Traditional Kachin Houses

‘Nung houses at Nhkum ga, and girls pounding rice in the porches.’ Photograph by James Henry Green, 1926
‘Nung houses at Nhkum ga, and girls pounding rice in the porches.’ Photograph by James Henry Green, 1926

For Kachin people the house-building process was socially and culturally meaningful. Ola Hanson, author of Kachin Customs and Traditions (1913), noted that house-building was seen as a ‘communal affair’. He reported that when a person wanted to build a house he would first get the timber from the forest. When all the materials were ready he would call his neighbours and fellow villagers to help him by using drums, gongs and cymbals. Then the neighbours and villagers would come and help to build the house. When it was done, a celebration would be held.

Nowadays, this process is gradually vanishing and many Kachins (especially the younger generation) are not aware of this tradition. Moreover, when modernised houses appear as popular and ideal houses, the traditional houses fall out of favour.

‘Atsis roofing house’. Photograph by James Henry Green, 1920s
‘Atsis roofing house’. Photograph by James Henry Green, 1920s

In the 1990s Kachin elders from Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, told how a ‘Dumsa’ (an animist priest) would divine where a new house should be built. He would take soil from where the main post of the house should be placed. Historically, the Kachins built two types of houses called ‘Daw Hpum House’ and ‘Daw Gam House’ depending on the type of post used (‘daw hpum’ or ‘daw gam’). Broadly speaking, it was customary to build different types of houses for ‘magam’ (the authorities), ‘duwas’ (village chiefs) and ‘darat daroi’ (normal civilians). The classification of a house, however, depended on the governing system of a particular village.

Photographs taken in north-eastern Burma by James Henry Green in the 1920s show different types of Kachin houses in different villages. Looking at these photographs one can imagine how the process house-building was, for Kachins, culturally and socially meaningful.

‘Porch of Triangle Chief's house. Showing Madai Nat. P.R.’ Photograph by James Henry Green, 1926
‘Porch of Triangle Chief’s house. Showing Madai Nat. P.R.’ Photograph by James Henry Green, 1926

My name is Gumring and I am a member of the Kachin ethnic community of Burma. Facing many current political challenges and uncertainties, Kachinland is located in north-eastern Burma, between India and China.

I was awarded a scholarship from the James Henry Green Charitable Trust for my postgraduate studies at the University of Sussex. Currently I am working on the James Henry Green collection of photographs and textiles relating to the Kachin community in Burma. This is my first blog about this collection, which is cared for at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

One Response

  1. Japha Sisen

    Hi,
    I am from India and I belong to Sungpho tribe known as Kachin or Jingphaw in your place.I am so happy and surprise to see such old pictures of our community. I guess you know there are many Kachin people here at India too but its sad that very rare people know about our traditions and history.
    By the way my father is from ‘Dumsa’ ancestry.Glad that i saw this site.Keep doing your amazing work.

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