High in the Rift Valley Mountains in Southern Ethiopia, the Dorze people have developed a technique of splitting and weaving bamboo. They use it to make fences and baskets, coat it with clay to make storage pots, even make bee hives out of it, but most importantly, they make whole houses from it. Even the scaffolding and the ladders are made from bamboo?
It takes a lot of preparation, the bamboo is not used in the round, as for many Malaysian houses, but split, flattened out, and then the pith is removed. This makes the pieces flexible enough to be woven between uprights, set into the ground and then gradually added to as the height rises. Eventually the builder will start to pull the pieces in and weave rings of decreasing size until they are finally closed with a crown, woven separately on the ground.
Cheaper houses are then thatched with wheat or barley straw, but the best are covered with bamboo sheaths, the base of the leaves that crows around the culm. There is a myth, propogated by local tour guides, that they are covered with banana leaves, for a variety of banana is ideed grown locally. It does not friut but a bread can be made from the fermented pulp from the leaf ribs, but it is not durable enough to cover a house. However the bamboo leaf sheathes can last 10-20 years.
The houses are over seven metres high, and this allows for the gradual shrinkage, for rot and termites eat away at the base of the house, and it will typically lose some 2 to 5 centimetres in a year (see picture below). The main doorway between the porch and the house is very tall for the same reason, although the door into the porch is simply re-woven every few years.
The houses are made by specialist builders, exclusively male, and it takes three or four craftsmen around two weeks to build a 5-6m diameter house. Usually the house owner will help out, cutting bamboo and carrying materials in order to reduce cost. Once finished, the house will be subdivided with chambers for sleeping, and frequently around a third will be given over to a cow and chickens.
Like much traditional African architecture, the houses are becoming increasingly rare as people prefer now to move into rectangular earth-walled buildings with tin roofs.