Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sakais´ huts and territoriality: the hut as dwelling, refuge and sepulchre

I´ve found an old book on line, at project, called ¨My Friends the Savages. Notes and Observations of a Perak settler (Malay Peninsula)¨, written by Giovanni Battista Cerruti (1908). It was interesting for me to read that this tribe had three three types of huts: on the trees in plain ground, on the ground in the hills, and on the trees but specially built for those who were badly sick.
Let us see how Cerruti describes them:

From chapter XI
The hut (dop) of the Elder is the centre around which all the others are erected.
To defend themselves against wild beasts and other animals, as well as against the humidity of marshy ground, the Sakais of the plain often build their huts either up a tree or suspended between stout poles.
But on the hills there is no necessity to do this and the rude habitation is constructed on the ground with green branches and leaves, the roof and walls being of such poor consistency that they do not afford the very least protection. Wild beasts, as a rule, never venture into open spaces and besides are kept afar by the glare of the fires but the inclemency of the climate on those heights would render a more substantial residence desirable for comfort.
There is no furniture or other sort of household goods in the Sakai's dop. His bed consists of dry leaves and the same bark they use for their waist-cloths, strewn upon the ground. Some of them possess a coverlet, worth only a few pence, but for which the poor creatures have paid its weight in gold by means of articles given in exchange. The majority have not even this.
The hearth is placed in the middle of the hut and is made of four pieces of wood surrounding and closing in a heap of earth.
Three stones placed upon this serve to sustain the cooking-pot.
As I have said, they have no tables, chairs, stools or cupboards, and also the inventory of their kitchen utensils is very short: one or two earthen-ware pots (when they have not these they use bamboo canes for cooking), a couple of roughly-made knives, a few basins composed of cocoanut shells, and some bamboo receptacles which officiate as bucket, bottle and glass. The ladle with which they distribute their food is also of cocoanut shell.
Their plates are... banana or other leaves, adapted for the purpose, that are thrown away after they have finished eating.
At the top of the hut are hung the blow-pipes, and well-filled quivers. They are kept there for a little heat to reach them, this being considered essential to the efficacy of the poisons.
But, if a person is ill, the malady is a serious one, and the sourcerer cannot find a cure, a kind of territoriality is developed among the members of the tribe, isolating the unfortunate person; in the worst of cases, the hut built for him/her could be his/her own sepulchre.
From chapter XIV
if the malady is a serious one this cure fails, a sure proof that the spirit is one of the most dreaded class and must therefore be heroically fought by means of the chintok, as follows.
The village in which the afflicted person lives is closed in by numerous traps, and planted all round with poisoned arrows so that nobody can come near, even if someone were to succeed in crossing that original cordon sanitaire without any fatal consequence he would most certainly be killed inside it as it is feared that another evil spirit may be imported by an outsider, in aid of the one they are trying to get rid of.
Over the body of the infirm they form a canopy of medicinal herbs; the Alà and the company present paint themselves in the most horrible manner possible and as soon as it is quite dark (any sort of light is absolutely forbidden) they dispose themselves around the invalid and begin to madly beat their big bamboo canes. Their frenzy and the noise they make cannot be described; it makes one shudder, and the sound can be heard several miles off.
But it is intended to heal the poor wretch in the middle who, if he does not succumb to the violence of his disease, has a good chance of dying from the torture endured.
The diabolical concert lasts until the garrulous harbingers of the sun announce the dawn but is repeated after sunset for seven days during which period only the men are permitted to go into the forest in search of food.
If on the seventh day the patient is still alive he is left in peace unless a relapse should render another night of music necessary, and if he dies it is believed that the malignant spirit would not depart without taking the soul of his victim with him.
The most frequent illnesses to which the Sakais are subject are rheumatic complaints and very heavy colds which not rarely turn into severe bronchial and pulmonary ailments. Both are due to the cold at night against which they take no pains at all to protect themselves. Their huts shelter them from the rain but not from the air.
Some contagious skin diseases are also prevalent amongst them.
Directly somebody is seized with this malady a tree is selected at some distance from the settlement up which a little bower is hurriedly made and the person attacked is placed there and left with a little food at hand. Next day the relatives go to see if he or she is living and call out their demands, in a loud voice, a long way off. If there is a movement or an answer they go nearer and throw up some food but if there is no sign of life they hasten back and leave the corpse to decompose in the bower that now serves as a sepulchre.

All pictures are in the book and published by Project

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