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Beehive house of Nicobaris

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

The sight of a beehive hut of the Nicobarese people might even shock us who are used to the haphazard high-rise 

residential towers that clutter our ugly towns and uglier cities. Called ‘pati’, meaning ‘house’ in Nicobari language, this is their most valued traditional type of house.

While Pati is generally described as a beehive type hut, some would say it resembles an inverted war helmet but I would prefer to describe it as a huge halved egg with legs! Though it might look simple, it is costlier and complicated to construct; in addition, the pati also needs constant upkeep. But if maintained well, it serves for even up to 30 years. The other traditional house, the wagon-type, is also on stilts but rectangular in shape; this is called ‘taliko’, meaning hut, and is lower in rank to pati.  Whereas pati is the main living house, taliko is meant for cooking purpose. But nowadays even the main house is constructed in this style. As time progressed, they have this in the slightly modern version of wood walls and tin roof on stilts and, finally, modern brick & mortar pucca houses without stilts and on the ground itself.

Since olden days the Nicobaris have exhibited an amazing skill for constructing houses with simple local resources. In the construction of the beehive hut no modern material is generally used; hence it is 100% an indigenous structure. Make in Nicobar! Planks from trees, various parts of the abundant coconut tree, bamboo, rattan and ‘afov’ / ‘bhent’ grass are used in putting up the pati. In the construction of traditional huts the usage of metal nails and bolts are avoided as they could easily rust due to high humidity, rain for six months, and salty winds prevailing there. As in any society, a good house is not only an asset but is also a status symbol even among the Nicobarese. Therefore, they meticulously build their houses for a perfect finish.

The height of the stilts depends on the liking of the family and the purpose the space below would be put to use. The space beneath is used as a lounge during day time, as parking area for cycles, shelter for their pet dogs and the pigs & fowls they rear and for drying their clothes during rainy season. If closer to the coast, their outriggered-boat ‘odie’ is also sheltered here. A swing for leisure and pleasure is an added attraction. A ladder or a notched pole leads up to the trap door on the pati floor. Such traditional echo-friendly houses have proved to be earthquake resistant also besides being suitable in the hot & humid tropical climate of the Islands. Exhaust hole is also provided in the roof.

Each house is given a name, generally by the other people of the village; it could relate to the head of the family or any member, like nickname, special habits, expertise, etc. While ‘pati’ is the house where the Nicobaris are brought up, they are born in ‘pati yong nyio’, the common birth house, and breathe their last in the communal house called ‘elpanam’.

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