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Arunachal Hilltribe Lifestyle 2 : Innovative housing

December 16, 2011 5 min read

Arunachal Pradesh landscapes comprise the foothills of the Himalayas and is inhabited mainly by tribes.The hills are dotted with tribal villages all across its 85000 sq km expanse.

Hills and Tribal Villages

The village structures  are constructed from forest output and they merge in seamlessly with their surroundings.

Innovative Bamboo Plumbing is used to harness the waters from the many streams. My driver takes a wash.


All houses are on stilts and have thatched roofs. There is one large hall at the center of which is the 3-tier hearth. This hall is the main room and is used for cooking, eating and spending family time. Women do their weaving here in their free time. One or two rooms may surround the hall.

A community structure that may be used by all villagers to sell their goods such as fruit & weavings

A large terrace being used to sun dry rice.

The area beneath the structure - where the stilts are- is used to house farm animals

Barricades to restrict their movement

The pigs make their way out anyway ...

Features of the House Structure

Bamboo Stilts

The hearth used exclusively for cooking the Village Headman's food

The staircase - carved out of a single log of wood

Detail of each step of the staircase

The floor made using Bainth - that is imilar to Rattan

The ceiling

The interior of the Headman's home

The headman in his home

Cow dung caked onto the cane structure as wall plaster

The balcony

An elderly couple in their balcony

The outdoor wash room

The Washroom - 2

Unique Elements of  Arunachal Tribal Living – The Morung:

The Morung or village community hall

The youth dorm or the “Morung” is an interesting social concept that is an integral part of the lifestyle of many hilltribes, not only in Arunachal Pradesh but also the general geographical region.

 A Morung is a community hall where the young – post puberty – spend the night, after living and working with their parental families throughout the day. Young boys and girls mingle and learn social norms and spend time pursuing life skills training together. Understanding develops between boys and girls and courtship followed by marriage is the result. The Morung , also called the Longshim is often located near the chief’s house.


Unique Elements of  Arunachal Tribal Living –The Boys Room:

                                               The Room for adolescent boys outside the main house

Another interesting feature seen is the outdoor room for young adolescent boys. This is a stand-alone room just a few metres away from the family house. This affords young boys the privacy they need at this age.

Boy's room - 2


Unique Elements of  Arunachal Tribal Living –The Granary Complex:

The Granary complex

The family homes made of cane and other highly inflammable materials are at the risk of major fires that burn down the entire house – especially with the fire based cooking that takes place on the floor of the house. I was told that every year at least one house burns down in every village.  To minimise the loss of wealth – which is held mainly as food stores harvested fro the year – the family constructs a granary in a separate part of the village. The paddy harvest and other valuables are stocked there. Each family has their own granary unit.

Given the materials being used for construction, a sealed unit is not possible. As stored paddy attracts rats that could consume the entire stock in no time, innovative methods were required to prevent their access to the grain.

Stilts are no deterrents to rats who can race up vertical bamboos with ease.


Granary on stilts

And so they came up with a device that is fitted at the top of the stilts – a disc that is concave.

Once he reaches the top of the stilt, the rat has no choice but to traverse the concave disc whose outer edges are lower than the inner edges. In doing so, the rat must hang upside down, and the angle of the concavity makes it worse. He falls. Every single time. And is unable to reach the grain stored in the room above these discs.

No need for poisons or any other forms of rat deterrents. Just a simple structural device – no repeated costs and no damage to nature.

Innovation at its best!

Further these stores of wealth are completely unguarded …. this is unimaginable and completely impossible in my urban context. This again goes to prove that these tribes are way more evolved in their living than any other group of people I have met in.


Unique Elements of  Arunachal Tribal Living –The unique 3 – tiered kitchen hearth:

As temperatures in the hills are low, it is important to utilise every little bit of heat that is available. The fire that is used to cook the food also gives off heat in other directions that is generally un-used and wasted. But in the tribal homes, the kitchen structure is designed to use as much as possible.

Woven Bainth mats are hung above the fireplace in 2 additional layers. The heat from the fire and the pots rises up to heat and dry grain and smoke meats to preserve them for long term use. Tribes all across – Galo, Apatani and others all have this innovation in their kitchens that adds to the energy efficiency.

The 3 tiered Kitchen hearth
The bottom level of the 3-tiered hearth where the main cooking takes place
The middle tier of the hearth
The top tier of the hearth – usually millet is spread on a mat on that level to dry it completely

Smoking Meat - the meat is hung vertically on one side of the hearth

Other Elements of the home:

A 1 sq foot hole in the cane floor serves as a spot to wash hands and drain the water

A stag head trophy in the headman's home

Bison head trophies at the entrance of the home

Boar Tusks - still a part of the skull - used as wall hangers

Bird house

Chicken Coups for the night

A device for yarn spinning

Net used for fishing in the village ponds

Large mortar-pestle used for Paddy husk removal

Baskets of varying weaves for different purposes

Ladles for serving Millet based alcohol

Made from a hollow plant


Bison Horn trophy


Building a House

To build a house, one needs land, raw materials, equipment and labour.

The land is community land alloted to the village and no one needs to buy a piece of land. It may be used as long as one is living. The raw materials come from the forest. The only equipment they use is the Dho – the mulitpurpose weapon. And the labour is themselves and their community.

The financial cost is rupees is Zero.

The Raw Material : Bamboo

Flattening the Bamboo with a dho

Community working together

People cooperate and collaborate with others and build villages together – literally.


The people live in harmony with nature and with each other. So many examples of creative and innovative solutions to solve their problems are seen in their lifestyles – not only in their housing. A very poignant example of creativity – is the custom in Apatani tribe : to prevent their beautiful women from getting kidnapped by the neighbouring tribe – they tattooed the faces of the women! This radically creative solution is covered in the article on Apatani face tattoos linked below:

Glimpses of a contented People


 A chance encounter with a Shaman Priest during a sacrifice ritual

The Gaanv Boodhas or Village Headmen of Arunachal Pradesh

Tribal signatures – Face Tattoos of the Apatanis

Fierce Nocte Headhunters

Head Hunting Trophies


December 2011

The post Arunachal Hilltribe Lifestyle 2 : Innovative housing appeared first on The Art Blog by WOVENSOULS.COM.

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