African vernacular architecture

Documentation for Preservation- creating a data base for the preservation of African Vernacular Architecture

Day 15 of documenting Malawi vernacular architecture.  We are officially in the North… the weather is much cooler and the scenery has changed dramatically.  Graineries are not as prevalent in this area as in others.  One constant we are finding is the plant pictured above, They take the leaves of a certain plant… cut them in strips and use them to fasten the small roof poles to the larger ones… will have to check my notes for the plants name.

Found this structure on the road from Lilongwe to Salima. The decoration at the base is pretty interesting.  We have been asking where they get the pigment to color the plaster.  I am surprised by the number of pigments and where they are gathered from.  From the soil just right there to soil from a riverbank… soil from underneath the mountain. The additives were… charcoal… burnt brick… batteries… the seeds from a  pod on a certain tree… ashes… and many more.  This is the end of day 14 research… and it was a long one.

Day 13 of documenting Malawi vernacular architecture.  Staying in Salima tonite.  We documented from Lilongwe east to Salima.  This picture is the top of a thatch structure. the rings are grass woven into what is a horizontal bundle.  We saw these bundle being used as mini beams supporting thatch.

Currently in Lilongwe… just finished off central area.  Will head to Selema tomorrow and then straight north.  The one big difference (besides numerous small ones) between the central and the north was the use of rammed earth in the central area.  We did not see any in the southern area.  We did see burnt brick everywhere… so it was encouraging to see the rammed earth. It is sad to see how much wood is being used. 

Day 10 of research and that means it is 1/2 done.  This was a man making mud bricks which later will be burned in a kiln. This was taken outside of Kusungu.  We travel for 8- 10 hours in a car… waiting till I see something of interest… get out… make our introductions… explain the project… take the pictures… ask questions… it is a process!

Day 9 into documenting Malawi vernacular architecture.  We are seeing and documenting… with pics and videos… some great stuff.  Noticing the little variations as we travel along… windows, verandahs, colors, types of thatch.  Have 3 days remaining in central and then off to the north.  I hope that my internet issues are better now… so I think that I can post more often.

5 days into the documentation…  things are going fairly well. Few setbacks but overall amazing.  Have not been updating as much as I would like… we are in the car for 9 or 10 hours… and at the end of the day turning on the computer is not the first option.  I will try to get better though. This is a house that has a new roof and is ready to be thatched.

1st stage of research is focused in southern Malawi.  Have seen many graineries… this is just a typical example of one. Have only gone off the beaten path a little. I am seeing a lot of very thin metal roofs replacing thatch ones.

I am in Malawi and starting the documentation of Malawi vernacular architecture tomorrow.  My connection to the internet has been extremely poor and that is the reason for my lack of blogs.  But I think that I have it figured out.  I was able to document a little in Swaziland but without a vehicle it was a difficult task to say the least.

Rants and Raves (1)  Well… I am in Swaziland.  I always wanted to go and it is an incredible country.  This trip so far has had it’s share of ups and downs and I would like to share them.


The downs.


My checked bag has still not been found!! I did not need it for my trip to Swaziland… though I did have to buy a jumper and a pair of jeans. I last talked to the airline 2 days ago.  I said something about the lost bag and he said it was not “lost”.  I replied that it was not ‘found” as yet so it has to be lost.  Anyways… I have till the 1st to find it because there are some items that I really need for Malawi.


Phone service is not cheap… especially calling the States. There are no contracts here.. you just pay as you go along.  It is a crazy thing to observe of how you buy minutes.. plug them into your phone.  You can even share minutes.


Internet has been very spotty.  In one of my Air B&B places there was internet… but it was hooked to the hosts computer.  She left one afternoon and being idle it shut off.  So for 5 hours I was unable to go online.  In my current place.. a backpackers lodge outside of baubuna.. you pay for minutes ($3 for 100 minutes) and it has been kinda spotty.


Transport.  If you do not have transport it is either expensive to get cabs as it was in Joburg or time consuming for a khumbis in Swazi. An African taxi (khumbi) is a mini-bus that has people packed like sardines.. but it is cheap.  I was warned not to take them in Joburg so I did not.  Today I waited 20 minutes for one to stop outside the backpackers lodge… really not that long of a wait in the whole scheme of things.


So really… that is the worst of it.  Next blog I will talk about the positives which there has been many!