憨猴動員起草厝

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1996 / 10月

文‧蔡文婷 圖‧卜華志



諸葛亮、王維、杜甫、英國眾多的佘契爾(thatchers)有什麼共通點呢?答案之一是:他們都住過草屋。不只是他們住過草屋,許多你我渡海來台的祖先,第一個遮風避雨的家也是草屋。

為了要蓋一間茅草屋,在溽暑蒸人的豔陽天,宜蘭縣羅東鎮山邊的梅花社區裡,一群田莊阿伯仔,身帶著怳K般工具,領著三怞h個建築系的大學生、老師們,浩浩蕩蕩的往田邊山裡去。

田莊阿伯當教授

來到茅草地,細細尖尖的茅草迎風款擺。七怳@歲的余美池拿起專門割草的「草割仔」,教導都市來的少年家割茅草要從風頭一端割起,才不會被茅草扎到眼睛。余阿伯架式怢泵a補充,哪這茅仔草的好處真多,拿來煮湯可以退火,拿來蓋屋頂冬天不寒,夏天不熱。「鳥用草作巢,人用茅仔來作巢,茅仔草的好處是沒得替代的,」社區發展協會理事長吳松合讚嘆。

到了山上,筆筒樹和山棕是當柱子的好材料,對於這兩種長得怳嶼萓的樹種,號稱芭樂長(班長)的鍾接成歐吉桑告訴大家「樹幹上有葉子痕跡的是筆筒樹,外面毛長得多的是山棕。」筆筒樹和山棕一方面材輕易搬運,另一方面又怳嶺@潮,埋入土中當柱子,至少四怞~不壞,最適合宜蘭這多雨潮溼的環境。「芭樂長」還囑咐大家,記得樹根要朝下,因為樹木在山林中原本就是那個樣子。研究傳統建築多年、文化大學建築系副教授李乾朗覺得老人家們的法則,隱藏著一種「再造自然」的生命態度。

從入山林砍取建材,到搭出樑柱,茅草屋的雛形可見。頭一次當「教授」的阿伯們不留絕招的傾囊相授;一旁的「學生」們跟著彎腰割茅草、上山砍山棕,用身體去「體」驗建築和大自然的關係,體驗先民們如何在沒有磚瓦之下,就地取材,如何在千百種植物中,經由生活的經驗,選擇茅草來蓋頂。「這不是哪一個專家的發明,這點點滴滴都是人民智慧的累積,」促成這次「茅草屋研習營」的作家黃春明指出。

憨猴搬石頭的故事

好端端的,為什麼要勞師動眾地蓋草屋呢?這得從「憨猴搬石頭」的故事說起。

古早古早在一百七怞h年前,梅花社區的祖先因為比別人晚到台灣一步,於是來到這一塊只見大石頭和茅草的惡地開墾。他們相信在這一大片石頭海的底下,藏著可以耕種的土肉,於是日復一日的搬開石頭,因而被人嘲笑為「憨猴搬石頭」。搬開河水帶來的石頭堆成牆,再以四周旱地長出的茅草蓋屋頂,在別人認為不可能生養的地方立起了遮風避雨的茅草屋,跌破了當初嘲笑他們是憨猴人們的眼鏡。「古早我們梅花社區叫做『茅埔圍』,五怞h年前,莊內大部分人家都還是用茅草蓋頂呢!」田莊阿伯仔說。

對於茅埔圍的居民而言,茅草屋就像一座「回憶屋」,隨著茅草屋的重建,茅埔圍的過去,還有老年人們過去的生活點滴,生活的智慧和自信跟著再現。其實,草屋記錄的不只是茅埔圍的開拓歷史,對於當年赤手空拳到台灣闖天下的先民們,草屋是第一個「家」。

草民們的草屋

在所有的民宅中,草屋可以說是歷史最久,分布最廣的房子。早在七千多年前,中國河南省的半坡村和浙江省的河姆渡文化遺址中,由殘存的木樁、樑柱可以推想當時應該就有草屋存在。草屋提供著人們方便、機動、簡單,和就地取材等條件,「草屋是常民文化最主要的表情,也是人們與大自然最大的創作品,可惜在建築史上卻是一片空白,」中華工學院景觀建築系副教授李瑞宗表示。

所謂的草屋,指的是以草為頂的房子,就不同的環境選擇不同的草。像是台灣中北部平原、盆地用稻桿,南部用甘蔗葉;原住民們用菅蓁,濱海的人們用猴蔗。至於今天被視為工寮、豬圈的「茅草屋」,還是所有草屋中最高級的一種。而在不同族群相互融合,彼此「偷學步」之後,像是茅埔圍的漢民族學會了泰雅族的編花捆綁技巧,泰雅族則以防腐性較佳的茅草替代菅草。

在當時大量的需求下,這些茅草、菅草由雜草被人們提昇為農作物,根據日據時代(一九一七年)台灣總督府的調查,全省茅草的栽培面積將近兩千五百甲,其中尤其以宜蘭產量佔第一。每到秋收農閒後,還有一批專門在幫人修草頂的人,挨家挨戶去吆喝「修理草厝仔頂喔!」。

