“’Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”—John Howard Payne.
WHAT do you call home? A well-constructed house built by professional builders using modern materials? Or a house built by its owners using materials found in local surroundings? Let us take a quick look at places people call home around the world.
Our first stop is the country of El Salvador, where we meet Jorge and his parents in the small village of Texistepegue. As we tour Jorge’s home, we note that the floor is just the bare ground. The roof supports are made of tree trunks set in the earth. The adobe-brick walls are plastered with mud. The tile roof extends beyond the walls to provide shade and to protect the walls from rain. However, instead of tile, many people in El Salvador make the roof from long grass, piled six inches [15 cm] thick.
Some of the poor country people in Colombia live in somewhat similar homes. Between the corner poles that are set in the ground, split bamboo plastered with mud forms the walls. The roof consists of palm leaves that are placed on supporting poles.
In Tacuarembó, Uruguay, some houses are constructed of adobe bricks made from a mixture of horse manure, earth, and water. The mixture is poured into wooden molds that are left on a flat surface to dry in the sun. The hardened bricks are used for the walls, and a thatched roof rests on supporting roof poles. Instead of glass in the window openings, wooden shutters are used, and the floors are the plain earth.
Some poor families in the interior of Uruguay live in sod houses. Like adobe-brick houses, such dwellings are cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Sod blocks are laid in an interlocking pattern to form a wall two feet [0.6 m] thick and six feet [1.8 m] high. Reeds are fastened to roof supports to make a seven-inch-thick [18 cm] thatched roof. To give the outside walls a hard, smooth surface, some homeowners plaster them with a mixture of mud and cow dung. Partitions in the house are made of a frame of saplings covered with burlap bags that are sewed together. Sometimes mud is plastered over the burlap.
In areas close to streams and marshes, some Uruguayans in the interior of the country live in reed houses, framed with freshly cut tree limbs to which bundles of reeds are tightly fastened. How is this done? The reeds are cut into lengths of from five [1.5 m] to six feet [1.8 m] and are dried in the sun until they are free of moisture. Then they are bound into bundles about nine inches [23 cm] in diameter, and finally they are fastened to the framework to form the walls and roof of the house.
Near the town of Iquitos, Peru, a person of limited means builds his house on the Amazon River. How, though, does he keep the house from drifting? He cuts large, lightweight logs from the jungle to form a raft, and he anchors it by poles set in the river bottom. After securing the raft to the poles, he builds his house on it—a one-room structure with bamboo siding and a thatched roof. The house has its own form of air-conditioning—air passing through the spaces between the pieces of bamboo siding. Often an entire wall is left off because of the intense tropical heat.
Sleeping accommodations usually consist of a wooden bed, hammocks, or mats on the floor. Although this house is primitive in comparison with the majority of the houses in Iquitos, it is home to the poorer folk.
On beautiful Lake Titicaca in Peru, reed houses are built on floating islands. The islands are also made of reeds and are of many different sizes, some as small as a tennis court. Reeds are abundant in this lake that is over 12,000 feet [3,800 m] above sea level.
The resourceful inhabitants tie bundles of reeds together to form the walls and roofs of their homes, which are constructed on the floating platform. Once a year the people renew the topmost layer of reeds of the platform, which compensates for the decay of the bottommost layer. The platform is about six feet [1.8 m] thick, and the bottom gradually rots away.
A different type of floating house, one that some Chinese call home, can be found in Hong Kong. It is not uncommon for a small water taxi that carries paying passengers in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Harbor to serve also as the floating home of the family that operates the taxi. This is where the family cooks, eats, and sleeps. Other Chinese families spend their entire lives on fishing vessels called junks, which have become home to them.
In Europe there are many rivers and canals that are used by barges for transporting merchandise. Some of the families that operate these barges convert one end into living quarters, and thus the barge becomes their floating home.
Apartment Houses Borneo-Style
On the island of Borneo, the people known as Ibans, or Sea Dayaks, build longhouses that are their version of apartment buildings. These long, low structures, supported on numerous posts set in the ground, are located high up on terraced riverbanks. Each longhouse contains an entire community, a village under one roof.
The length of the house varies according to the size of the community, which may be from ten to one hundred people. As more families are formed through marriage, the longhouse is simply lengthened to accommodate them.
Each family has its own apartment. How do family members gain access to their dwelling? By means of an open gallery that runs the full length of the house. An overhanging thatched roof provides the gallery with shade and protection from the rain. When at home the residents spend most of their time in this gallery, visiting or working on handicrafts, such as basket making or sarong weaving.
Inside each apartment, the family cooks, eats, and sleeps. Above the apartments and the gallery is a loft that is used for storage of farm implements and rice. It also serves as the sleeping quarters for unmarried girls. Young unmarried men sleep on mats outside on the gallery floor.
Unlike the multistory apartments in Western cities, these longhouses have no bathrooms or toilets. Bathing is done in the nearby river, and waste matter is dropped through the slatted floor to the ground 12 feet [4 m] below where pigs and chickens help dispose of it.
The houses we have considered here may be different from yours. But to the people who live in these various parts of the world, it is “home, sweet home.”