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Matjieshuis, a true Nama art

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Ideal for the nomadic Nama life of the past, the matjieshuis is still part of the Richtersvelders’ lives today. In fact, this is the last place where we can still find them in significant numbers - a testimony to their suitability to the harsh climate, as well as to the strength of cultural traditions in this remote mountain desert. In today’s villages in the Richtersveld, matjieshuise are used for storage, cooking, as an additional place to sleep, or even to provide accommodation for the more curious tourists.

These huts, called  haru oms in Nama language, are made of beautifully woven reed mats in a beehive shape. It really is a dwelling for all seasons - cool and well ventilated in the hot summer, naturally insulated by the grass mats in winter, and protected from the rain by the porous stalks that swell up with the water. Because all materials are organic and not over-harvested, this is a dwelling that respects the environment. Women and men participate in harvesting the materials, preparing the mats, and assembling the hut, in a careful and meticulous process that has remained a true Nama art.

Online video

See an online video clip of a matjieshuis being built.

Photos

image image1) Women prepare the mats. The reeds are harvested, dried in the sun, cut to the right length, and weaved into mats using hand-made rope.


image2) The men collect tamarisk branches at the river, clear them of thorns, tan them over a fire, and bend them into the required shape.


image 3) The hut is then assembled. The poles are inserted into holes on the ground forming a circular base, and fastened together in a beehive shape. The mats are draped over and fastened to the frame.