Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura in the North East are home to over 200 tribes tracing their ethnic roots to diverse parts of Asia. Down the years the lesser and larger tribes such as Jaintias, Apatamis, Khasis, Garos, Mizos, Angami Nagas, Bodos and Kacharis have sustained their cultures and traditions. Tribal houses are representative of their way of life and the environment into which they settled.
The Apatamis living in the Ziro valley in Arunachal blend harmoniously with their environment and their houses are an extension of nature. A typical house is made of bamboo or other naturally and easily available materials. The fireplace occupies centre stage with the middle of the house serving as the kitchen and a meeting point for family members. Houses may be constructed on flat lands but it is more common to build house on sloping land to avoid flooding. The Adi tribes build houses of wood, cane, bamboo and leaves of trees with no metal being used in the construction. The house is built on wooden stilts and a wooden floor is built using grass or paddy straw. Usually a hut has no windows and there are only two doors: one in the front used by men and one at the back used by women. A large hall serves as living, cooking and sleeping quarters.
Larger houses may have different chambers for members of the family. Domestic animals may also live inside the tribal house alongside a store of firewood and tools. An Adi tribal house may have an open verandah in the front. Bamboo houses deteriorate with time and are usually rebuilt after 5 to 7 years.
Assam is home to the Bodos, Miris, Misimis, Karbi and Rajbanshi tribes, some of them of Indo-Mongolian extraction. The Mising tribes build their settlements on river banks.
A typical house may be made of bamboo or wood and is built on strong wooden stilts, a practice followed by the Deoris and Bodos. The portion below the stilts is used for livestock. A tribal house has a fireplace around which family members meet, cook and chat with areas designated for sleeping, usually along the walls.
Garos and Khasis are the dominant tribes of Meghalaya. The Garos are a hill tribe and use bamboo, cane and wood to build their houses for various purposes. A family house is termed Nokmong and it has separate areas for kitchen, toilet, sleeping and for storage as well as an adjoining cattle shed. Unmarried male youth live together in bachelor quarters termed Nokpante, usually built in the court yard of the tribal head. Apart from these regular houses the Garos also build temporary small huts in their fields and on tree tops.
The Meitis are the dominant tribe in Manipur but the State is also home to Nagas, Kukis and Rongmeis. Hill tribes and tribes living in the plains usually follow the general pattern of house architecture prevalent in the North East. Tribes that have settled, such as the Rongmeis, build houses according to their status. A common man’s house is made using bamboo, cane, wood and thatch. A house may have a verandah as a gathering place, sleeping quarters, a kitchen fireplace and outhouses for livestock. Houses are usually rectangular in shape with the front part of the house comprising of the living room being larger than the other sections. Wooden planks are used as beds in the sleeping room. Strange as it may seem, they do incorporate some principles of vaastu. The bed in the bedroom is usually on the northern side. The fireplace is in the south-east corner. The kitchen, however, has a fireplace right in the center of the room above which are racks to hang meat and fish that dry over the fire. Sometimes the kitchen also doubles as a sleeping quarter. A storehouse outside the house is used to store grains, usually built on a platform above the ground level.
The Mizos are usually settled which means they have a well organized community and houses that reflect this lifestyle. Hill tribes usually build houses on top of hills with the house of the tribal chief at the centre. The bachelor’s quarter known as Zawlbuk is located close the chief’s house and serves as the centre of activity since the youth work, learn and are trained at these centers. The Lushais are another major tribe living in Mizoram. They use wood and bamboo to build tribal houses on sloping land. The houses have wooden supports and bamboo matting is affixed to the frames and to the floor. The roof may be made of split bamboo covered by thick thatch, leaves or straw. Some houses may be built on stilts with a small ladder for access. Houses are rectangular in shape and the interior is partitioned into rooms using bamboo screens or mats, with separate sections for married and unmarried members of the family. A raised fireplace is at one corner next to the front door.
Nagaland is home to over 17 tribes, majority of them with Indo-Tibetan roots and a warlike nature. Mainly hunters and fighters, their village architecture and house construction reflect their lifestyles. Villages were usually heavily fortified. A tribal house is built on leveled earth with the interior divided into three sections. The living room in the front is large and also serves as a storehouse. The second section is divided by partition of wooden planks and it contains the fireplace build on the leveled earth. This room also serves as the bedroom. A third section at the back runs the entire length and has an entrance at the rear. Houses usually have open space at the front with seating arrangements and lookout platforms.
Tripura is home to Bhutias, Bhils, Chakma, Garo, Lepcha, Kuki, Lushai, Jamatia, Halam and Chaimals with a number of sub-sects, each with distinctive ethnic origins and lifestyles. The Halams live in houses made of bamboo and chan grass. Most of the tribes practice jhum cultivation and are nomadic, which means their houses are not made of masonry or stone but of natural wood, bamboo and thatch straw with mud walls in a simple fashion.