What defines a home?

Antonia Dixon

In 2010 I lived in a small village on the coast of Mozambique called Vilanculos. The village had been torn apart by a cyclone in 2007 and what little the locals had to call a home had been flattened. It was deeply saddening to see this vulnerability and lack of shelter, but equally heart-warming to witness the support and high-spirited buzz among the community.

During my time there I was predominantly teaching the primary children, working on construction of the area and helping to run the orphanage.

One particular project while I was there has resonated with me.

In an effort to re-home as many families as possible who were victims of the cyclone, we used the basic design of a Kiniso hut and located materials that would allow us to build safe and sturdy structures while also turning over houses very quickly.

The design of this structure consisted of purely natural materials and each house would take an average of 7 days to complete.

A visitor came to my school and told me of a grandmother who was living in extremely poor conditions. I could not have predicted the extent of this until I saw it. Margarita had dug a hole in the ground and covered it in sheets, bags, buckets mixed with rubbish and decaying food. A clear memory from my visit was a rat scuttling across my feet as I walked around the site.

Picture 1a

Needless to say we agreed to start work imminently.

The process of building a Kiniso home is as follows:

  • Primarily, dig foundation holes with the tools available, in this case, a machete.

Picture 2

  • The external poles used from Wild Bauhinia trees are measured to roughly 8-feet tall and then carved and secured into the foundation holes.
  • Bamboo, which holds a natural bend, is weaved around the poles and secured with strips of Natal Fig bark.
  • This is repeated until an entire wall is formed around the exterior circular frame.

Picture 4

  • Gradually, reeds are thread and tightly packed between the bamboo poles until they are completely wind and water resistant. These materials are light and easily maintained.
  • The roof consists of 20-30 long, thin branches positioned in a cone shape from a single point at the top of the roof downwards. These branches are secured into place with bamboo wire and strips of Natal Fig bark.
  • In a similar process to the structure of the wall, bamboo is weaved around the branches, secured and repeated at four different levels of the roof.
  • The skeletal frame of the roof is then lifted onto the hut and secured around the circular edge with bamboo wire, ready for thatching.
  • Packed thatching is then layered around the cone shaped roof, beginning at the bottom edge and gradually progressing to the top.
  • Finally cement is laid to secure a dry, concrete surface in the interior of Margarita’s home.

Delivering and fitting the door was a surreal and humbling experience; I witnessed a person who had never owned a door come to the realisation that it belonged to her. I was struck by the contrast of value seen in a door. A cherished possession in one culture, and a material that is perhaps overlooked in another, just a utility to get from A to B.

We burned the pile that had been her ‘home’ for so many years in celebration of a new beginning and gave her the key to her padlocked door.

Picture 4

A memory I will never forget is how her face shone at me with gratitude, tears and sheer disbelief that we had given her esperanca (hope) and something that she could now call her home with pride and conviction.