The Sema – Naga Traditional Dwelling

Chief Sakhalu’s Hut
Village Sakhalu Nagami


  • The primary construction materials were:
    • TIMBER – for structural elements, like the posts
    • BAMBOO – for walls and other structural elements
    • THATCH – as the roofing material.

  • The interior of the Sema house was ordinarily divided into four parts –
    • The Akishekhoh – or front room where the rice pounding tables were kept.
    • The Abidelabo – a narrow room between the Akishekhoh and the Amiphokiboh (hearth room) where the unmarried girls of the household sleep.
    • The Akuzu-Abo – where the head of the family (father) and his wife sleeps.
    • The Azhi-Bo – the liquor room where rice beer is stored in bamboo jugs.


View of the rice pounding table

  • This is where they keep the rice pounding tables.
  • The Akishekhoh is an apse like addition to the front of the house, semicircular in plan with the eaves brought down to within 3 or 4 feet from the ground.
  • Grain collected from the field is stored in large bamboo woven baskets.
  • The grain is pounded in the large wooden rice pounding tables (apasü) as and when required.
  • The grain is pounded mainly by the women of the household in the mornings or in the evenings, after returning from the fields.
  • Animals – dogs, pigs, chicken are also kept here.
  • The unmarried boys of the household sleep in here.


  • This is where the unmarried girls of the household sleep.
  • Firewood for the fireplace (Amiphokiboh) is also stored in this room.


  • The head of the family – the father , in this case chief of the village and his wife or wives sleep here.
  • Inside the Aküzü abo is the Amiphokiboh (hearth room).
  • The father’s bed is nearest to the fireplace and the wife’s bed has a separate, smaller fireplace near her bed.

THE AMIPHOKIBOH – ‘Ami’ – fire, ‘Pho’ – smoke, ‘kiboh’- cover

  • The fireplace consists of three stones on which a pot can be placed and the fire lit between the stones.
  • At the four corners of the fireplace, are four bamboo posts which support a bamboo shelf.  This serves the double purpose of preventing sparks to reach the roof and an excellent place to dry meat or keep utensils.
  • The family eats the morning and evening meals around the fireplace.
  • In common houses, guests may be entertained here as well.
  • Near the fireplace, a large window, almost the size of a door is made – the trash door.
  • Waste from the cooking is thrown out this window and collected outside which is cleared regularly.

THE AZHI – BO Azhi’ – liquor, ‘Bo’ – place or room

  • This room is located right at the back of the house.
  • Rice beer is stored in liquor vats in this room.
  • At the back of the house is a backdoor which usually leads to a small kitchen garden.

Chief Inato’s Hut
Village Lumitsami – Nagaland




The Akishekhoh & Apasü – abo

  • The Akishekhoh is usually where the rice pounding tables are kept. 
  • In this house, however, the rice pounding tables are kept inside the house, in a room called the apasü – abo  (rice pounding table – room).
  • All the functions of the Akishekhoh in Chief Sakhalu’s hut are now shifted to this room.
  • The rest of the house is divided into similar divisions as in Chief Sakhalu’s hut.


  • The two bamboos forming the gable were prolonged beyond the roof to form horns called the tenhaku – ki (snail horns).
  • These were sometimes decorated with bamboo tassels and imitations of birds.
  • The Semas did not decorate their houses like other tribes – or at least not as much.
  • They usually adorned their houses with the heads of game or Mithan heads which the owner slaughtered.
  • Sometimes, in the chief’s house, human heads were also hung as trophies.


  • These dwellings, located mainly in the hilly regions came under the Cold and cloudy climatic category.
  • The people then, relied mainly on their physical ability to resist the cold.
  • The houses did protect them from the cold winds that blew but did little to retain heat within the house. 
  • Openings were kept to a minimum to retain as much heat within the house as possible. 
  • The fireplace was situated in the living quarters which helped in raising comfort levels within these spaces. 
  • The scale of the private spaces was also smaller which meant that a smaller heat source was required to heat the room.
  • The sloped roofs worked beautifully in keeping the interiors dry. 
  • The steep slope of the roof ensured that no water could seep in through the gaps between the thatch and enter the house.
  • The openness of the people did not require such a high degree of privacy. 
  • As a result the overall design of the house was kept simple, yet completely functional. 
  • It’s function not just extending to it’s activity space relation but it’s social and climatic context.


  • These houses existed during the 1915 to the 1920’s.
  • British anthropologists first discovered these settlements.
  • The exposure of tribal people to civilization subsequent to those initial visits resulted in the rapid disappearance of these traditional systems of construction.
  • After independence, such dwellings almost completely disappeared.
  • The interest shown toward tradition extends only up to social and cultural levels, leaving architecture in the back seat.
  • The only “traditional” architecture considered important to retain, merely as objects of fascination, like those in museums, were the “Morungs”.
  • “Morungs” were essentially community built structures present in almost every village of different tribes in Nagaland.
  • There used to be one such structure for boys and one for girls in each village.
  • These buildings were used for community activities.

“Morung” in Philimi built on account of a bad harvest (1916)

  • The function of the Morung being the community centre of the village shifted to the Chief’s hut.
  • This in turn resulted in the Chief’s hut being the largest of structures in the whole village.
  • The size of the chief’s hut emphasized his importance in the village society.


  • Almost all Sema villages existed in the hilly regions in Nagaland.
  • The Sema village is usually built either on the summit of a hill or on the shoulder of a spur.
  • Down, near the valley of the river Dayang, where the climate is hot, a summit is usually chosen, but in the higher and colder regions, a shoulder below the ridge of a range of hills is a common site for a village.
  • All the houses within the same village had the same style.
  • This was to ensure that one would immediately be able to identify which tribe a particular village belonged to from a safe distance.
  • The Semas were head hunters.
  • Captured enemy trespassers would be beheaded and their heads hung up.


  • Life revolved around agriculture.
  • The majority of each day would be spent in the fields.

Villagers carrying home a load of harvest from the field.

Harvesting in the field.

A woman weaving a shawl

An old woman spinning thread.


This presentation is a result of the research documentation done by 2nd year students of SPA college on vernacular architecture.

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