Kirat and Kinokirat
The Kirat is the basic residential unit in Pitiland. In English, it is called a «compound », a large bounded housing unit consisting of several buildings with two or more homes occupied by family members.
In Abisi, people sharing the same house are members of the Kinokirat, “those of the house” In this picture, taken looking down from Abisi Hill, we see the basic structure of a Kirat. There are no fences around it and intimacy is protected by the disposition of the buildings oriented towards the inside. A path leads to the entrance (/kinu/: mouth).
The central place of the Kirat includes one or two large granaries, a fireplace (/ibↄzↄ/, where people gather to talk in the evening sometimes, while cooking potatoes) and drying racks. Around this place, some smaller grain stores stand near rooms /ade/ where /upok/ married women live.
All married men have to sleep in turn into one of their wives’ room, not having one for themselves even though some men now have a private room. Small children less than 6 years old and unmarried daughters sleep in the same hut as their mother; older boys have a particular collective sleeping room.
Other auxiliary buildings serve as shelters for goats (/ude iwun or udoŋga/ : hut for goats), stable ( /ude ibarka/: horse hut), and cooking place for the rainy season/udonto/. Some also have a pig pen (/edu udwa/ : hut for-pigs) located behind the house.
These are small round and low huts overlooking a fenced area. There is no specific poultry; hens hide in broken pots placed under granaries. There is no latrine; on can piss behind the huts or defecates in the fields near the house.
The Kirat architecture varies according to the topography and the organization of the kinokirat On rocky sites, the distribution of the buildings is irregular and some families will be somewhat separated from each other.
In the flat plain, the abundance of space and the regularity of the land allow for either an arrangement of groups of rooms around a central place if the household is centralized i.e. under the rule of one house head or, in the decentralized households, smaller circular sections opening on the side to an adjacent section, in general the house of the elder of the extended group.
Sometimes, these sections may be up to ten meters away from the main body of the house.
Building a new house
The construction of a new Kirat begins with the choice of a site preferably at the end of October. This site must be flat, high enough to facilitate drainage, in the vicinity of a permanent source of drinking water and not too far from the material used in construction. The construction work begins at the end of the rains when water is abundant and the sun is hot enough to dry the material.
The central granary is built first so that the new crops may be immediately stored and protected. The first day, the site is cleaned and large flat stones are laid down in a circle, some larger ones standing up to support the basis of the granary so that it will keep dry and mouses out.
The next day, the work will resume but if one of these stones has fallen during the night, a new site will have to be chosen. Some earth spirits (enus) may have thus manifested their discontent.
An open top central grain store standing on its vertical stones and its ladder.The central grain store is the main characteristic of plateau house type compared to Fulani or Hausa settlements in the area. “
The second building is the main sleeping room, the oldest wife of the house master, where he will also sleep. After that, they build other granaries, rooms of other wives and then, those of the married sons’ wives and finally the auxiliary buildings.
Other rooms may also be added to meet some need, after consultation with the head of the kinokirat. Building a Kirat needs the cooperation between men of the domestic group; the headman directs and participates in the work. T
here are no real construction specialists but some clever man may be asked to do the most delicate tasks, such as setting up the granary’s bottom.
The materials used are clay, wood or sorghum stalks, and grass. These materials are readily available except nowadays for the roofing grass.
The presence in the region, of Fulani herders whose cattle graze all these herbs in the bush, is responsible for this scarcity obliging young people to get them far from home, sometimes up to two or three kilometers away.
Roofing grass is one of the gifts that a fiancé must give to the father of the girl he wants to marry.
There are three types of construction technics currently used. For oval or round huts, the traditional method is to knead the mud by hand so as to directly shape the walls, like a large pottery. The work is done gradually; each segment is allowed to dry before continuing. These walls are very thin, about 10 cm thick.
A faster technique, borrowed from the Rukuba, is to manufacture balls of clay that are stacked and covered with a layer of clay outside and inside. Finally, the fastest and easiest technique was borrowed from the Hausa: rectangular dry clay blocks are made and superimposed in a rectangular structure. These houses are said to be hotter due to the thickness of the walls.
There are several types of circular rooms which are architectural masterpieces, some with small porches and decorated with white and red spots. These rooms are for new brides and are built by young men who cooperate under the direction of the husband.
These models are gradually being replaced in favor of the rectangular rooms that last longer. Some make a synthesis of the two styles by joining in one building a circular part and a rectangular part.
Granaries and crop drying racks
There are two basic types of granaries or grain stores: those that open from the top (/rit∫e/) and those that open from the front (/Ileng/). The first are collective properties and are difficult to access because one must climb on a branch to the top who is about three meters from the ground.
Then one must remove the roof from the top of the granary and the clay cover before going down inside. Access to collective granaries is controlled by the household head ; the only one having the right to climb in.
He may delegate this privilege he feels too old to climb.
The products stored in the collective granary are used only during tillage time and the lean period. They are the scarcity period reserve.
In contrast, granaries that open on the front are much smaller and easily accessible; they belong to wives or young married men. Their products are consumed throughout the period from harvests up to plowing time.
Each house also includes a combination of crop drying facilities.
Men make a /ripaŋ rↄnu/, an enclosed and sunny circular space of stone sheltered from animals Women make a mud floor (/kippin/ for drying their grain and also use a wooden platform, /adak/ of 1.75 m height with branches and with a fire under to dry crops.
There is also a /udonto/ a covered kitchen place to grind food when it rains. Autonomous married young men mostly living on the outskirts of the territory distinguished themselves by using Hausa architectural techniques.
Many of these houses are enclosed by a palisade of sorghum stalks and they have a portal (/agude/: friends room) where visitors wait to be received.
Metal sheet roofs, despite the difficulties of getting a good supply of quality roofing grass, are not used. However, some men use reinforced door pieces of steel drums with locks to secure their private room.
This practice is frowned upon because, in the large abisi family, borrowing things do not need consent and was freely accepted between members of the same generation of a household.
These locked doors reflect a new concept of private ownership of personal items.
Thus, in the field of construction as in other craft specialties, Abisi are open to borrowing what is useful from others.