“Matjiehuis” Nama Huts
Within the folds and valleys of the Richtersveld mountain desert you can still find traditional Nama hut building taking place. Local men and women co-labour in the construction of these huts, making use of the building skills passed down from their forefathers. These rounded structures, called !haru oms in the local language and referred to widely in Afrikaans as matjieshuisies, have a framework constructed from branches over which hand wovern reed mats are placed and secured.
The men cut and strip the branches, tanning them over a fire and then removing the bark. Bent into a curved shape, they are then pinned to the ground for a few days to set like this. Meanwhile the women hand weave the river reeds into between 20 – 40 mats per hut, which are carefully placed on the frame and tied into position.
Originally designed in keeping with Nama’s (previous) nomadic existence the hut is light in weight and easy to disassemble and then re-erect in a new location. These huts are perfect for the hot dry climate of the Northern Cape, as the mats allow in light and ventilation without being draughty and when it does rain (which is not very often in these parts), the porous stalks absorb the water and naturally swell, keeping the interior of the hut dry. In winter, in days gone by, the interior walls were lined with animal skins to insulate them.
The aesthetic beauty and natural form of the functional matjieshuis can be viewed at in the vicinity of the towns of Springbok, Steinkopf and in most of the smaller villages in the Richtersveld.
However, in some parts of Namakwa they are now constructed with an assortment of of more modern materials, such as hesian bags or bits of plastic that lack the charm that the natural materials imbue on these traditional huts.