September 09, 2011

Luxury tipis in Great Britain

Tepees Crisscross the Atlantic

By Austin ConsidineAMONG all the luxuriant details to emerge from Kate Moss’s English wedding this summer, with its abundance of Edwardian lace and wicker, perhaps the most compelling, culturally speaking, were the children’s tepees.

British tepees?

As it happens, the recreational tepee is nothing new to British epicures desiring a bit of eco-chic. But its budding popularity at high-end American social events signifies an intriguing if perplexing cultural moment: Long a proud symbol of the American Great Plains and its native, nomadic heritage, the tepee is reappearing as a luxury British import.

“It’s been popular for about seven years now over in the U.K., where you see a lot of celebrities doing this kind of thing for very earthy-style lounges,” said Lawson Roberts, an event producer based in New York and Charleston, S.C., who has planned numerous celebrity weddings. A few months ago, Mr. Rogers received his first two American tepee requests.

Perhaps, as with African-American blues music, appropriating the traditional American Indian dwelling required the historical, moral and geographical distance afforded the British.
Comment:  These Britishers could lounge or camp in any kind of tent-like structure. So why Plains Indian tipis?

My guess is the same as it was the last 50 or 100 times someone appropriated Native cultures. Tribalism is trendy. It's "cool" to say you're getting in touch with your roots, the spirits, or the earth via a tipi. It makes you seem more authentic and real and less status- and wealth-oriented.

There's nothing terribly wrong with lounging in tipis as long as you don't dress up and pretend to be Indians. But that's the problem. Some people take their trendy tribalism one step too far. Then you get affronts like the TeePee Games website and the Irish "Indians" showband. Or in Germany, artists who think showcasing Chief Wahoo makes some sort of cultural statement. Or in the US, wannabes who think wearing a headdress makes them wild and free like an Indian.

On short, hipster appropriation becomes hipster racism. Which is why critics are watching these people and calling them out if they step over the line.

For more on tipis, see Wigwam Motel as Historic Icon and The Pee-Pee Teepee.

Below:  "Tepees at the Glastonbury Music Festival in Great Britain."

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