North East Tribal Architecture

The year 2600-1900 BCE is marked to be the year of oldest civilisation discovered in India – the Harappan civilisation. For archaeologists, the architecture of the settlement was one of the main factors in contributing a story about the lifestyle and culture of the Harappan people – Be it the residential houses, or the farmlands, the bricks and stones found at the sites unraveled mysteries around the historic settlement.

Exploring the architecture encompasses stories of the people and the culture. In India itself, this evolution of shelter has many origins and varieties based on geographical location, climate, local resources, and functionality. Conical shaped huts in the North of India, kuchha houses made out of mud found mainly in the central and west India and bamboo that became a popular raw material for the people of South all have a reasoning. While we have evolved into a modern civilization, there are still groups in India that remain primitive in terms of their housing needs.

One of the most common areas where one might come across this long lost practice of living in kuccha houses is the northeast.

What would a typical North Eastern rural house be like? Here’s a visual image for you:


Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura comprise the North Eastern part of India and within these states there are numerous tribes that survive on their old ways of living.

Adi and Aptami tribals still take shelter in their wooden stilt huts. Arunachal and Assam support such structures best because it suits the climate of the region.

  • At a height from the ground, these houses are relatively less prone to being destroyed by floods caused by high rainfall in this area.
  • To avoid being washed away by strong water currents, these tribes build their houses on a slope – A simple measure like that certainly helps them stay safe in the times of natural adversity.

Being a cold region, the walls are made of wood so as to help retain the heat inside the house. Often a canoe is stored under these houses in case of emergencies (flooding is common in these areas).



In Nagaland, you will come across huts that look tall from the front and short from the back.

Something like this:



The front of the house usually dons a horn or a large cross, which signifies their history of being hunters. The Naga tribes are known for their hunting skills and their houses too reflect this lifestyle. These houses generally have a space for the hearth that remains lit throughout so as to fight the cold weather outside. It also acts as a source of light.

It is noticed that usually in the northeast tribes, there are houses especially dedicated to the youth of the community. They are trained at these centers, which are built close to the house of the chieftain.

In Mizoram, for example, there is in fact a bachelor pad! Before you run your imagination wild, this house called Zawlbuk is where the youngsters are trained to follow the traditions and lifestyle of the tribe.


Usually in such tribal communities if a house is bigger, and has more open space, it is considered to be that of the elder of the community – hierarchy. These structures are just comfortable living spaces for families, but also reflect the social status of the family.

While these tribes remain true to their ancestral lifestyle, it is no doubt that time will catch up with their primitive practices. These kuchha houses don’t last for more than 7 years, and this ‘temporary’ arrangement will some day give way to a permanent one.


By- Sukanya Sharma

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