After picking out the location the first step was to collect all the necessary materials: Timber for posts, bamboo for beams and walls, vines for lashing, and elephant grass for thatch. Collecting the building materials early is absolutely crucial as many items need time and preparation before use. First, I feel the need to state that when collecting the materials no actual measurements were made. The building master would work till he felt that there was enough, and most times Master Pan, would work way past my endurance levels. Another reason to consider a Puyuma abode as a wonderful alternative living shelter is its ecological factor. The ecological costs of the materials used are a lot lower to that of a concrete structure of the same size. First, bamboo and wood are much lighter than concrete and everything we used can be found in the immediate area, practically getting rid of all transportation costs. Also, the only construction cost is purely manual labor without the use of harmful chemicals that are usually associated with conventional buildings.
The materials I used surprised me with their versatility and durability. The trees we used as columns would hardly budge after they were secured and would even begin to sprout fresh branches after being completely removed of
their roots. Cutting down the trees was the easy part, dragging the logs through the dense undergrowth was another matter; fortunately, the ingenuity of Master Pan saved us a lot of sweat and grief. He constructed a harness connected to the logs with the very vines hanging around us, which allowed us to drag them through the forest with ease.
Next comes the bamboo, which has recently become the greatest plant in my opinion for its strength, durability and aesthetic qualities. Retrieving the bamboo in its natural environment was a challenge, the thick bamboo needed for construction grows in large dense patches, where getting through, let alone getting into the thick of the patch, is nearly impossible. No wonder the Puyuma would grow this thick bamboo along the perimeter of villages as a natural defense. An interesting detail regarding these bamboo thickets is that they grind up against one another creating an eerie sound closely resembling that of an animal cry. When I first heard this noise while in the bush, I was fairly convinced there was some creature very close by. After maneuvering our way into the bamboo patch, Master Pan had to climb up 2 meters into the bamboo thicket to cut down the ones we wanted. We used two varieties of bamboo the thick ones and the shorter thinner ones which were much easier to handle, more than half of the entire structure’s mass consists of bamboo, as we used it to create the scaffold, roof beams and walls; the bamboo was so strong in fact, that it even supported the weight of seven full grown men while they worked on the roof.
Then the lashings we used to hold everything together. The vine lashings were made from giant vines that resemble bamboo and are covered in inch long spikes. To obtain the vines we had to pull them out of the trees and cut away the outer layer of spikes, the process is tenuous and risky as well: the spikes have been known to maim and even blind people on occasion. After which, the flexible yet sturdy heart is gathered to create the lashings. The heart of the vine is cut into quarters and left to soak in water before use the next day. The lashings can provide a tighter knot than nails and grooves and its flexibility ensures that there will be no tearing, the vine knots also have a natural aesthetic quality that cannot be matched by conventional tools.
Finally to complete the house, we applied a thatched roof made out of elephant grass. The elephant grass had to be hand cut and set out to dry before use. Nowadays, elephant grass
is considered very valuable for its popularity as a traditional construction material and because of its long growing period of 2 to 3 years. Elephant grass was favored among the aboriginal tribe because of its ability to keep the rain out, ventilate smoke and regulate temperature as well. The most significant benefit of a thatched roof was that it would last 5 years and when the time arrived to repair the roof, no thatch need be taken off instead a new layer is simply added on. Therefore, tribes had to allocate the amount of grass a building project gets and when. Each family would plant their own patch of elephant grass and when the community needed it, the family would donate its crop and in return when they are in need, their neighbors would do the same. In some ways this tradition still lives on today, when I was building my thatched roof I would find and cut a patch of elephant grass and donate it to the local tribal community, as they receive fresh cut grass, in return I would receive already dried out thatch for my project. To construct a thatched roof the Puyuma have an innovative method of holding over 100 kg of grass together. A layer of thatch would be spread evenly across the roof and then clamped together between 2 pieces of bamboo. Dozens of layers upon one another thus creates a thick mat of thatch that can keep even the heaviest rains and strongest winds of Taiwan’s infamous typhoons out.