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Primitive Dwellings


DWELLINGS, PRIMITIVE. Climate imposes the need of shelter, and man can build only with what nature gives him. Even in the civilized loth century the building materials are mainly local, and in primitive dwellings a closer dependence is shown in the Eskimo iglu, the Blackfoot tipi, the Australian wurly or the Andaman hut, of snow, skins, birch bark and turf or palm leaves. Where nature provides caves or rock shelters man builds no houses at all, and these homes are used by the Vedda of Cey lon (Pl. fig. i ), the Bushmen of South Africa, the cave dwellers of Kenya or Tanganyika, China, or the Pueblo region of Arizona, as in Europe in Palaeolithic times. (See CAVE.) In Neolithic settlements pit dwellings or beehive huts formed the family habitations, and wattle and daub houses characteristic of the bronze age continued into the iron age. For pit dwellings, the earth was scooped out and piled in a circular bank, on which a wall of stone was built. The bank, with a drain outside, kept out the wet, and the hollowing of the floor gave more head room under the low roof. This was made of converging stones in the beehive dwellings, or perhaps of skins stretched across or of brushwood or turf where easily procurable. Prehistoric beehive dwellings of loose stones can be seen in outlying parts of the Brit ish Isles, and the Scottish shieling (Pl. fig. 3) or Norwegian saeter, shelters for girls tending cattle in their summer pastures, are of the same type. With skins stretched across the large bones of whale or walrus, similar huts are found among tundra and polar peoples from Lapland to Kamchatka, and from Alaska to Labrador. There is a long entrance tunnel, and the hut may also be entered through the roof, a hole in which acts as door, window and chim ney in one. Links may be found to connect these pit or bee-hive dwellings with the earth lodges of Missouri and the kiva of Arizona. Wattle and daub huts, such as those of the Swiss lake dwellings or of the lake village of Glastonbury, are very easily built. Stakes are driven into the ground, and withes or branches wattled in and out for walls, the hollows in the wattling being filled in and plastered over with mud ; the thatched roof has overhanging eaves to protect the mud walls. Such houses were used in Scot land down to the end of the i 8th century. They are found across Africa from east to west, north and south of the forest region, and are specially characteristic of the central and Lake Chad areas, in which rainless districts walls and roof may be made in one. They occur rarely in America, except in Mexico and Peru, and in the south-east of the United States, east of the Mississippi.

Pygmy Huts.—In a mixed ethnic region, huts are often a truer test of race than language. The most backward peoples show the simplest types. Just as gypsies or travelling tinkers, or boy scouts drive sticks in the ground and hang a piece of sacking or a blanket across to act as a windscreen, so the Negrito of the Philippines, the Andaman islander or the Semang of the Malay peninsula, who rarely stay two nights in the same place, fix up a plaited mat or a row of boughs and sleep to leeward. If the Semang need more shelter, the boughs may be plaited in a circle and joined overhead, or two screens may be tilted against each other, as in building a house of cards. In their camps the Andamanese raise their mat screens to form a roof propped up on four posts, eft. to Oft. high at the back, and 5ft. to 7ft. in front, and better houses are made of two of these mats, forming a saddle roof, with two extra posts to support it, but no walls. These huts are placed in a rough circle round the cleared dancing ground (Pl. fig. 4) . The Bushmen of the Kalahari desert scoop out hollows in which to curl up, as in a nest, sheltered if possible by natural bushes or by brushwood covered with a skin. The leaf-roofed huts or booths of the Negril loes of Central Africa are much alike from the Cameroons to Sem liki valley. Sticks are bent over with both ends in the ground and roughly thatched with leaves. They are very low, with en trances barely aft. high, and are scarcely distinguishable in the gloom and thick foliage of the equatorial forest.

