Earthen-wall houses of the Pu Peo

The earthen-wall house is typical of ethnic groups in the mountainous province of Ha Giang, including the Pu Peo. The Pu Peo believe that the success or failure of a family depends greatly on the land and the house they occupy.

So choosing land and building a house is an important process that consists of several steps. It’s the custom of the Pu Peo to choose small valleys in deep forests to build houses, and form hamlets.

The natural conditions are suitable for them to grow wet rice, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and keep bees for honey. To choose suitable land, the head of the family puts some grains of rice in a small hole and covers them with a bowl.

After 3 days he lifts the bowl. If the grains remain there, it’s a good place to live.

Lu Pa Sau is a Pu Peo man who lives in Dong Van district, Ha Giang province. He said, “We build the main pillar first, then the frame, then the earthen walls. We choose yellow soil because it makes the walls firm. Walls made from black soil are easy to break. The wall frame is made of bamboo strips. It takes us 15 days to finish building a house.”

Old Pu Peo people say that in the past they lived in wooden thatch houses like other tribes. But they had to chop down too many trees in the forests, which are the source of life. So they decided to build earthen houses with a grass roof.

Luu San Van, a researcher of ethnic groups in Ha Giang province, noted, “A house usually has 3 rooms and 2 roofs made of grass. Now they sometimes use tiles. Some better-off families build 4 rooms. The right wing is the kitchen, which has a stove and a worship stove facing the sunrise direction. The kitchen is an important place in the house and they worship in the kitchen during the house-warming ceremony.”

The house’s foundation is made of stone. Van added, “We use clay because it’s smooth and firm. We mix it with small rocks to make walls. Earthen houses can last hundreds of years.”

It usually takes 7 strong men to build a house. 4 men gather clay. One smashes the clay to make it soft and smooth. And two men construct the walls. A house 5.5 meters tall should have walls 50 centimeters thick. If the house is taller, the walls should be thicker.

Van stressed, “We use 3 wooden plates to make a frame. After finishing the foundation, we put the frame on it and pour the clay mixture into the frame. The harder we ram down the clay, the stronger the wall. We rub the surface to keep rain water from leaking in.”

A house has one main door into the central room and 5 small windows above it. They add a garret for storing corn, rice, and dried meat. The garret serves as a sleeping room for guests.

Before moving into a new house, the Pu Peo worship their ancestors and genies of the forests, land, and kitchen. All preparations must be finished in the early morning. After that relatives and neighbors come to attend a house-warming ceremony. They bring to the party chickens, wine, pork, and money and pray for the family’s health, good luck, and prosperity. 

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