Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Anatomy of a Witchott

To preserve authenticity, the witchott will be built according to historical and archeological references. The reconstruction team will use natural materials to build the witchott as it would have been built by the Yaocomaco.
            The reconstruction team is modeling the new witchott after first-hand accounts by colonists such as Jesuit priest, Father Andrew White, and engravings by Theodor De Bry based on descriptions of similar American Indian villages by English explorers John White and Thomas Harriot.
The frame of the witchott will be comprised of arched cedar, hickory, or red maple saplings approximately 20 inches apart, tethered together with rawhide to form an oval structure. The longhouse witchott on site is somewhat larger than the estimated average longhouse in order to facilitate tours, measuring 35 feet long and 15feet wide versus the traditional 20 feet long by 12 feet wide.
“The houses were built of light poles bent over and tied together and covered with bark or rush mats. At each end was a doorway, formed by a curtain of mats which could be raised and lowered. …the women always kept a fire going in the houses” (Ferguson 1).

Used primarily for storage and sleeping, the witchott contains an ongoing fire in the center with a hole in the roof directly above it to vent out the smoke. However, the houses were notably smoky and not well ventilated. The fire was not used for cooking, instead the smoke served to ward off insects and animals as well as help preserve the grass mats, food, and other perishable items stored in the loft which, according to an account by Lord Calvert, “taketh up the best part of some of their houses” (Ferguson 2).

On the exterior of the witchott, mats of sewn or bundled grass are attached to the sapling frame to provide protection from the elements. Phragmite are usually used to make the mats rather than Yucca, a plant used by the Yaocomaco for many other purposes, which would disintegrate too quickly from exposure.

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