Sounds like something you do after a Bachelors party, doesn’t it? What was that slimy crap I ate? Actually, what a Wikiup is happens to be an ages old style of Indian shelter. Simply, and easily made from materials at hand, this type of shelter can keep you pretty snug should you find yourself far away from civilization. Basically, the Wikiup is a dome shaped structure made from supple green plants such as Willow or other slender young trees. This type of structure was commonly used by many Southwestern Indians, and covered by thatch, bark, or branches, but it can be used anywhere in the world to provide a cozy little semi-permanent shelter. In fact, you could even use it as a permanent shelter with a good water tight covering. That is of course if you build it strong enough to keep heavy snow build up from crushing it.
Here’s how you make the structure;
Find yourself an appropriate spot with plenty of young trees and clear out a circular spot. Cut the growth inside the circle right down to the ground. If you are planning on making it big enough to have a fire inside, now is the time to remove all plant growth. Leave a ring of saplings standing at the outer edge so that you can utilize them for the structure. If you are someplace where natural growth doesn’t give you enough saplings in a grouping, you may have to cut some and import them to your site. Leave the foliage on these saplings for now. If you have a shovel, remove the top soil and place it around the outer edges of the circle.
Next, and this may take two people if the shelter is a big one, take a sapling from either side of the clearing and bend them towards each other. Tie or twist them together so that they form an archway. Then do two more saplings the same way at 90 degrees from the first two. If you are going to have a fire inside your Wikiup tie these four branches together so that a square hole is made as a smoke or chimney hole.
Continue on around the perimeter until you have your dome shaped frame. Trim off the branches sticking into the interior of the dome at this point, but leave the outer ones. These will help to secure your outer covering. If you are building this in the winter months, you may wish to have a more inverted V shape so that the snowfall will not accumulate on top of you. Pack the topsoil you’ve removed around the circle to act like a curb, and ditch it off to divert rainwater away.
Next, place your covering materials over the dome. If you are using Spruce, or other bough type material such as Cedar, bunch a row tightly around the bottom leaving a couple of feet free at your opening. Make sure that the boughs are supported firmly on the saplings. As you go up the wall the boughs will not stay in place if they are not supported by the saplings, but are supported by each other. One trick you could do here is to weave thinner saplings that you may have cleared from the circle at even heights around the Wikiup to hook your boughs into. Keep doing this until you reach the top, remembering to leave that top hole open if you have elected to have a fire inside your Wikiup.
If you are going to use bark as a covering, which I don’t recommend as it needlessly destroys trees, you’ll need to remove all of the foliage from your framework. Not only for that reason, but it also takes much longer to erect. Take your cut slabs of bark and place them around the base. Wedge them into a ring of saplings woven into the framework at a constant height around the Wikiup. Make another ring of woven saplings and bark above that one, overlapping by a few inches so the rain doesn’t get in. keep working your way up to the top.
Making thatch walls is preferable to the bark as it is just as permanent and can be made from easily accessible grasses if you are in a plains or meadow area. Cut your grasses close to the base and group into fist sized bundles. It’ll look like a handful of spaghetti. You’ll need to weave a fairly tight grid work of saplings into your dome. Insert the bundles of grass between the openings and pack them in tightly. Otherwise a good breeze may take your covering away.
Another, and probably the best choice for a semi-permanent structure is the wattle and daub approach. Remove all foliage if you take this approach. After your dome is completed, weave sticks into the framework so that you have a series of square openings about one to two inches square. Cut some grass into short lengths and mix into some clayey mud to make a plaster and spread this over the walls. You may need to make several layers to get it thick enough, but when dry should give you a nicely finished home. This is one of the ways the first homes in the new world were built, although the framework was of a post and beam style. This was imported from England when the first settlers and explorers came over. Log cabins didn’t become the norm until much later.
Of course, you can also place sod over the framework as well, but this makes the covering heavier, especially if it absorbs a lot of rain water. And then there is the old American standby, the blue tarp approach. However you decide to cover your Wikiup, make sure that you follow good sense practices. Don’t make it too large, and if snow is a factor, make steeper sides to prevent buildup. Also, while a fire inside may not be the smartest thing you can do, make sure you have ventilation and remove all flammable groundcover for safety.
Experiment with the design and come up with your own way of covering the framework, and have fun with it. The design has been around for centuries and has worked well for many peoples. It can even be lived in year round if made well. If you are stuck out in the wilds or just trying to escape the city, this structure may be what you need to help survive the coming times.