A CHICKEE . . .
◊ began being used after European settlers forced Seminoles to live in marshes or swamps
◊ are raised platform floors which prevents animals and reptiles from entering
◊ can be used as living habitats or communal spaces
◊ have exposed sides to allow cooling breezes, but woven side panels can be added
ORIGIN OF THE NAME
Chickee means "house" in the Creek and Mikasuki languages spoken by the Seminoles and Miccosukees. The Muskogean spelling for chickee is "chiki." However, Creeks, who speak the Muskogee language, use the term to describe only a summer house or open-sided residence typical of Florida. It is likely that the word chickee came to generically mean "house" among Hitchiti-speaking Creek Indians. When some Creek towns moved southward into Florida during the eighteenth century, they used the same word to describe lightly framed houses suitable for a semi-tropical climate. [from New World Encyclopedia]
NOT ALWAYS SO OPEN
While the Seminoles we've known in south Florida used chickees as homes throughout the last two centuries, their earlier, pre-Removal-Act homes, were of a more permanent style with walls, windows, and doors. They may have been similar to wattle and daub homes or even log cabins.
A DESIGN FOR A NEW HABITAT
As the people fled south to avoid being captured and sent to reservations east of the Mississippi, they needed to be able to vacate camps quickly, the current style of mobile, open-air chickee emerged. Many have said, that although other indigenous peoples have made similar dwellings, the Seminole Indian technique is a superior design for the ecosystem in which they now live.
After the Second Seminole War, when they were able to remain in a settlement for a long period, the Seminoles perfected the architecture of the chickee to include a second level. This could serve as sleeping quarters or storage. Some had roof extensions on the sides to keep even more rain and sun out. The sturdy construction made these family dwellings safe and comfortable.
In camps and villages, there were often a main central chickee in which the cooking was done. A communal cook fire meant less chance of homes burning should the fire get out of control. It was in these cook chickees that the women would build the spoke wheel fire, and often created a platform for holding their pots, and in later years, metal barbeque racks allowed for meat grilling.
PLACES TO WORK
As tourism increased in South Florida, the Seminole Tribe found a market in the selling of their colorful handmade clothing and dolls. Many women used their chickee homes as workplaces by setting up their little sewing machines and cloth-cutting tables. The design of the chickee made it a versatile way to work and live in the outdoors subtropical climate.
Today's chickees still use local wood and palm and palmetto fronds for thatch. Although modern tools, nails, wire, rope, and shovels make them easier to build and possibly more sturdy, the basic design has not changed. When used without the raised platform, or with it. The steep pitch of the roof, and the thickness of thatching keeps out rain.
At the midpoint of the boardwalk at the museum are re-created ceremonial grounds. This area is reminiscent of traditional central village meeting places for political and religious events. At the center there is an open court, or plaza, for playing stickball or dancing. The ceremonial grounds contain several reproduction structures that demonstrate the variety of chickee design.
Near the end of the boardwalk at the museum, there is a depiction of the temporary camps set up by Seminoles during hunting season. This camp features the pelts, plumes, and hides that were used and traded by the Seminoles. In the past, when hunters travelled to the uplands to hunt deer and wild turkey, they built these temporary shelters.
IN THE AH-TAH-THI-KI VILLAGE
A short distance from the ceremonial grounds is the Seminole Village. The village is a modern-day version of the Seminole tourist camps that were popular in the early to mid-20th century. Modern Seminole artists are often present and are more than happy to answer questions and demonstrate traditional arts and crafts. These crafts are also available for purchase. On certain days when weather permits, villagers may not be present to talk about the Seminole people and culture.
CHICKEES FOR ALL
Due to the efficiency and visual charm of the Seminole chickee, they can be seen all over South Florida, from poolside cabanas to unique camping experiences. A well made chickee structure should last about ten years and needs to be re-thatched every five years. Seminole Tribal members make a living building custom chickees for both commercial and private interests.