霧峰林家的草厝

在那個「草創」的開拓時期,茅草、菅草不是野草;而草屋也不是工寮,事實上,從日據時代少數的照片中,還可以發掘許多設計精美的草屋。例如清代為官的台中縣霧峰林家,一直到民國三怞~左右,都還保留著一間梳理整齊,編法講究的「發跡厝」。

這棟三開間的草屋是霧峰林家的開基老屋,林家人又稱它為「發財厝」。五怞~前,草厝倒塌以後,林家子孫一直想復建這間意義不凡的草厝,因此負責整個修復計劃的台大城鄉研究所,特別派遣三位助理前來宜蘭,參加這次的茅屋研習營。霧峰林家的草厝,今天只能在照片中一窺樣貌,然而在台灣北部,內雙溪往萬里的路上也有一間草屋,在這個ㄇ字型的合院中,兩旁護隴已經翻蓋成瓦房,就是中間供奉神明祖先的公媽廳還保持草屋原貌,主人表示,希望藉由草屋年年的修護,讓子孫們懂得飲水思源。

茅屋為秋風所破

台大的學生來茅埔圍取經,是為了修護古蹟。而來自花蓮的陳文進、方勇清,和來自苗栗通霄的陳麗華卻是想為自己建一間茅草屋。茅草屋真的還能住人嗎?

關於草屋的好壞,八抪釭甄畢悀茪茬怐器D。簡家是茅埔圍如今唯一的草屋,他們在那百年草屋旁新蓋的三層樓洋房,也是目前茅埔圍最高建築物。「茅仔厝比較冷底,不像水泥厝像烤爐,真燒熱,」簡老太太在草屋下一邊綁粽子一邊回答。這是因為層層疊疊的茅草頂可以穩定氣流、不易傳熱,因此茅草屋住來冬暖夏涼,隔音效果絕佳。有些農村在新蓋水泥房之後,仍然用竹子夾住茅草或稻桿,為平頂的水泥房加上草頂。「今天的建材雖然方便,卻不適合人住,因此,原始的材料是不會被時代消滅的,就看怎麼用,」李乾朗指出。

茅草屋的好處,年輕一代也有所認同,「住茅仔厝地震不會嚇得要死,」簡老太太的媳婦接著補充。此外,由於草屋是利用屋頂的斜度,藉著草面快速將雨水排除,加上修補容易,不至於如許多施工不佳的水泥房子,一旦成了「漏仔厝」,就得一天到晚抓漏補漏了。

參加茅草屋研習營、尚在東海大學建築系就學的洪宏和,以建築系學生的眼光欣賞茅草屋,他覺得「現代設計是很搶眼,但是茅草屋卻和自然相通,一點也不突兀。」洪宏和覺得不論大樓或草屋,面對的都是一樣的陽光和雨水,多走一些地方,多看一些像茅草屋這樣自然的東西,他希望自己日後的設計,能夠既現代又本土。

這或許也是草屋最大的意義,它就地取材,經先人不斷以「身」相試,以適合當地氣候、土質的自然建材興建,既經濟也環保,對人體絕對無害。「咱的祖先真有智慧,用這個環境所生的東西來克服這個環境,這就叫『天生自然』吧!」社區發展協會理事長吳松合讚嘆地說。

當然草屋如果一無壞處,也不會這麼快就被人們遺忘。記得三隻小豬的故事嗎?第一個被大野狼吹垮屋子的,就是住在草屋的小懶豬。草屋會長蟲、窩老鼠,草屋怕颱風,否則唐朝詩人杜甫也不會高嘆「茅屋為秋風所破」了。最令住過草屋者為之色變的是「火」。有一年,莊內著火,整個茅埔圍的大小全部動員救火,因為這火一燒是一整片,一燒整個莊頭就不見了。茅埔圍的老一輩都還記得當時因為缺水,最後用來撲滅火災的功臣是「茅坑裡的水肥」呢!此外,在人工昂貴的今天,哪裡去找工人,兩三年就得加蓋一次草頂,也是叫人傷透腦筋的。

原始摩登人

草屋好不好住?中國的杜甫忙著要去追草頂,沒空回答。而英國的佘契爾卻會翹起大拇指說「讚」。在英國,五怞~前差不多有二萬五千個佘契爾(thatchers),這些佘契爾是專門蓋草屋頂的人,即使到了今天,英國還有五百多個佘契爾,可知英國的草屋還多得很,三、五百年的被留下,仍在使用與維修。

到過英國、研究英國草屋的李瑞宗表示,英國人認為保存草屋不僅僅是保存那間屋子,還保存了農村優美的環境。因此有專門的學校提供技術的傳承與研發,對於願意保留草屋的居住者也有所補助。

