National Geographic : 1973 Jan
by some sixty of the drab rectangular houses common to Ethiopian towns (pages 136-7). Constructed of eucalyptus and bamboo poles, plastered with mud, and roofed with corruga ted metal sheeting, they represent the pin nacle of sophistication in local eyes. I moved into one of these temporarily and puzzled my Dorze neighbors when I told them I would prefer to live in one of their traditional dwell ings. Unique to this area, such houses are literally woven from bamboo. Once settled, I scouted for suitable land. Soon I found a marvelous hilltop site over looking the marketplace. The owner agreed to let me build there, as long as the house, which might last fifty years, became his prop erty upon my departure. The bargain was struck. For advice, I turned to one of my first Dorze friends, Ketemma Kafe, a merchant. "You need a reliable builder, of course," he said. "The best is Dengo." But even the best builder inspires a healthy skepticism in the Dorze soul. Prodded by my new friends, I led Dengo to the police station where we signed our contract; one clause in it provided for his imprisonment if the house remained uncompleted by a certain date. I had occasion to be grateful for that harsh but necessary condition. Dengo and his apprentice, Zage, members of a neighboring tribe, began work in early July. For three days they cut bamboo in a nearby grove. They split the stems and planted tall stakes three feet into the ground in a 24-foot-diameter circle. Then they began to weave long strands of bamboo on these uprights, creating a structure resembling an inverted basket. I asked Dengo-whose skill was equaled only by his impatience-to be sure to leave room for windows. "Windows!" he exploded derisively. "I can't make windows! If I cut out holes, the rain will enter." For the Dorze, the light from a single door suffices, but I would have countless notebooks to study and transcribe. "Surely you can find a way," I pleaded. And the ingenious Dengo did, by weaving four projecting "noses" over the holes, like the ones that protect the door ways of Dorze houses (below). Thus did he keep out the rain while allowing light to enter.