Movable Roofs by Unknown


HE roof is by far the most important part of the houses or huts of savages. It is the part upon which most labour is spent, and it is the part which is taken most care of when the whole house is finished. Many huts are, in fact, little more than a roof borne up by a few posts. A native house in Samoa is simply a great dome-shaped roof resting upon a ring of posts which are only about four feet high, and supported by three central posts which are as much as twenty-five feet high. When seen from a distance the house looks like an enormous mushroom just rising from the ground.

The making of the roof is the great task in building one of these houses, and the Samoans think so much of their roofs that in times of war they have been known to take them off their posts, and carry them away to some place which was safe from attack. The roofs are very large, but they are so constructed that they can be taken down in three or four pieces, and each of these may be placed upon a raft made of canoes, and carried away by sea.

Although it would perhaps be difficult to find movable roofs so large as these in other countries, there are many houses in Africa which are constructed in a similar way, and are little more than roofs resting upon a few posts, from which they can be easily removed. Dr. Livingstone saw a great many of them in the heart of Africa, and the villagers, with whom he and his men stayed for the night, frequently took off the roofs of their huts, and lent them to the travellers. As soon as the natives learned where Livingstone had decided to encamp, they lifted off the roofs of some of their huts and brought them to him. Livingstone's men propped up the roofs with a number of small posts, and the houses were made. The roofs kept off the rain, and in that warm country no other shelter was needed. On one occasion it rained so heavily that the water flowed in along the ground, and flooded the travellers' beds. To prevent such an accident occurring again, Livingstone made his men in future dig a trench round the hut, and throw the earth inwards to raise the ground under the roof. By this means the rain-water was caught in the trench, and the beds lay high and dry upon the raised floor of the hut. When the travellers moved onward to another village, they left the roofs just as they were, and the villagers put them back in their proper places at their leisure. The roofs were always lent by the natives without any expectation of receiving payment for their use, though I have no doubt that the noble-minded missionary never forgot to reward them.

"A Madi village being removed."

"A Madi village being removed."

When Speke, a traveller who discovered one of the sources of the Nile, was returning homeward, and passing through the country of the Madi, near the head of the Albert Nyanza, he saw similar huts to those which I have just described. In one of his books there is an amusing picture of a Madi village removing. The greatest burden is a conical roof, which four men are carrying on their heads. Other men and women are carrying a few sticks or baskets, but the all-important thing is the roof. These roofs are easily lifted from their posts, and Speke once saw a number of Turkish traders take off the roofs of a village without permission, and carry them off to make a camp for themselves.