「草屋原來是不便的,將它強化、改善,適合現代人居住,這不是人們走回頭路,而是草屋『活』在今天,草屋的水平是現代的,」黃春明表示。他強調,今天舉辦茅草屋研習營,回頭肯定的是建築與人之間的和諧,而不是要時代回流,讓大家都來蓋草屋、住草屋。當然,如果今天有人覺得草屋是好的,願意花更多心力與金錢來維護一間草屋,那也是好的,至少我們讓草屋與瓦房、洋房、高樓同時「並存」在這塊土地上,人們可以自然地在生活中,看到各個時期的建築風貌。

在英國,一個全新的草屋頂,麥桿做的要四抶U台幣,如果用蘆葦做的得花上一百二抶U新台幣呢!難怪住在其中的,大多是些醫生、律師等高薪收入的人。這些草屋,花木扶疏,屋頂上還有各種花邊,或以草編成的小松鼠、貓頭鷹以為裝飾。至於屋內,電腦、家電一應俱全,「草屋雖然原始,住在其中的人可是很摩登的,」李瑞宗表示。

草堂變荒唐!?

然而,在技術、材料或價值觀上,我們要維持草屋的條件都不如英國。況且如果草屋的存在,只滿足了可以付出高昂代價的「少數人」,那也窄化了草屋的運用,薄淺了草屋的精神內涵。

「找回從前的,要再加上現代的思考,草屋才能活下來,」李瑞宗表示。例如,草屋在建築材料、形式上是環保的,在生活內涵上則是儉樸的。李乾朗覺得,我們不必和過去的「好東西」斷絕,但是也不必用的「故意或勉強」。如果今天蓋一間草屋,必須花費數倍價錢自遠地取得材料,那就失去了草屋「就地取材」的基本精神,如果還要在其中裝設冷氣和豪華裝潢,以追求高度的物質享受,那這草堂反而顯得「荒唐」了。李乾朗覺得草屋的存在,應該更開闊、自然些。

同樣的,許多風景遊樂區以草屋、草亭來替代小木屋,或是在本土文化的活動中,以草屋來展示農村文物,少了「生活」,復建的草屋只是顯得「有趣」而已。那樣或許提供了現代人「一種鄉愁的慰藉,但是這只是一種過渡性的文化消費,流行過後,很快就會消失了,」南亞工專建築科講師賴志彰表示。

草屋農村曲

在同樣舊稱茅埔圍的宜蘭縣玉田村裡,老人們在村民來往最頻繁的怞r路口,搭建了一座「茅埔亭」。大清早的時候,要出去做工的歐吉桑們相約茅埔亭,大太陽的中午,路過的司機們在此吃便當。當月上東山的夜裡,有人切了小菜在此小飲兩杯,青年男女亭中談情說愛。搭建一年多以來,茅埔亭已經有了日夜晨昏各自的不同風情。蘇澳鎮的白米社區,則在社區活動中心對面蓋了一間有廳有灶、茅草頂的竹子厝,每逢元宵、中秋等節日,大家就在草屋中搓湯圓、猜燈謎。食物的香味使得草屋洋溢一片生氣。

而來自花蓮、一臉大鬍子的方勇清也有不少的點子。方勇清在台北住了三怞h年,五年前受不了都市的髒亂,於是舉家遷到花蓮。到了花蓮,他用竹架子種絲瓜、兼車庫,好看好吃又便宜好用。如今他打算在栽種玉米、空心菜的院子裡蓋間草屋。草屋除了呼朋引伴,煮茶閒話之用,架高的草屋底下將做他那一群土雞的雞窩,這學做「有巢氏」的靈感是從原住民的草屋得來的。草屋實現著他漁樵耕讀的嚮往,更大大滿足了他自己動手(DIY)蓋房子的樂趣。

「蓋間茅草屋來住?防風防雨防火都不便,我想我們回收老東西再應用,不應全盤丟掉,但也不必『照單全收』啊!只要擇取草屋的材料、機能甚或精神,反而好用,」方勇清表示。

草屋的夢

茅埔圍的老人,在今年初宜蘭縣「歡樂宜蘭年」的活動蓋起第一棟草屋後,陸續又在社區中的山腳下和舊磚窯前蓋了兩間簡單型的茅仔厝,而第四號的茅仔厝將在吳松合的家院中蓋起,這一次打算蓋出一間厚實木石結構,加上整齊草頂的經典之作。日後將在村民的家院中蓋上一間間經典型的茅仔厝,作為民宿。

在搭建第四號的茅仔厝同時,茅埔圍的老人已開始復原社區中舊有的石頭圍牆,整理農村灌溉用的小給水水溝,並將於適合栽種樹苗的怳@月,沿著村中的庭院、路旁陸續種上一萬棵桃樹和李樹,並提供喜歡自然的朋友認養。三年後的春天,當第一次桃花紅、李花白的花季到來,茅埔圍的父老將對認養那一萬棵樹的外地人發出邀約,邀請他們同來茅埔圍看看那一片粉紅嫩白的花海,夏時天,還有充滿香氣的含笑、夜合、樹蘭、玉蘭等「阿媽的花」。

