A longhouse or long house is a type of long, proportionately narrow, single-room building built by peoples in various parts of the world including Asia, Europe, and North America.
Many were built from timber and often represent the earliest form of permanent structure in many cultures. Types include the Neolithic long house of Europe, the stone medieval Dartmoor longhouse which also housed livestock, and the various types of longhouses built by different cultures among the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Some of the medieval longhouse types of Europe which have survived are, among others:
Further developments of the Germanic longhouse during the Middle Ages were the Low German house in northern and especially northwestern Germany and its northern neighbour, the Geestharden house in Jutland including Schleswig, with its variant, the Frisian house. With these house types the wooden posts originally rammed into the ground were replaced by posts supported on a base. The large and well-supported attic enabled large quantities of hay or grain to be stored in dry conditions. This development may have been driven because the weather became wetter over time. Good examples of these houses have been preserved, some dating back to the 16th century. The longhouse was 50 to 60 feet long.
In North America two groups of longhouses emerged: the Native American/First Nations longhouse of the tribes usually connected with the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) in the northeast, and a similarly shaped structure which arose independently among the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
The longhouses inhabited by the Iroquois were wood boards/bark-covered structures of standardized design "in the shape of an arbor" about 6 to 7 metres (20 to 23 ft) wide providing shelter for several related families. The longhouse had a 3 metres (9.8 ft)-wide central aisle and 2 metres (6.6 ft)-wide compartments, about 6 to 7 metres (20 to 23 ft) long, down each side. The end compartments were usually used for storage. Hearths were spaced about 6 to 7 metres (20 to 23 ft) apart down the aisle, with smoke holes in the roof. Two families shared each hearth. Each longhouse would house several generations of an extended family; a house was built proportionately to the number of families it was expected to contain and might be lengthened over time to accommodate growth. It is possible to infer the population of an Iroquois town from the sizes and number of longhouses it contained.
Exterior and cutaway view of an Iroquois longhouse
Interior of an Iroquois longhouse
In South America, the Tucano people of Colombia and northwest Brazil traditionally combine a household in a single long house. The Xingu peoples of central Brazil build a series of longhouses in circular formations forming round villages. The ancient Tupi people of the Brazilian coast used to do this as well. The Yanomami people of Brazil and Venezuela build a round hut with a thatched roof that has a hole in the middle, called shabono, which could be considered a sort of longhouse.
In Daepyeong, an archaeological site of the Mumun pottery period in Korea, longhouses have been found that date to circa 1100-850 BC. Their layout seems to be similar to those of the Iroquois. In these, several fireplaces were arranged along the longitudinal axis of the building. Later, the ancient Koreans started raising their buildings on stilts, so that the inner partitions and arrangements are somewhat obscure. The size of the buildings and their placement within the settlements may point to buildings for the nobles of their society or some sort of community or religious buildings. In Igeum-dong, an excavation site in South Korea, the large longhouses, 29 and 26 metres long, are situated between the megalithic cemetery and the rest of the settlement.
The longhouse may be an old building tradition among the people of Austronesian origin or intensive contact. The Austronesian language group seems to have spread to southeast Asia and the Pacific islands as well as Madagascar from the island of Taiwan. Groups like the Siraya of ancient Taiwan built longhouses and practiced head hunting, as did, for example the later Dayaks of Borneo.
Many of the inhabitants of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo (now Indonesian Kalimantan, East Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam), the Dayak, live traditionally in buildings known as longhouses: rumah betang in Indonesia and rumah panjang in Malay. Common to most of these is that they are built raised off the ground on stilts and are divided into a more or less public area along one side and a row of private living quarters lined along the other side. This seems to have been the way of building best accustomed to life in the jungle in the past, as otherwise hardly related people have come to build their dwellings in similar ways. One may observe similarities to South American jungle villages also living in large single structures. They are raised and built over a hill, flooding presents little inconvenience and the height acts as defence against enemy attacks. Some longhouses are quite large; up to 1152m. The entire architecture is designed and built as a standing tree with branches to the right and left with the front part facing the sunrise while the back faces the sunset. The longhouse building acts as the normal accommodation and a house of worship for religious activities. The entry could double as a canoe dock. Cooling air could circulate underneath the raised floor of the dwelling, and the elevated living areas were more likely to catch above-ground breezes. Livestock could shelter underneath the longhouses for greater protection from predators and the elements. In fact, chickens coops were hung from the main room structure for easy feeding.
Old longhouses in Asia were made of tree trunks as structure members, long leaves as the roof cover, split bamboo or small tree trunks as the flooring and tree bark as the wall coverings. In the past, longhouses were primarily made out of wood like that from the eusideroxylon zwageri tree (Bornean Ironwood) so the longhouses were able to stand firm and durable. In modern times many of the older longhouses have been replaced with buildings using more modern materials, like brick or cement, but of similar design.
Many place names in Borneo have "Long" in their name (which means river) and most of these are or once were longhouses.
A traditional house type of the Sakuddei people, on the island of Siberut, part of the Mentawai Islands some 130 kilometres (81 mi) to the west off the coast of Sumatra (Sumatera), Indonesia is also described as a longhouse on stilts. Some five to ten families may live in each, but they are organized differently inside from those on Borneo. From front to back, such a house, called an "uma", regularly consists of an open platform serving as the main entrance place, followed by a covered gallery. The inside is divided into two rooms, one behind the other. On the back there is another platform. The whole building is raised on short stilts about half a metre off the ground. The front platform is used for general activities while the covered gallery is the favorite place for the men to host guests, and where the men usually sleep. The following first room is entered by a door and contains a central communal hearth and a place for dancing. There are also places for religious and ritual objects and activities. In the adjoining room the women and their small children as well as unmarried daughters sleep, usually in compartments divided into families. The platform on the back is used by the women for their everyday activities. Visiting women usually enter the house here.
The Mnong and Rade of Vietnam also have a tradition of building longhouses (Vietnamese: nhà dài) that may be 30 to 40 metres (98 to 131 ft) long. In contrast to the jungle versions of Borneo these sport shorter stilts and seem to use a veranada in front of a short (gable) side as main entrance.
The Rana Tharu is an ethnic group indigenous to the western Terai of Nepal. Most of them prefer living in longhouses called Badaghar with big families of many generations, sometimes 40-50 people. All household members pool their labor force, contribute their income, share the expenditure and use one kitchen. Traditionally, their houses are built entirely using natural materials such as reed poles for walls and thatch for roofing.
For the longhouses in Sarawak on Borneo, these books were used as sources, among others: