The Magic of Mudbrick

Text: Garry Benson

Namaste - mud brick home

Image 1: Namaste – mud brick home

I built my own mudbrick house 20 years ago on 10 acres and as an artist have added mosaics, sculpture & murals. I’ve also delighted the Welcome Swallows & Paper Wasps who build their nests with gunk from the mud walls. But why mudbrick? I was inspired by two events – reading the large format book ‘Shelter’ and my trip to West Africa in the 1970s…

In the south of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, near the border with Ghana lies a small, circular village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiébélé.

Kessena-People

Image 2: Kessena People ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

 

This is home of the Kassena people, one of the oldest ethnic groups that had settled in the territory of Burkina Faso in the 15th century. Tiébélé is known for their amazing traditional Gourounsi architecture and elaborately decorated walls of their homes.

Image 3: Mural ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Image 3: Mural ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Burkina Faso is a poor country, even by West African standards, and possibly the poorest in the world. But they are culturally rich, and decorating the walls of their buildings is an important part of their culture as a very ancient practice that dates from the sixteenth century AD.

Image 4: Kessena People ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Image 4: Kessena People ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

The Kassena people build their houses entirely of local materials: earth, wood and straw. Soil mixed with straw and cow dung is moistened to a state of perfect plasticity, to shape almost vertical surfaces.

Image 5: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Image 5: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Today this technique is replaced by the use of mud brick moulding walls with foundations resting on large stone. Tiébélé’s houses are built with defense in mind, whether that be against the climate or potential enemies.

Image 6: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Image 6: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Walls are over a foot thick and the homes are designed without windows except for a small opening or two to let just enough light in to see. Front doors are only about two feet tall, which keeps the sun out and makes enemies difficult to strike. Roofs are protected with wood ladders that are easily retracted and the local beer (dolo) is brewed at home.

After construction, the woman makes murals on the walls using colored mud and white chalk. The motifs and symbols are either taken from everyday life, or from religion and belief. The finished wall is then carefully burnished with stones, each colour burnished separately so that the colours don’t blur together.

Image 7: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Image 7: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Finally, the entire surface is coated with a natural varnish made by boiling pods of néré, the African locust bean tree. The designs also serve to protect the walls themselves.

 

Image 8: The Great Mosque of Djénné ©2012 Meyoko Illustrations

Image 8: The Great Mosque of Djénné ©2012 Meyoko Illustrations

There are many examples of mud brick construction in Africa, most notably The Great Mosque of Djénné, a large banco or adobe building that is considered by many architects to be one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style.

Image credits
Image 1 © 2014 Garry Benson, Dragon Design
Images 2-7 © 1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Image 8 © 2012 Meyoko Illustrations

 

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About

Tracey M Benson is a lover of travel, having a diverse background as an artist, writer and researcher. Working with online environments since 1994, Tracey's experience includes providing digital media, web and social media solutions to government, non-profit, private industry and tertiary sectors. Tracey has made many contributions to TripAdvisor and is now concentrating on writing about her love of travel and many adventures.

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Posted in Activities, Travel
One comment on “The Magic of Mudbrick
  1. bytetime says:

    Reblogged this on Geokult and commented:

    New post from Garry Benson on Geokult Travel

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