「這樣做不是懷舊,而是為什麼我們要放棄農村原有、如此優雅的生活?將農村都改造成都市?」黃春明急切地反問。

看看今天都市地區的房地產廣告,青山綠水、農村田園,與自然相親是其最大的訴求,許多風景遊樂區,不是蓋小木屋,就是蓋小草屋,這都說明著人們對自然永遠有一份相依相戀的本能。就像學員中,那些幾番遷徙,由都市到鄉村定居的人們,茅草屋是他們與自然同在的一個實現。對茅埔圍的居民而言,重新蓋起茅草屋,同樣是一個留住農村優美生活的夢想。

在往茅埔圍鄰近的市區邊緣,放眼盡是「觀天下」、「紐約市大廈」、「溫哥華大廈」、「皇家公園海」等都會霸氣的高樓大廈。對於風景區環伺的茅埔圍而言,這些大樓也很可能隨時在他們的家園憑空拔起,但那不是他們希望的。

黃昏的故鄉

發展民宿或許將為梅花社區帶來生機,但是黃春明認為重建茅埔圍的根本意義不在經濟利益,在於保存農村的深層價值。因為農村是都市的後援、都市的根。

曾經在台北打拼多年的吳松合完全能體會黃春明的想法,當年他在都市打拼賺錢,在生了一場大病後,回到故鄉來安居療養。「少年總是愛飛出去城市打天下,但是有一天他們會累,會想回家,我希望把茅埔圍營造成一個桃花源,讓孩子們累了,可以飛回來故鄉,有巢可以休息,」吳松合略帶沙啞的嗓音中,有著自己的來時路與未來期盼。

頂著四天的烈日,茅草屋在老人和少年家的合作下大告功成。領隊的黃春明在茅仔厝上貼上紅聯,上聯是「祖先搬石百年」,下聯是「子孫安居萬世」,橫批是「憨猴總動員」。

一百多年前,茅埔圍的先民有個夢,他們要搬開石頭,清出土地,在這塊茅草地住下來。先人死了,但是他們夢想不死,今天這群憨猴正在延續著祖先們的那一個夢。

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一對新人在茅草屋前,留下成「家」立業的照片。可知來台拓墾的先人,就是靠這小茅屋來遮風避雨的?

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田莊阿伯當「教授」,為建築系學生示範如何割茅草。

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眼前一大片茅草迎風搖曳,遠山中藏有筆筒樹、菅草、藤蔓,這些都是蓋草屋的建材。茅埔圍的阿伯說,這叫「天生自然」。

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仔細畫出茅草的樣子,親身體驗建築與自然的關係,這可是課堂上學不到的。

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看好茅草屋頂怎麼紮,待會兒就該你們上陣了。

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藍天草屋相映和,這英國鄉間的草屋,任誰看了都想住在其中,做個自由自在的田園夢。(李瑞宗攝)

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埕前曬著屋外種的芥菜,屋邊種著修護屋子的竹圍。屋頂上的茅草在年年的修護下,留下不同歲月的顏色,好個草屋生活。(賴志彰攝)

這間草屋,是曾在清朝為官的霧峰林家最早的「發跡厝」。(賴志彰提供)

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在村中的怞r路口邊蓋上一座茅埔亭,路過的卡車司機也停車一同來閒聊。

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有了生活自會「有神」,草屋也才可能真正的傳承下去。

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大功告成的茅草屋,延續著茅埔圍祖先「憨猴搬石頭」的精神,和營造桃花源的夢想。

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EN

Monkeying Around With --Thatched Cottages

Tsai Wen-ting /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by Phil Newell


What do Zhuge Liang, Wang Wei, Du Fu, and the many thatchers in England have in common? They all lived in thatched roof houses at one time or another. And they weren't the only ones. Indeed, thatched cottages were the first dwellings for many of our ancestors when they first came to Taiwan.

It is a sunny, sweltering day in the Meihua community on the mountainside outside of Luotung Township (in Ilan County). With the aim of building a thatch cottage, a group of old farmers, various tools in hand, leads a gaggle of more than 30 university students and teachers of architecture into the mountains-looking for all the world like a military unit scaling a precipice.

Muzhik professors

Coming to the area of thatch grass, the slender reeds wave gently in the breeze. Yu Mei-chih, a 71-year-old, pulls out a scythe specially designed for cutting tall grass, and teaches the young city slickers to be sure to slice the grass starting on the windward side, so that it doesn't fly up and prick their eyes. With the air of an expert, Uncle Yu explains the advantages of thatch grass: It keeps out cold in winter, yet does not trap heat in summer. "Birds build their nests with twigs, and people build their nests with thatch. There's nothing that can match the advantages of thatch grass," says Wu Sung-ho, director of the Community Development Association, in praise of the reed.

