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The Traditional Homes Of The Muthuvan Tribe Face An Uncertain Future

Study, grow up, work, earn well, have a comfortable life, have someone to spend the bittersweet moments of life with, have a family, grow old —this is the normalized way of life which can be settling for some and unsettling for others. In between all this, some people get the intense urge to run away from crowds, from the city to an isolated, forested land. A wild fantasy for the average overworked city dweller, for sure! But talk about the ones who spend their entire lives in such places, and one might immediately think of the various layers of the “development versus tradition” debate.

The Adivasis of Wariam Village are slowing inching towards modern concrete homes. What does it mean for the future of traditional dwellings?

Wariam is a Tribal village settlement of the Muthuvan Tribe, consisting of about 32 households, located in Idamalayar Reserve Forest. It falls within the Kuttampuzha Panchayat of Ernakulam District, Kerala. The village is accessed by Jeep (State dept. or resident-owned), an off-road journey which takes 4-6 hours to cover a distance of 17km, from the nearest bus stop called Blavana on the old Munnar road.

The village has lived in isolation for years which has allowed it to retain its traditional mode of sustenance. The Muthuvan of Wariam have conserved their identity and way of life, even though pressures to integrate are persistent and ever growing. They follow their customs, etiquettes and symbiotic relation with the forest to their maximum ability.

Their mode of living exudes their penchant for sustainability, especially in the way the homes are constructed. At the onset of the Wariam village valley itself one can witness these beautiful natural buildings built by their own hands. The plan of the house is generally a square or rectangle shape, with an external verandah, internal hall and kitchen. The foundation is made of round surface stones, to which wooden/bamboo posts are erected. The walls are made of split bamboo/eeta panels which can be woven to beautiful patterns and attached to the posts. Or, the posts are lined with a shutter made of split bamboo/eeta which is then filled with mud and stone. The roof is made of wooden rafters, eeta purlins to which eeta leaves are thatched. The eeta leaves can supposedly prevent one from being struck by lightning, and thus its use on the roof as thatch. The smoke from the kitchen, which is partitioned from the hall using eeta mats, provides heat to the residents, dehydrates the structure, considerably elongating the lifespan of the materials in the rainforest weather condition. The houses are built to context, with locally available materials and by the community volunteering their specific skill at the time of the construction. These structures are the finest examples of climate-responsive structures built responsibly, rooted to the surroundings. The community builds a new home every time a newlywed couple chooses their location to settle.

This practice of sustainable living is changing slowly as governmental projects and policies are creating avenues for concrete homes. Now some of the residents of the village are opting for homes made with brick and cement.

Ambitions, dreams are words that we look at when we think of giving meaning to our lives. Dreams to make the future look like a fairytale of our liking and ambition to make dreams look achievable. It is no different for the Muthuvan of Wariam. A change in landscape is ongoing in Wariam as development takes over. To be or to change is a question that only the Muthuvans can answer for themselves.

About the author: Akash is an Architect, Eco-Natural Builder, Educator, and Researcher. He has spent time researching the homes of the Muthuvam Tribe on which this article is based. Currently he is an Architect at Uravu Studio, a multidisciplinary design-awareness collective, which functions with the intent to explore the possibilities of responsible and responsive living, through design. He is also a Tenure Faculty at Dayananda Sagar College of Architecture


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