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House construction in Dizhengdang

Made of pine lumber, houses in Northern Dulongjiang are often quite small, and composed of a single room with a fireplace and a veranda. Like for the house on this picture, when the veranda is made big enough, half of it will be separated with boards to constitute a small sleeping room.
When all the necessary wood has been prepared, the house is constructed in only one day, and relatives and neighbours come to help. The door will always face south or east, these directions being considered as beneficial and allowing better exposure to the sun.

The joists are put on piles of stones arranged at the four corners of the house. Houses are never constructed directly on the ground; the floor is at an average height of one meter from the ground.

The last step of the construction of the house is the arranging of the shingles. This is the most common type of roofing, and only few houses are thatched due to the progressive lack of the necessary grass.

Heavy boards can replace pine logs for erecting the walls.  This necessitates large trees and more time and work, but will make the house possibly last longer, and the wall more efficient for stopping the wind and keeping the heat inside.

Ritual dough effigies (top).

At the end of the construction of the house, figurines representing different kinds of wild animals are prepared. Arranged in a container, they are placed above the fire on a carpet of pine needles to be purified before the ritual for a new house starts. The wild animals represented are those the people of the household hope to obtain during the coming year, bestowed upon them by “The Master of Game”.

Ritual for the new house.

After a first incantation, accompanied by the heavy smoke of a pine needles’ fire, the participants in the ritual (household members and/or persons who participated in the construction) climb on the roof, where ritual flags are fixed at each extremity. Bowlfulls of water as well as the figurines of wild animals (which will be eaten later) are then thrown from the roof, to give an indication of the fate of the house and its members.

Dancing and drinking

At all occasions of social rejoicing, drinking from the same cup cheek to cheek is a proof of friendship and mutual respect. Men and women form a circle around a small fire lighted for this occasion in a container and perform the dances and songs. These will last for the whole night and will be accompanied by consumption of a great quantity of fermented alcohol.

The prestige of the household

Cattle horns are hung on the front wall of the house to display one’s prestige. Cattle are a very scarce commodity and highly valued. Before the fifties, when someone had a head of cattle, he would have organized a sacrifice and distributed the meat among all of the villagers. It was an occasion of great feasting and self-promotion for the person who initiated this prestigious partaking. Sacrifices have now been prohibited, but it is still a common practice to keep the horns, and the meat is always shared with relatives and neighbors as an essential object in the network of reciprocal gifts.

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