On the mountain are found the common grass fern and Formosan sugar palm, which are excellent material for pillars. An elderly gentleman named Chung Chieh-chung-whom the others call "platoon leader"-explains how to tell these two similar-looking trees apart: "If there are marks of leaves on the trunk, then that's a common grass fern. If there is a lot of down on the outside, that's a Formosan sugar palm." The common grass fern and Formosan sugar palm are both light and easy to transport, and are also extremely resistant to moisture. Set in the earth, they can last as long as 40 years without rotting, so they are ideal for Ilan's damp climate. The "platoon leader" also reminds everyone to put the pillars in root-end down, because that is, after all, the way trees are. Chinese Culture University associate professor of architecture Li Chien-lang, who has studied traditional building for many years, says that underlying the rules of the elderly gentlemen is a worldview of "duplicating nature's ways."

After materials have been collected from the mountains, the pillars and beams are put into place, drawing an outline in three dimensions of the thatched cottage. The old gents, having their first experience as "professors," give of their knowledge freely and exhaustively. Their "students" work with them side by side, bending over to scythe the grass, going up the mountain to chop Formosan sugar palm, and experiencing with their own sweat and muscles the relationship between nature and architecture. In so doing they also understand how our forebears-lacking tile or brick-gathered materials, and, through daily experience, ended up choosing thatch grass from the countless types of plant life to build their roofs. "This wasn't some discovery by a scientist, but was the drop-by-drop accumulation of wisdom among the common people," avers author Huang Chun-ming, who strongly promoted this "thatched cottage study camp."

Foolish monkeys?

So, hey, why mobilize all that labor to build a thatched cottage? This all goes back to the story of "the foolish monkeys who moved all the rocks."

It begins more than 170 years ago. The people who first came to what is now the Meihua community were relative latecomers to Taiwan, and when they got here all they could get was pathetic land covered in boulders and wild grass. They believed that beneath this sea of stone they would find soil suitable for planting, so they began, day after day, to take away the rocks. People ridiculed them, and called them "foolish monkeys" for taking on the task. Yet, by taking rocks washed down by the rivers and building walls with them, and then roofing these structures with thatch grass, these people built thatched cottages to shield themselves from the elements in a land others thought incapable of supporting life. They dispelled their image in others' eyes as "foolish monkeys." "In the old days, our community was known as 'Maopuwei' [lit: thatch field community]. Fifty years ago or so, most people in the village still used thatch grass for the roofs of their houses," says an old farmer.

For the current residents of "Maopuwei," the new thatched cottages are "houses of memories." With the reconstruction of thatched cottages, bits of the past lived by elderly residents-including their wisdom and confidence derived from daily experience-have returned as well. In fact, records of houses made with thatch are not limited to the history of Maopuwei; virtually all of those who first came empty-handed to Taiwan had grass huts as their first "homes."

Grasping at straws

Of all human dwellings, grass huts probably have the oldest history, the widest distribution, and-cumulatively over time-the largest number of residents. At sites of artifacts from communities more than 7000 years old found at Banpo Village (Henan Province) and Hemudu (Zhejiang Province) in mainland China, it can be inferred from remnants of posts and beams that there must have been thatched homes at that time. Grass huts offer people numerous advantages-they are convenient, flexible, simple, and can be made entirely from materials readily at hand. Li Juei-tsung, an associate professor of architecture and environmental design at the Chung-Hua Polytechnic Institute, suggests, "Thatched houses are the single greatest expression of the culture of ordinary people, and they are one of the great creative products of man and nature. It's too bad they have been ignored in architectural history."

Thatched cottages are defined by their grass roofs, with different varieties being used in different environments. For example, in northern Taiwan, people utilized rice stalks. In the south, long grass-like sugar cane leaves were employed. Aborigines usually used a coarse grass called Themeda triandra, while people on the coast used wild sugar cane. The "thatched roof hut," now seen as nothing but a temporary worksite shelter or a pig sty, was once the most elevated form of grass dwelling. As the various groups in Taiwan intermingled, they learned from each other, so that, for instance, the people of Maopuwei learned thatch-weaving techniques from the indigenous Atayal people, while the Atayal began using more rot-resistant thatch grass in place of Themeda triandra.

Given the high demand in that era, grasses went from being wild plants to being deliberately cultivated crops. According to a 1917 survey by the Governor-General's Office of the Japanese occupation era, 2500 hectares of farmland across the island were devoted to thatch grass cultivation, in which Ilan was the leader. After every autumn harvest, there was always a group of specialized roofers-thatchers-roaming from house to house crying, "Thatch repairs!"

Grass huts of the rich and famous

In that pioneering era, thatch and coarse grasses were not just something found growing wild in a field somewhere, and thatched cottages were not mere worksheds. From a small number of pictures from the Japanese occupation era, one can in fact see some quite splendid thatched homes. For example, the Lin family of Wufeng, one of the most important official families of the Qing dynasty, kept a well-maintained and carefully woven structure (which they called fajicuo, meaning "the dwelling where fortune began") right up until about 1940.

