Who, in Uganda, is not familiar with the mud and wattle hut?
It is the most indigenous house for most,
if not all, tribes in the country. Even though modernity has continued to fraze
the African Traditional Huts, Most Tribes in Ankole have indeed continued to
preserve the Traditional Huts especially in the rural areas – Commonly among
the Bahima Pastoralists and the Batwa communities
Vernacular architecture is one that is synonymous with the African society
and in this case, As we prepare for the second Edition of The Uganda Live Stock And Heritage Show We take you through the
Rich and detailed History about the Traditional Huts of Ankole and What the
Cultural heads and historians have to say about their existence and background.
One characteristic that was common to the architecture was the circular shape
they took and all the materials were never imported but made locally in every
region. The doctor says everything was indigenous and not borrowed from
outside. However, during the succession wars, one group would borrow from
another and during migration and settlement.
Generally, the huts would be small and simple in nature because they would
be occupied by a single person or utmost two. John Bishanga one of the great
Elders of Ankole, explains that long ago people used the huts for protection.
They would only go to the huts to sleep in the evening just like the other
Types of huts, according to
ethnicities in Uganda
The hut is made in such a way that it rises from the ground in a straw dome.
They use emiganda (strong sticks that are resistant to termite attacks), which
are woven in a spiral pattern to create a basketlike skeleton. Then spear grass
is used to do the thatching. Bedrooms are separated by woven sticks attached to
poles within the hut. The huts are made strong because in the past their
skeleton could be moved whenever ancestors shifted to new grazing areas.
Another platform called orugyegye is used to keep the milk pots from the
ground. A small platform is raised in front of the door way of the bedrooms, on
which a small skin is spread. This one is meant for the seat of the wife, where
she sits to receive the milk.
The huts are built of earthen materials, wood reinforced with wooden poles. The
roof is thatched of spear grass (Imperata cylindirca), which is bound onto
woodwork of poles in a conical shape. Right outside the entrance, two reed
pillars adjoin the roof to the veranda, consequently forming a mild arch-like
shape. The exterior is lavished with plain earth colours all through. In the
interior, it is separated by an earth partition to form a sitting room and
the hut is built of straw roof draped to the ground, concealing every bit of
the hut, the front façade reveals the reed work. The threshold is carefully
trimmed into an arch like a blond haircut. Between the arched roof and the
actual entrance is a small veranda that is set off by two reed-laden walls. The
interior is divided into two portions using a reed wall. Another distinct
feature is fact that there is no mud wall in sight; the roof continues to the
ground, creating an impression that the hut is made of fibre materials only.
The house takes the shape of a bee hive with an apex at the top known as
The apex varies in height depending on the status of the owner; in the past,
the greatest house in the land was the king’s court’s, which had a spear at the
pinnacle. The part of the frame of the roof which was finished that night was
raised on the three poles to such a height that goats and dogs could not reach.
The house is divided into two almost equal portions by a reed wall, and it is
impossible to see through from one room to the other. In the second room is the
bed of the owner and his wife.
Peasants had to build their huts themselves, though at times one would call
his friends to give a helping hand. His first task was to make materials
available by utting poles and making ropes from papyrus stems, locally known as
impotore. Alternative materials included palm leaves or banana fibres.
The architectural design is distinct on two main features: the roof and the
details on the wall. Firstly, the walls are characterised by in-built columns,
which are spaced out between each other. The rectangular columns form
partitions that are meant for decorative detail rather than buttresses.
The hut is round with a small passage by the entrance. At the centre of the hut
is a dugout fireplace where a permanent fire burns – sometimes for a lifetime!
The roof is made of grass with some tier around it. Because Karamoja is windy,
there are poles put around the hut on the outside to hold it firmly.