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Wattle-and-daub

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A diversity of construction techniques using chiefly plant material as walling is encountered in traditional buildings and is as old as human habitation. Dwellings constructed of poles, laths, reeds and clay in various combinations are typical of the endemic cultures, for instance those of the Tswana, Venda and Sotho, and are still built in our time. Wattle-and-daub was employed in the construction of temporary dwellings by the pioneer settlers but these never acquired the sophistication of their European forefathers. Since these structures are ephemeral there are no authentic examples extant. Thus the literature and pictorial records must suffice as a vehicle for interpretation although this is aided by those structures built by the indigenous peoples. Reeds and mud were a common combination.1 Sometimes laths, reed and clay were used.2 Hoffman3 relates in 1984 how he in his youth built a wattle-and-daub home in the vicinity of Lydenburg:

Knoppiesdoring [Acacia nigrescens], haakdoring [Acacia caffra], or wildesering [Burkea africana] was particularly suitable. Holes were dug approximately three metres apart and the poles planted. These were then trimmed with a horizontal beam. Laths, approximately 40 mm+, were then fixed horizontally approximately a metre apart. Between the posts were placed laths, spaansriet [Arundu donax] or fluitjiesriet [common reed] and tied with riempies [rawhide thongs] to the horizontal laths. The walls were then daubed in clay.

A similar recollection is that of HL Scott4 who describes his father building his house in the vicinity of Zeerust. Poles were planted approximately two metres apart, and laths then fixed. Fluitiesriet and spaansriet were bound in rawhide riempies soaked in water. This was plastered in a mixture of dung and soil and limewashed.

Once the first layer of plaster had been applied it was left to dry, then sometimes plastered again. As a result the walls would be quite thick. Stones were sometimes packed at the base of the wall to protect against rain. Trigardt5 describes how the base of the wall was trenched for the same reason.

  1. Cachet, 1882:422; Wangemann, 1871:359
  2. Merensky, 1875:159; Struben, 1920:27
  3. Labuschagne, 1988:139
  4. Labuschagne, 1988:140
  5. Trigardt, 1966:143

[Labuschagne, Elize. 1998. From Trekboer to Builder in Fisher, Roger C & le Roux, Schalk with Maré, Estelle (Editors). Architecture of the Transvaal. Pretoria: UNISA. pp, 26-7]