Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Friday, January 16, 2009

Business in Life: Naturally Naga

By M H Ahssan

The homes of the different Naga tribes have distinct architectural styles. They all use natural materials and adapt well to the advantages and challenges of the local terrain and climate.

There are 16 tribes in Nagaland, each with different architectural traditions. Each has responded efficiently to climatic challenges, dovetailed with cultural needs and providing a nurturing matrix for ordinary life. That each produced uniquely beautiful buildings is not a bonus but a natural outcome.

As a result of intense missionary activity in the 19th century, at least 90% of Nagaland’s population is Christian, and traditional belief systems are weak. Galvanized iron (wrongly called ‘tin’) roofs, another mark of modernity, cover Kohima’s many hills like a quilt. Yet traditional architectural skills haven’t died out completely.

Origins and influences
Like all traditional architecture, the Naga way of building has evolved over centuries through trial and error. Out of necessity, it engages with the local environment directly. Local forest and earth provide a large part of building materials. And houses are shaped to offer resistance to the cold and rain. The lightweight architecture that results fits well in the earthquake-prone north-eastern region (the sixth most seismically active zone in the world, it is categorized in India as Zone V, the same as Bhuj, Gujarat). The bamboo and thatch can be framed and braced well to resist earthquakes and reduce damage.

The tribal houses are built predominantly of wood, bamboo and thatch. These materials are bad conductors of heat, and are therefore good insulators that help keep the interiors warm. The houses have a low surface area per unit volume. This ensures internal heat is not lost too quickly.

In addition, the cooking fire is placed centrally enough to become the heat source around which the family spends time on cold evenings. A bamboo grid holds meats over it for smoking, as well as cooking and other implements.

Vernacular architecture is thus closely tied to culturally specific values. The different tribes occupy different parts of Nagaland, also spreading into Assam and the northern part of Myanmar. Though the broad climatic conditions may be similar across tribal territories, each tribe has a distinctly different tradition of forms.
A good part of this difference could be explained by differences in the attitude of each tribe and its social structure. For instance, though life is organized communally in each tribe, there are differences in the intensity of hierarchical organization. Hence the Konyak—who have a much stronger hierarchical social structure—also have larger houses than the Sema.

The sloping roofs in thick layers of thatch, elegantly secured at the ridge with a decorative weave of bamboo and grass, unique to each tribe, wash away the rain quickly.
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