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30 Traditional Homes Around The World You Need To See

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The Semai tribe lives in the tropical rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. Sagong village, a small cluster of bamboo houses, is located in a remote area with no electricity. It’s home to Chief Baem and his family. On a typical day, they wake up early to the sound of a rooster.

In the morning, they work in the paddy fields and set traps for wild animals. Meat is smoked in order to preserve it. Water is collected from the river. Bamboo houses are built on stilts and have thatched roofs. Gaps in bamboo walls and floors keep houses cool and ventilated.

Semai tribal house at sagong village malaysia - Traditional homes around the world
Semai tribal house at sagong village malaysia – Traditional homes around the world

Traditional Semai tribal houses are constructed entirely from natural materials, collected from surrounding rainforests. Hard wood, which lasts many years, is used to build the main frame and the stilts. Floors and walls are created out of bamboo which is split, dried and then loosely woven together with rattan.

The thatched roof, protection against torrential monsoon rains, usually needs to be replaced every three to five years. Houses are simply decorated and villagers spend most of their time outside working, socializing and playing games like takraw (foot volleyball). When a new village is created, traditional Semai rituals involving animal sacrifice take place.

Inside of Semai tribal house at sagong village malaysia
The Semai believe in communal living which is why there’s little separation between the two rooms of the house.

“Home is very important to me,” says Chief Baem. As is normal in Semai society, he built the family house himself, shortly after marriage. In traditional Semai culture, there’s little distinction between public and private life, so houses are laid out in a communal style. Chief Baem’s home has two rooms, separated by a thin bamboo wall. The kitchen has an open fireplace, which is lit atop a layer of mud, to stop the bamboo floor from burning. The large front room is a living space, and family members sleep on mats. It’s also used to receive guests and discuss village matters.


The Moken (or Morgan) people are a semi-nomadic tribe inhabiting the Mergui Archipelago of the Andaman Sea. Morgan Village on Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand, is home to Nott Khlatalay. Between going to school and playing soccer on the beach, as a boy he learned how to fish, dive and understand the sea.

Morgan Village, Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand - Traditional homes around the world
Morgan Village, Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand – Traditional homes around the world

Today, he works on a tourist boat on the mainland, and returns home once a month. His family’s house, made of wood, bamboo and palm thatch, is set among a cluster of other village houses on the beach. A waterfall, in the forest behind, supplies freshwater to the village.

Moken tribal houses are built with natural materials found on the tropical islands of the Andaman Sea. Wood from the forests is used to build a main frame. Over this, a roof and outer walls made of palm leaves provide protection against torrential afternoon thunderstorms.

Moken Tribal House at Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand - Traditional homes around the world
Moken Tribal House at Ko Surin Tai Island, Thailand – Traditional homes around the world

Wooden planks and bamboo form the flooring of these stilt houses. Palm thatch has to be replaced regularly, and neighbors help out when an entire house needs rebuilding, approximately every three years. In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, all the houses were destroyed. Luckily, all the villagers escaped to safety.

There’s a sense of communal living in Morgan Village. Nott’s house is built very close to his neighbors. The front porch is popular as a place to gather with family and friends. Inside, the main living area is also where everyone sleeps. At the back of the house is the kitchen. Typical food includes fried fish, fresh vegetables and rice from the mainland. Sometimes Nott strings up a hammock between trees to sleep outside. The Moken worship their ancestors and follow special rituals during a funeral. Often referred to as sea gypsies, the Moken are highly-skilled as fishermen and navigators.


The semi-nomadic Vezo people along Madagascar’s southwest coast depend on the Tulear coral reef system, the third largest in the world, for their survival.

Vezo people, Home of Madame Kokoly, Lamboara, Madagascar - Traditional Homes Around The World
Vezo people, Home of Madame Kokoly, Lamboara, Madagascar – Traditional Homes Around The World

Men in hand-carved sailing vessels called pirogues fish for sharks and turtles, while women glean octopus and sea cucumbers from the reef flats. But overexploitation and climate change have depleted the once-abundant marine life.

Vezo people, Lamboara, Madagascar
The reef flats surrounding Lamboara provide much of the community’s food. Here Madame Kokoly spears crabs.

Near the village of Lamboara, in thatch huts on a sandy shore surrounded by mangroves, Madame Kokoly and her extended family struggle to maintain the age-old traditions of the Vezo, whose name can be translated as “to live with the sea.”

The younger men in the extended family of about 50 built the group of simple huts out of wood from local mangroves.

Madame Kokoly calls the thatch “magic” since it has lasted so long, but during the wet season when rain and wind keep everyone huddled indoors, there can be leaks.

Concrete floors, a relatively new addition to the Vezo-style home, use lime created from burning seashells in a kiln. Daily meals of mostly rice and fish are prepared in an outdoor kitchen.

They’re eaten on the ground just outside the hut, or under the canopy of a nearby neem tree, a favorite gathering spot for the entire family.

Madame Kokoly and her husband share the tiny two-room hut with her nephew and his wife. She much preferred the comfort of her previous home, but following her son’s recent death, it would have been “fady,” or taboo, to remain living there.

Traditional house around the world

“I’ll build a much bigger one next year if I’m still alive,” she says. Some villagers can afford luxuries such as TVs with DVD players and large speakers, or hardwood furniture, but her most prized possession is her cooking pot.


The Maasai are a pastoral tribe from the savannas of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Maasai bomas, like Ngaramat Loongito, are traditional livestock enclosures and rural settlements.

Ngaramat Loongito, Maasai bomas in Kenya - Traditional homes around the world
This is one of the 11 bomas at Ngaramat Loongito that are built close together for protection against wildlife.

A thorny fence around the boma’s 11 houses keeps out lions, elephants and other wildlife. Ngaramat Loongito is home to Melelo Lantaun Masarie. Everyday she wakes up before sunrise to prepare the children for school and make chai tea.

She also collects water from a couple of kilometers away, before her neighbors take their cattle to drink. Like the others in the boma, her house is made of sticks, grass and cow dung.

Maasai bomas in Kenya - Traditional homes around the world
Ngaramat Loongito is unusual in that the community is made up solely of women and children.

Ngaramat Loongito is somewhat unusual, as it is a community comprised solely of women and children. Most of the women in the boma are widows who are raising their grandchildren.

Every six or seven years, the women rebuild their houses together. Over a period of three days, they collect branches, long grasses and cow dung. Then they make a frame of branches tied together with grass. Each home’s walls are patted into place using a mixture of cow dung and water. Roofs are covered in grass as a form of waterproofing for the rainy seasons.

Temperatures are high year-round, and the homes have little ventilation. They are designed mainly to keep out wild animals.

traditional house of Maasai People
Ngaramat Loongito, Kenya

Home is “a place to protect livestock and family,” says Masarie. Indoors, shelves are made of sticks tied together with grass. Beds are made in a similar manner and covered in cow hides. Locally sourced food includes maize meal, vegetables, beef and goat. Everything’s cooked over an open fire started with paraffin.

Everyday, the women of the boma do beadwork together to create goods to sell. They also conduct traditional ceremonies when a child is born and when girls reach adulthood. When not at school, the boys in the community herd the livestock and the girls collect water and firewood.

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