Letter | Published:

Double-Storied Houses and Concave Roofs


IN your issue of January 31 I notice a review of Mr. Im Thurn's book on the Indians of Guiana, in which attention is called to the manner in which a pile dwelling may be converted into a two-storied house, and Prof. Moseley's suggestion that the Swiss chálet did so originate is quoted, the general impression intended being apparently that this, in the majority of cases, is the origin of a double-storied dwelling. Now in that portion of the Himalayas lying south of the snowy range, to which my personal experience is confined, double-storied houses are almost universal, the lower story being used as a cattle-shed, the upper as a dwelling; at the level of the floor a platform is carried out from the building on one side at least, usually on three, or, if the house stands clear of the hillside, on all four sides. The only means of access to this platform and the upper story is by a ladder or flight of steps—it is difficult to say which it should be called—but it consists of the trunk of a tree split in half on the flat surface of which a series of notches are cut to give foothold; this is placed in a sloping position leading to the outside edge of the platform, or if, as is often the case, the platform is inclosed by boarding, through a hole in the floor. It will be seen that this is a principle of construction such as might easily have descended from a pile dwelling, and yet I cannot believe that this is the case; my reasons are: (1) there are no lakes in the Himalayas in which the habit of building on piles could have been acquired; (2) the houses are built of dry stone, strengthened at intervals by timber frames, these frames being without exception horizontal, and built into the wall in courses, such a thing as a vertical post being unknown) while had the style of structure descended from a pile dwelling, some trace of the piles would probably have remained, and the house been built on vertical posts whose interstices were filled in with stone, &c.; (3) though two stories are the rule, it is by no means a universal rule: the temples are frequently three, and occasionally four and even five stories high, while those of the natives who are rich enough to afford it build three-storied houses, the ground-floor being used for the cattle, the intermediate one as a storeroom, and the upper one as the dwelling. On the other hand, the Kolis or Koltas, an aboriginal race who are as a rule the servants, or practically slaves, of the so-called Brahmin and Rajput landowners, generally inhabit a single-storied cabin, but where these Kolis themselves own land and cattle, they, too, have doublestoried houses. The true origin of this style of building lies, I fancy, in the fact that stone or wooden slabs are practically the only available roofing material, and the preparing and collecting these, not to mention the timbers required, forms a very serious part of the labour involved in building a house, and it is consequently an advantage to make one roof cover both the cattle and their owner rather than to undertake the labour and expense involved in two separate roofs.

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