Rural Southern African Flooring Technique
Amelia Giles grew up in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, and lived there for most of her early life. She moved to South Africa in her late thirties and to America in her late sixties, where she lives today.
“The local Africans in Zimbabwe who live in the rural areas obviously cannot get their hands on any cement or any modern day materials, so what they used to do, and what they probably still do today is they collect the manure from cows paddocks, from the cattle paddocks, and they mix it with soil, and they actually use it as a flooring in their little huts that they build with the thatched roof, and they smear it, almost in a plastering motion, and that is, is very very strong, it doesn’t crack, and it’s also an insect repellant. It, it definitely… they believe it stops snakes and insect from coming into their, their little huts, because of obviously the scent that it gives off. It’s not, not a scent that I could smell when I went into the huts unless it had only just been done, but they feel that, you know the snakes and the different animals can smell it. So, they don’t, um, that’s what they do.”
Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:
Amelia learned about this piece in her very young days. She remembers being a seven or eight year old girl when she first walked into a hut using this flooring technique, and has since been in many such homes. The idea of using cow feces interested her because it seemed like a weird, gross idea, but at the same time seemed to have a number of valuable properties, from being a good, hard flooring, to serving as pest repellant.
Thoughts About the Piece:
It makes sense that in rural areas where more conventional materials are hard to come by, people would develop novel ways of flooring their houses. I think it is interesting that feces were chosen as a building material, and I am surprised that they claim it to be an insect repellant: if anything, I would expect this technique to attract pests like flies and dung beetles (which are common in the area) into the house. I would guess that they just learned of some effective ways to mix it with soil and probably some other things to help it set better and change the smell.