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Wampanoag biodegradable wetu: house dome before Bucky Fuller

The Wampanoag people who lived along the U.S. East Coast built dome-shaped homes called wetus. The round shape was most efficient for heating or cooling the home evenly and for withstanding high winds and hurricanes. It emerged naturally from the support structure built from saplings bent to create a frame. 

From this base, the winter homes were covered in bark and the summer homes were covered in mats woven from cattail reeds. All homes were designed around an essential fire – often 2 or 3, depending on the number of families living together- and could be as long as 100 feet.

At the Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, native people continue to recreate wetus as demonstration. “I know some people who wouldn’t mind going back to the traditional houses,” explains Tim Turner, manager of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program at Plimouth Plantation. 

“The Wampanoag lived in these houses until about the 1960s on Cape Cod. In the 1940s or so it was outlawed because it didn’t have running water or electricity. There were just some people who didn’t care and continued to live in them. They just built their homes a little further out. 

“So there are community members, there are members of the Wampanoag community who remember growing up in homes like this… and we know how to build these homes because we have elders in our community who say, ‘that’s what the house looks like.’”