Primitive Dwellings

In Australia, when men are camping for a night or two, the windscreen of brushwood is sufficient ; in bad weather the boughs are interlaced overhead to form a horseshoe hut ; for longer resi dence in favoured districts where the search for food does not re quire constant moves, a regular framework of branches is set up, covered with sheets of bark, leaves or grass, skins, sods of earth or a plastering of clay. An Australian folk-tale (collected before 185o) describes a hut built of the bones of the emu and the kanga roo, covered with skins. To this home the hero brings the admir ing heroine (or heroines) and "it was the most beautiful camp ever made" (W. Dunlop, J.A.I. 1899, p. 32). In South America the natives of British Guiana, when on hunting expeditions, put up temporary shelters or benabs, which may be a few palm leaves laid flat one over the other with their stalks bound together and stuck into the ground, so that the natural curve of the leaf affords sufficient roof. A more pretentious benab is made by sticking three posts in a triangle and laying a bunch of palm leaves over the top. The Arawak and Carib tribes living in dense forests, sheltered by surrounding trees, build wall-less houses ; the Macusi, living in the open savannah, add walls, filling in the sides and daubing them thickly with clay to keep out the cold winds blowing from the mountains.

Eskimo Snow House.

Without the snow iglu life in winter would be impossible for the Eskimo. The original construction was a ring of stones filled in with earth, the roof of sods being supported on branches, as is still the custom to the east and west of the Eskimo territory where wood is obtainable ; but from the mouth of the Mackenzie eastward, where the supply of driftwood dwindles, snow houses are the common residence in winter and skin tents in summer. Even where there are stone and wooden houses (and wooden houses spread with Christianity), the snow iglu is put up for special occasions or on journeys, as it is quickly built and is impervious to weather. A man cuts a trench some 5ft. long and coin. deep in a newly made snowdrift, where he means to place his house. From the face of the trench he cuts blocks with his bone knife. These are slightly concave so that they lean inward when set up on edge. A circle of blocks is laid and then shaved down so that the succeeding blocks form an ascending and narrowing spiral, the builder cutting the material from the inside of his house as he works. A key-stone with edges wider above than below is dropped into the space at the top, and all cracks and crevices are filled in with soft snow. A small house can be built in a couple of hours, but for longer residence more care and time are taken, and on special occasions houses of a large size can be built on the same plan. One erected to welcome the Stefansson-Anderson expedition to Akuliakattagmiut, near Coro nation gulf, was 9ft. in height and accommodated 4o people stand ing up, with a circular space of about 5f t. left in the centre for the dancers ; and festival halls i 6f t. high and 701t. across are reported from Labrador. If it is wanted for more than temporary residence, an alley-way loft. to 2ott. long is built outside the house as a shel ter for the dogs and gear, with recesses where food can be stored out of the dogs' reach. When the house has been built with the snow platforms for beds inside—this is the man's work—the house wife takes possession. She lights her blubber lamp, feeds it gen erously so that it burns with all possible heat, closes the door with a block of ice and makes all air-tight. The snow soon begins to melt and, owing to the curve of the domed roof, it does not drip, but soaks gradually into the blocks so that they are nearly wet through. When they are sufficiently sodden the woman puts out her lamp and opens the door. In rushes the intensely cold air, and in a few minutes the house is transformed from a fragile structure of snow that would crumb le if touched carelessly, to a vaulted dome of ice so strong that a polar bear might crawl over the roof (as often happens) without the danger of breaking it in.

When the long winter is nearing its end and the temperature rises, the snow houses, however solidly built, begin to melt. The roof is the first to go, and if this caves in, an old skin can be stretched across, but the inhabitants lead an uncomfortable life until they can camp in the open in the skin tents which are their common summer dwellings. These may be merely little bits of three-cornered shelters where skins are spread over the sides of a tripod leaving the lee side open, or large affairs, 6f t. by 14f t., with a ridge-pole supported on a tripod at each end, and a door in the middle of one of the long walls. This, like so many of the snow houses, may contain two families, one to the right and one to the left of the door.