The Lin's three-room thatched cottage was the original homestead and base for the family's rise, and they also called it facaicuo ("dwelling of prosperity"). Forty years ago, the structure collapsed, but the Lins have always wanted to rebuild this home, given its historic significance. The National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, in charge of the rebuilding project, sent three teacher's assistants to Ilan to participate in the thatched-roof study camp.

These days one can only get an idea of what the original Lin thatched cottage looked like from old photos, but in northern Taiwan, on the road from Wanli to Shuanghsi, there is a thatched structure that one can still see today. In a three-sided traditional family compound, the roofs on the outer two wings of the compound have already been converted to tile, but the main hall-where there are altars to deities and deceased ancestors-is still covered in thatch. The owner says that he hopes the act of having to maintain the roof year-in and year-out will remind his descendants never to forget their roots.

Grass-roofs experience

The university students at the Maopuwei study camp came to learn how to preserve historic buildings. But others-Chen Wen-chin and Fang Yung-ching, from Hualien, and Chen Li-hua, from Miaoli-came because they want to build their own thatched cottages. Is it really possible to live in such a house?

The 80-year-old Mrs. Chien perhaps knows more about the advantages of living in a thatched cottage than anyone. The Chien home is the only remaining thatched residence in Maopuwei. Next to it they have built a modern three-story building, the tallest structure in the community. Still, by comparison, "the thatched cottage is cooler than the concrete building, which is like an oven," explains Mrs. Chien as she wraps up a zongzi rice dumpling. This is because the layers of grass in the thatched roof can stabilize the flow of air through them, and they don't readily trap or pass heat along. This is why they stay cool in summer, yet warm in winter, and are also very effective at blocking out sound.

For these reasons, some villages have put thatched roofs, made of rice stalks or thatch grass held in place by bamboo, over the flat roofs of new concrete houses. Says architecture scholar Li Chien-lang, "Although modern structures are convenient, they are not so comfortable for human living. Thus traditional materials will never be entirely eradicated by the passage of time, they will only be used differently."

Reedy and able

The younger generation these days are certainly capable of appreciating the virtues of thatched cottages. Mrs. Chien's daughter-in-law, for example, notes that "You won't be scared half to death in a thatched cottage during an earthquake." Moreover, because thatched roofs are slanted, given the way water rapidly rolls off grass, they quickly drain off rain. To top it off (so to speak), they are easily repaired; this makes them a lot better than flat concrete roofs that are less than perfectly built-once those start leaking they drip from morning to night.

One of those who participated in the study camp, Tunghai University architecture student Hung Hung-ho, admired the thatched cottage with an expert eye. "Modern buildings are designed to attract your attention, but the thatched cottage blends right into the natural environment, and doesn't look at all out of place." Looking forward to applying what he has learned to his career, Hung notes that anyway both modern buildings and thatched cottages have to cope with the same elements-sun and rain-and that, after seeing a few more natural structures like the thatched cottage, he hopes to combine the modern and the down-to-earth local style in his own future work.

This points to what may be the most significant thing about thatched cottages. They are made from local materials, have been tested by experience, they are built to suit the local climate and resources, and they are economical and environmentally friendly, doing absolutely no harm to human beings. "Our ancestors were really wise to use the materials produced by this environment to conquer this environment. That's what I call 'doing the natural thing,'!" Wu Sung-ho of the Community Development Association declares approvingly.

Of course, if thatched cottages had no disadvantages, it is unlikely that people would have so quickly abandoned them. Do you remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? The first one, a lazy one who lived in a thatched cottage, had his house blown down by the wolf. Also, thatched roofs are ideal for insects and rats to make their homes in. And they don't stand up very well to typhoons. Otherwise the Tang dynasty poet Du Fu would never have sighed, "The autumn winds have ruined my thatched cottage."

Most frightening for those who live in thatched cottages is fire. Once in Maopuwei there was a blaze, and the whole village was mobilized to fight it, because if the fire got out of control the entire village would have had their roofs burned off. Maopuwei elders can all remember the time there was a fire during a water shortage, so that in the end they had to resort to using human waste (stored in a pit for use as fertilizer) to extinguish the flames. Finally, in these days when labor is costly and few people have the proper skills, it has become a terrible headache for homeowners to try to find someone to repair their thatched roof every two or three years.

Modern primitives

So, are thatched cottages good places to live? China's Du Fu wouldn't have been able to answer this question-he was too busy chasing reeds blown off his roof. The many thatchers of Britain, however, would give a definite thumbs up. As recently as half a century ago, there were still 25,000 thatchers-specialists in grass roof repair-in Britain. Even today, there are still more than 500. This should tell you that there are still very many thatched cottages in the UK, some of which have been continuously maintained and used for up to five centuries.

Li Juei-tsung, who has been to England to study thatched cottages, points out that British people see the maintenance of a thatched cottage not only as the preservation of the building itself, but as part of the larger preservation of the beautiful environs of a rural village. Thus they have specialized schools passing along techniques and doing research and development. There are also subsidies to help people who wish to maintain the thatched cottages in which they reside.

