In many cultures, life centers around the family home. This is true of the Iroquois and their longhouse. The Iroquois were a confederacy of Native American nations located in modern-day New York. It consisted of the Senecas, the Cayugas, the Onondagas, the Oneidas, and the Mohawks and was later joined by the Tuscaroras. In fact, the Iroquois referred to themselves as Haudenosaunee or "People of the Longhouse." The confederacy itself was a figurative longhouse that stretched across upstate New York.
Longhouses were generally 20 feet wide, 20 feet tall, and 180 to 220 feet long. The longest recorded was 400 feet. The length varied depending on the number of families, which was usually 20 or more. The fluctuating demographics meant that new longhouses were built every ten to 20 years. During that time of transition, clans would move away from their depleted resources, usually to the other side of their fields.
Longhouses were made of flattened sheets of bark sandwiched between a set of two grid-pattern frameworks of posts that formed vertical sides and a curved roof. Doors were located at the ends, and porches extended off both ends of the longhouse. Smoke holes were scattered along the roof to provide ventilation and were covered by a sheet of bark during inclement weather.
Inside the longhouse, a ten-foot wide aisle ran the length of the building, which was considered common area. On both sides were compartments, one for each family. There was a platform bench in each "apartment" that served as a workspace as well as sleeping arrangements. Shelves also lined the longhouse on either side above the raised platforms for storage.
Iroquois families were matrilineal, or they traced their ancestry through women. Therefore, longhouses held a woman's family and her relatives, and when a man married a woman, he moved into her home. Longhouses were also the site of various spiritual practices, such as the curing of diseases by the Iroquois False Face Society. In the legend "Hiawatha the Unifier," longhouses were landmarks in the story, and the original five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy were not fully developed until they built their own.
The Iroquois longhouse still plays a role in modern-day life. They are now made of logs or are similar to frame houses, though. Their dominant belief system has also changed and is now called the Longhouse Religion, a combination of Christianity and traditional beliefs.