Of the three Eskimo types of dwelling, the semi-underground earth house occurs down the west coast as far as San Francisco bay and is met with again in the "earth lodge" of the Missouri region ; while the tent, made of skins in the bison area, of birch bark where birches abound, and sometimes of mats among the Ojibway (Chippewa), was the universal shelter across the centre of the continent to the barrier of the Rocky mountains. On the west coast were the timber-built houses, such as those of the Haida and Tlingit or the Coast Salish. These were built entirely of massive posts of red "cedar" (thuja gigantea), and planks split with elk horn or maple wood wedges, tied to the uprights. These houses, with almost flat roofs, often 4oft. deep and some hundreds of feet in length, stretched along the shores of river or sea. Inside they were divided by grass mats into separate family compartments, and again into "hearths" or "fireplaces." In front were the totem poles carved and painted with the emblems of the occupants. Further south are the brush shelters of California, or shelters of branches, covered with grass, but nothing of substantial structure is found until the Pueblo region of Arizona and New Mexico is reached. In the Rio Grande (which is also the area of the cliff-dwellers) the houses are built of adobe (sun-dried bricks), wattle and daub, or stone. The Pueblo stone buildings are linked on to the earlier Nahua or Maya culture, for in Mexico and Peru alone was architecture developed in masonry, though neither had attained to the knowledge of the arch. The buildings were massive, and height was gained by platforms of natural or artificial mounds. Inca influence did not spread far in South America. A shelter for the hammock was sufficient in the Amazon region, though large communal thatched houses are not unknown ; a skin tent is char acteristic of the guanaco area, and this, in the extreme south, dwindles to little more than a lean-to.

In Oceania, although the huts of the indolent are poor and mean, especially in Melanesia, the abundance of timber and various palms, reeds and grasses, the universal agriculture and fishing, with fairly easy life, have raised the general standard of house-building to a high level. Round houses are associated with earlier culture, but for the most part houses are oblong, built either on the ground or on piles. Some of the chiefs' houses are of enormous size. One at Pare (Tahiti) was 397ft. long, and held two or three thousand people. This was rectangular with rounded ends, built by men specially trained to the craft.

African houses are easily made, whether by nomadic hunters, pastors or agriculturalists, and as easily deserted. To the south of the Sahara, uninhabited save for the sun-dried brick houses of the oases and the goats' hair cloth tents of the nomads, round bee hive or conical huts with low entrances and thick grass thatches are typical of the plains and open country and of Bantu culture in general (Pl. figs. 6 and 7). In hotter, drier regions the walls are often plastered with mud. Across the centre of Africa, west of the great lakes (Wa Nyamwezi, Manyema and some of the Ba Rotse), to the west coast stretches a belt of rectangular huts, in striking contrast to the circular shapes north and south of it. This is the forest region, and the contrast has been variously attributed to (a) influence of street formation rather than kraal formation, (b) derivation from the lean-to shelter, rather than the circular tent, or (c) recent or Arab contact.

Tree-houses and Pile-dwellings.

The need for defence against enemies led to the construction of tree-houses, pile-dwell ings, crannogs and floating islands in many different parts of the world. The need of portable shelters by wandering hunters or nomadic pastors developed the Bedouin tent, the Dakota tipi, the Mongol gher and the Khirgiz yurt. Similar or contrasted social conditions produced the communal houses in Africa, the East Indies, Melanesia and North and South America.

Houses built in trees are for temporary use, either as look-out places or for refuge in case of attack. A platform is often built in a tall tree from which the incursions of enemies are discovered, or crops watched and guarded. More substantial structures are made as refuges in case of an enemy raid. In the inland unsettled parts of New Guinea small strongly built houses are erected in trees. They are reached by ladders, which can be pulled up when the refuge has been gained. It is by no means an easy or rapid matter to cut down a large tree with stone axes, especially when overhead foes are hurling down stones and spears. Houses are also built for defence on piles standing out of the water. A platform is laid on the piles, and huts are built on the platform. Dwellings of this type were built on the edges of lakes in prehistoric Europe, and occur on shallow shores of the sea, lakes or rivers in North and South America, Africa, the East Indian archipelago and Me lanesia. Pile-houses may be built on land, forming wet season houses (Pl. fig. 5) in districts liable to be inundated. In the pile village of Bulaa in the Rigo district of British New Guinea, the piles are often Soft. in height, of very hard wood, with one end roughly pointed. This end is dropped into a hole at low tide by the help of several men and ropes, and the pole is swayed backwards and forwards, until by its own weight it worms its way into the ground. Heavy planks are laid on the piles to form a platform and on this the houses are built.

Crannogs are built on natural or artificial islands formed of brushwood, logs, stones and clay. They were common in prehis toric times in Ireland, and used down to the reign of Elizabeth.

The lake village of Glastonbury was made of brushwood on layers of tree trunks, pegged down with small piles. Above was a platform of logs laid side by side, and on this was plastered clay several feet thick. The round wattle and daub huts were erected on this foundation. In the African lakes floating islands of papyrus are artificially strengthened and huts built on the top.

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