"Thatched cottages were not actually that convenient. But, upgraded and improved, they can be suitable for modern people. This isn't a matter of 'living in the past,' but is making thatched cottages viable for today, so that they meet modern standards," says Huang Chun-ming. He says that the point of the thatched cottage study camp was to affirm the harmony between architecture and man; it was not to turn back the clock so that everyone would build and live in thatched cottages. Of course, if today someone were to favor a thatched cottage, and be willing to spend the money and effort required to maintain it, that would be a good thing. At least there would be some examples of thatched cottage architecture "co-existing" next to the tile buildings, western-style houses, and skyscrapers here in Taiwan. People could thus experience different architectural periods in a natural way in daily life.

In England, a completely new thatched roof made from wheat stalks can cost about NT$400,000 (about *10,000), while one made from reeds can cost up to NT$1 million (about *25,000)! No wonder that most of the people who live in well-kept thatched cottages are doctors, lawyers, or others with high incomes. These homes are surrounded with lush flowering trees, there are adornments on the edges of the roofs, and there may even be squirrels or owls woven out of grass as decoration. Of course, inside they have the full complement of modern appliances. "The houses may look primitive, but the people inside are very modern," says Li Juei-tsung.

Thatch entertainment!

Nevertheless, in terms of techniques, materials, or overall outlook, Taiwan's conditions for maintaining thatched cottages lag behind those of Britain. Anyway, if the existence of thatched cottages is just to satisfy a tiny number of people who can afford to pay exorbitant costs, that would be a diminution of the function of these buildings, and gut them of their spiritual content.

"Recovering the past and then weighing in modern considerations is the only way that thatched cottages can survive," avers Li Juei-tsung. For example, in terms of materials and form, thatched cottages are environmentally friendly, while in terms of philosophy of life, they represent simplicity. Li Chien-lang suggests that we need not cut ourselves off from the good things of the past, but there is also no need to employ them "in a forced, unnatural way just for the sake of keeping them going." For example, if one transported raw materials a long way to a new place just to build a thatched cottage, that would violate the basic character of thatched cottages as being "made from local materials." If one wanted to go further, and install air conditioning and luxurious interiors in pursuit of a high material standard of living, the result would be preposterous. Li believes that thatched cottages should survive in a more natural way, and owners should keep an open mind and not make the cottages into something they shouldn't be.

There are similar concerns about the many thatched cottages now used in scenic areas, or the use of thatched cottages in "nativist" cultural activities as a means of expressing rural culture. These are, alas, detached from daily life, and they are little more than "entertainment." Such uses may provide moderns with "the consolation of sentimental nostalgia," says architecture scholar Lai Chih-chang, "but these are nothing but an element in short-lived cultural consumption. After they stop being trendy, they will quickly disappear."

From rush hours to rush houses

In Ilan County's Yutian Village-which used to be called Maopu, the same as the first part of the name of Maopuwei-the old people built a "Thatch Garden Pavilion" at the main crossroads where villagers come together. Old men from the village setting out for work first thing in the morning meet here. Under the noon-day sun passing truck drivers stop to eat their lunches. When the moon rises, people sit around eating snacks and sipping a glass or two of wine. Or perhaps boys and girls talk intimately of their love. Built just over a year ago, this thatched pavilion shifts its mood with each dawn and dusk, with each passage of the sun and moon.

In the Paimi community in Su'ao Township, a bamboo structure-suitable for performances or cookouts-has been built across from community cultural center. Every time there is a special event-Lantern Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival-people come here to do whatever the season traditionally calls for, from cooking up rice ball soup to guessing lantern riddles. The wafting fragrance of food adds ambience to thatched buildings.

The full-bearded Fang Yung-ching, who lives in Hualien, has many ideas of his own. He lived in Taipei for over 30 years, but-unable to tolerate the dirty urban environment-moved out five years ago, and moved to Hualien. In his new home, he has a bamboo structure that doubles as a garage and as a planter for his sponge gourds. It looks good, tastes good, and is cheap and easy to use. Now he plans to put up a thatched cottage in his courtyard, where he plants corn and convolvulus. The thatched cottage-which will be built up off the ground-will not only provide a place for his friends to gather and sip tea, the space underneath will become a roost for his free-range chickens. He got the inspiration for this plan from the thatched cottages of the aboriginal people. The cottage is an expression of his desire for the life of a gentleman farmer, and also promises to satisfy his interest in building a do-it-yourself house.

Don't imagine that Fang is some nostalgic dreamer: "Build a thatched cottage to live in? It's not good enough at keeping out the elements, and is not fire-resistant. As for recycling old things, I think we should not reject all old things outright, but that doesn't mean we have to 'take everything as a single unit'!" he declares. He explains, "What we need is to borrow the materials, the functions, and perhaps even the spirit, those are easy to adopt for use."

