The Dorze are a people living in the Gamo Highlands of Southern Ethiopia, they are famous for the shape of their huts, that recall the structure of a beehive and the face of an elephant.
The typical compound of a Dorze family consists of 3 huts, a main hut in the center and two smaller huts on the sides, the Dorze huts are built using only natural materials such as wood, bamboo and enset leaves; around the huts there is a garden where coffee and cotton are grown, there are also numerous false banana plants, the enset.
The main hut has considerable dimensions, on average the height of these huts ranges from 9 to 12 meters, the supporting structure is made of bamboo wood on which are placed the panels of woven bamboo and enset leaves, also finely woven , these make the hut water resistant.
The shape of the Dorze hut resembles the face of an elephant, these animals lived in these lands centuries ago, before moving to Kenya; the hut has two holes in the upper part for ventilation that look like two eyes, and an entrance that protrudes from the rest of the structure that looks like the nose of the pachyderm.
These huts can be attacked by termites or ants that feed on these materials, damaging the lower part of the hut; when it happens the house goes down gradually.
To respond to the attack of ants and termites the Dorze act in two ways: they modify the entrance of the house that, progressively goes down along with the house, or they move the hut to another place safe from termites and ants; these huts are real mobile homes.
The structure of the hut is liftable and transportable but it is not a simple operation, twenty men are needed inside the hut and another 40 outside who, with the help of wooden poles, that are placed under the house, raise the whole structure and move it to another place.
Whenever the house is attacked and moved it loses inches in height, the damaged parts are in fact cut, the risk is that the opening of the door will become increasingly lower over the years, to this the Dorze have found an ingenious solution: the protrusion on the front of the hut, where the entrance is located, is built so that it can be cut to bring the entrance back to its original dimensions.
Despite the remarkable height of a Dorze hut, inside there are no central support poles, the bamboo structure is in fact strong enough to support the entire structure.
Inside the hut resembles the structure of an overturned vase and is divided into sections, separated by panels also made of bamboo; there is a sleeping area, with beds to accommodate the family, a central area with fire, where you can meet for dinner and talk in the evening, an area dedicated to storing agricultural tools and food supplies and where beer and local grappa are produced and finally an area where the animals are kept.
At 2,600 meters height the nights can be particularly cold and the animals inside the hut are a useful way to heat the air; a small window allows to throw the dung outside the house.
The smaller side huts, always made of bamboo, are used as a kitchen and as a "honeymoon suite"; in fact a new couple who gets married needs at least three months of work to build the main hut of their new compound, during that time they live in a smaller hut that will later be used to host relatives or visiting friends.
Although the structure may seem fragile at first sight, these huts can withstand over 50 years, but every 15 or 20 years it is necessary to replace the external structure that is impregnated with smoke and is more subject to atmospheric agents.
The garden around the huts is where the Dorze grow coffee, cotton and above all the false banana, called enset.
At first sight the enset seems a common banana but it is different because it does not produce fruit, hence the name of false banana; this plant is widely used by the Ethiopian populations who derive from it the building materials and a flour with which they cook some kind of focaccia.
The leaves of the false banana are used to make the roofs of the huts, they are also used to wrap the food to be cooked on the fire, the sheaths and the roots of the plants are instead subjected to a more laborious processing.
The large sheaths of the leaves are cut, the pulp is removed, scraping with a special tool; the pulp obtained is wrapped in a leaf and placed underground to ferment for a long period, usually 2 months, after this period the pulp is used as a flour with which buns or wraps are made to eat with honey and a chili pepper paste.
The filaments that are found in the sheaths, and that remain after having removed the pulp, are not discarded but are put to dry; from these they obtain very resistant ropes.
The enset is a precious food in periods of famine, it can be stored underground for up to 10 years.
Family activities are also carried out in the garden, women spin cotton and cook the enset while men weave cotton creating high quality colored fabrics.