statements.


"These maps and sticks are material confirmation, or 'hard evidence'--if you will--of what the elders have been telling us all along; namely, that there is a significant relationship between the stars and certain land forms. Also, the connection which Mr. Looking Horse makes of the sticks with the two maps affirms that the timing of tribal movements and ceremonies with celestial motions was essential.

The Keeper among the Oglalas of this second map has said that without proper instruction it wouldn't even be recognized as a star map. Asked to explain why. He replied that this was partly because the stars as they are drawn on the robe look like a pie wedge or a long triangle. He added that the shape on earth they most resemble is the cottonwood leaf twisted into the form of a Tipi.

I consider this reply of fundamental importance. The Keeper is saying that the Lakota image of a star is not a flat two dimensional triangle, but rather a cone, a vortex of light slanted down. The inner shape of the stars and the sun is an inverted Tipi."

Ronald Goodman


Most important to us was that the description fit our symbol and the picture in the book loked like our symbol too. When we were asking around in the communities about the symbol, and we showed it to people, some would speak in Lakota and move their hands about. Yet, they'd say, "How would I say?" and that would be it. Then they'd just shrug their shoulders.

So, what we knew was that there was a key to the symbol in our Lakota language, and if we wanted to know about the symbol we'd have to know about our language. Lucky for us we did.

When we read the following section, in the book by Ronald Goodman, we could see the people moving their hands about in a twisting motion when they spoke of the symbol.

Once again, from the book, "Lakota Star Knowledge", Published by Sinte Gleska University, in Rosebud, So. Dak.


"There is a Lakota family who own a document that combines on one hide, what is usually found on seperate star and earth maps...This symbol is called in Lakota, 'Kapemni', which means, 'twisting.' Thus, what is above is like what is below. What is below is like what is above."

"The Oglala star map has another important feature. Some of the Kapemni are painted blue, and some are painted red. The blue shapes refer to mountains or hills, as well as stars. The red shapes refer to either valleys or confluences of rivers and creeks, as well as stars.

In other words, this single robe is both a star map and an earth map. The complete symbol which embodies this complex knowledge is two vortices joined at their apexes".

Ronald Goodman


Well, what we've presented to you so far is what we found out about the symbol on the pouch. We used parts from the book since it was already written, and explained it best.

However, when it came to the drawings of the symbol, we did it ourselves, in order to best explain what the symbol meant. We've organized the drawings to show how the symbol develops.

"Click" on the Explore Tipila Symbols link below and it will start the sequence. "Click" on the picture to go to the next slide. (There are 4) When at the last page "Click" on the BACK link to return here.

Explore Tipila Symbols


What we know is that the Tipi is not just a shelter. It is an important symbol of our way of life as a tribe of people who lived on the plains, in Tipis.

In order to learn as much as we could about the Tipila we'd help people put up their Tipis during Pow-wow season. When we did we'd pay careful attention to how they did it and we'd listen carefully to all they'd tell us.

We found most people put up the Tipis pretty much the same, and though there may be differences among tribes they all support one main idea, our relationship to our environment.

We felt this quote by Mr. Norbert Running, from the "Lakota Star Knowledge" book best explains our Lakota style.


Building A Tipi

"When they build a tipi, those 3 poles come first. That three pole triangle is a star. That's the most important thing, that star. The 7 more poles, that's the directions - west - north - east - south - above - below and center. Fire at the center. That makes ten poles. Those 10 are the laws of this whole world and for the Lakota people. Then 2 more poles outside, those 'ears' for air makes 12. That's 12 months...Then there's those twelve stars, morning star, evening star, 7 stars in that dipper, and then those three stars (orions belt) and that makes 12 too. 12 stars, 12 months, 12 poles."

Mr. Norbert Running, Rosebud, So. Dak.


So, a long time ago when we moved our Tipi camps often, everytime we set up camp, everyone was recreating our Lakota world throughout the camps. Mr Goodman explains it like this:


The Tipi Shape

"Building a Tipi as Mr. Running transmitted it is nothing less than re-creating or replicating a world.

At the outset, building a Tipi means building a star with the first 3 poles. The foundation of the world is this star. The true inner shape of this world is a crystal of light, a vortex of powerful light.

Once the star is realized and we are centered, then creation can occur; a triumph over chaos can occur. Hence, the 7 directions are established with the next 7 poles. The stabilization, the ordering of space and time and movement is here symbolized just as it is in Lakota Oral tradition which tells how the directions were established by the Sons of the Wind.

That makes ten poles. The next step is the introduction of the laws of respect for all of nature. So, the 10 poles represent a cosmological morality based on respect,...'mutual respect' being implanted in everything. They are also the ethical basis of the Tiospaye.

Finally, two poles are added outside, the 'ears' which control the flow of air in the Tipi; air which is the vehicle of spirit. The Tipi and the world can now breath spirit in and out., communicate with the higher powers.

This makes 12 poles which symbolize the 12 months, or in other words, the seasons and the life cycle.

The stellar world engenders and the earth reflects all the stages just described."

Ronald Goodman

"Click" on the Explore Building A Tipi link below and it will start the sequence. "Click" on the picture to go to the next slide. (There are 3) When at the last page "Click" on the BACK link to return here.


Explore Building A Tipi!


So the symbol represents a code, and when we build our Tipis we bring the code to life. In this way we remain connected to our native world. Yet, we found there is still more to the Tipila than that.

For all the tribes who had Tipi camps the Buffalo, or Bison was the central focus of their lives and livelihood. Yet, the Buffalo represented even more then a source for food and shelter, as Mr. Goodman explains.

The Buffalo Tipila

"Even in everyday life, living inside a Tipi symbolizes living inside the sun. The traditional Tipis were made of Buffalo hides. The Buffalo is the embodiment of solar power in the animal world. Physically and metaphysically when the Lakota lived in Tipis they were living inside the skin of the sun, of a star."


Last summer we even had some visitors from another tribe bring their Tipi to a Pow-wow. When we were helping them set it up, we saw they did it a little different. So, we asked about it and they explained it to us. Drawing on the ground right there next to the Tipila.

What they explained about their way of setting poles was kind of complicated at first, but as we watched it became easier to understand.

Here is another set of drawings we made to show what we learned about their style of pole setup

"Click" on the Explore Tipila Orienteering link below and it will start the sequence. "Click" on the picture to go to the next slide. (There are 5) When at the last page "Click" on the BACK link to return here.

Explore Tipila Orienteering

Finally, our quest to learn about the symbol on the pouch has taught us far more than we could have imagined when we started out. How about you and your team, what have you learned that you didn't expect?