The houses are built with chhan and bamboos on elevated platforms. Generations of building skills have made these homes aesthetically pleasing, temperate and comfortable
The Machang house is a shared tradition among the various ethnic communities of Chittagong Hill Tracts, despite the diverse customs and unique crafts.
The houses are built with chhan and bamboos on elevated platforms. Generations of building skills have made these homes aesthetically pleasing, temperate and comfortable.
With the proliferation of modern building materials, however, Machang houses are in decline. Even though these traditional houses can still be seen in many villages in the hills, builders and locals say people are no longer choosing to make them, opting instead for modern dwellings.
According to people from these communities, the original purpose of the elevated houses, which often stand on 5-6 feet of braced bamboo stilts, was to protect the homes from wildlife and flash floods. The space under the platform is also used to shelter livestock.
The chhan, which along with bamboo was the main material for building these houses, was once in high demand in the three hill districts. With changing agricultural practices, the volume of chhan cultivation is decreasing and prices of the material have gone up.
Mong Sha Prue Marma, a resident of Trakkhiyang Para, said bamboos and trees are not readily available from the forests, and bamboo in the markets is very expensive.
“This is the reason Machang houses are in decline,” he said.
The platforms of Machang houses are supported on bamboo frames, with the main pillars often made from trees. Sometimes large bamboo stilts are also used. The diagonal supports are tied to the pillars with ‘bet,’ or strips made from young bamboo.
Despite the rich customs and distinct architecture of the Machang houses, ethnic communities have lost their interest in building Machangs because of the dearth and high price of materials.
With this crisis, these architectural heritages are at risk of being lost from the local culture.
Kasyimong Marma, a student of Bandarban Government College, said even people who can afford these houses will not build them these days as they do not last more than three to four years.
“So even if it is a little more expensive, those who are well-off prefer to build brick-and-concrete houses.”
One has to go to Trakkhiyang Para, ieght kilometres out of Bandarban town, before they can spot the first Machang house. But then. even in this out-of-the-way village, modern dwellings are taking over. In a cluster at the village’s centre, brick houses have mushroomed in the last few years.
Bandarban Tribal Cultural Institute Research Officer Uchnu said Machangs were going extinct mostly owing to relocation of the communities, and unavailability of the traditional building materials.
“We need coordinated public and private effort if we are to sustain this heritage,” he said.