The dream of the thatched chamber

Seniors in the Maopuwei community built their first thatched cottage this year as part of Ilan County's "Celebrate the Year of Ilan" activities. They have since built two more simple thatched cottages, one at the foot of the mountains and the other across from the old brick kiln. And now Cottage Number 4 will be built in Wu Sung-ho's courtyard. This time they plan to build a structure that moderns will see as a classic. Eventually they hope to build such "classic" cottages in one resident's compound after another as small family-run inns.

Even as the building of Cottage Number 4 was getting underway, Maopuwei elders had already begun a series of other tasks to put a good face on their community: They restored the community's old stone wall. They cleared out the small irrigation ditches supplying the farm community. And in November, when the time is right for planting, they plan to put in 10,000 peach and plum trees alongside the houses and streets of the village; these will then be "adopted" by nature-lovers. When the first blossoms come out three years from now, the elders will invite the "adoptive parents" of these trees from outside of the community to come to see the dazzling display of a sea of pink and white flowers, and to inhale the fragrant floral aromas.

"This is not nostalgia. It's just, why do we want to abandon the innate charms of rural life? Why should rural communities have to be turned into urban ones?" wonders an exasperated Huang Chun-ming.

Look for a moment at the descriptions used in advertising for some of the apartment complexes going up in the big cities: "Verdant mountains, blue water." "Laid out like a farming village." They are trying to appeal to buyers by associating with nature. And many recreational areas either use small wooden buildings or else thatched cottages. All of these suggest that people instinctively have a need for and fondness for nature. Just as it is for those who abandon city life and move to the country, the idea of the thatched cottage is an expression of their existence within nature. And for the people of Maopuwei, rebuilding thatched cottages is part of their dream of saving the charm of their rural village.

In the urban area encroaching on the edge of Maopuwei, one can see skyscrapers with names reminiscent of the steamroller nature of urban culture: "An Imperial View." "New York Mansions." "The Vancouver Building." "Imperial Garden Sea." Such edifices could at any time take advantage of the space in the scenic Maopuwei district and move in. But that is not what the residents are hoping for.

More than just a house

Development of small thatched-roof inns may very well be the lifeline for the Maopuwei community. But Huang Chun- ming argues that the main significance to reconstructing the thatched cottage community is not economic, but in preserving the underlying values of a rural society. He sees the rural community as the prop for, the roots for, the urban.

Wu Sung-ho, who worked in Taipei for many years, can understand exactly what Huang means. In former times he was using up his life earning money. But after falling seriously ill, he returned to his old home to recuperate. "Young people always love to fly around trying to conquer the universe. But one day they will be tired, and want to return home. I hope to make Maopuwei into a natural paradise, so that when the children are worn out they can come here and will have a place to rest," he says, describing his own past and hopes for the future in a raspy voice.

In four days under an intense sun, the thatched cottage is completed through the cooperative efforts of young and old alike. Team leader Huang Chun-ming puts on the finishing touch by pasting up red door couplets, a Chinese tradition for new homes. The one on the right says "Our ancestors moved stones for a century." The one on the left reads, "Their descendants live in tranquillity for ten thousand generations." And the one placed horizontally over the door reads: "Full mobilization of foolish monkeys."

More than a century ago, the people of Maopuwei had a dream. They wanted to move away the rocks and clear the land, making a place to settle on this piece of earth. They are now long dead, but their dream is not. This group of foolish monkeys is still working to carry forth that dream of their ancestors.

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Newlyweds stand before a thatched cottage, in a photo commemorating the beginning of their family life. The earliest immigrants to Taiwan had to rely on these little cottages to keep out the elements.

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Old farmers act as professors to architecture students learning how to cut thatch grass.

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Before them a field of thatch grass waves in the wind, while in the mountains there are Formosan palm, grass ferns, and Themeda triandra-common materials for thatched cottages. An elder from Maopuwei calls all this "innately natural."

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Drawing pictures of thatch grass in detail teaches one the relationship between architecture and nature, something that cannot be learned in the classroom.

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This is how you tie up roof thatch-it'll be your turn to try in a minute.

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Blue sky and a thatched cottage-anyone would want to reside in this English country cottage, living the idealized rural life.

(photo by Li Juei-tsung)

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There are vegetables sun-drying outside the cottage, as well as a bamboo grove for materials to maintain the structure. The roof has been fixed up many times over the years, and thatch put up at different times now shows different colors. (photo by Lai Chih-chang)

This thatched house was the "origin of prosperity" for the Lin family of Wufeng, who became an established official family in the Qing dynasty. (photo courtesy of Lai Chih-chang)

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At this thatched pavilion built at a village crossroads, passing truck drivers stop to rest and chat.

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If the lifestyle is there, then the "spirit" will naturally follow, and only then can thatched cottages really be preserved in their original form.

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The completion of a thatched cottage marks the extension of the dream of the "foolish monkeys," as early Maopuwei settlers were dubbed; it is also part of the current dream of building a naturalistic paradise.

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