The Tapia House

The Tapia House

The East Indians in Trinidad introduced the art of constructing the ‘Tapia house’ which is  referred to as a jhoparee, in their native homeland of Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh where many still exist in India today.

These structures were built using indigenous materials from the environment which included forest lumber, leaves from palms/grasses for covering and walls of clay re-enforced by a grass, known as tapia grass, from which the dwelling house got its name.

The leaves used for covering were obtained from the carat and timite palms. These can still be found in the far off country-side.  However, with the advancement and upward social mobility of our people the houses have been replaced by the more durable board and concrete structures.

The ‘Tapia’ houses were relatively small in size and required frequent maintenance work to keep them in good condition.  The clay and ‘Tapia’ walls were set up in a way where a series of wood were placed in parallels from post to post until the entire structure was completed.  This was followed by draping the clay into which the Tapia grass was woven.  The parallel wood acts like the ribs in a human body and the clay acts like the muscles.  The entire structure must be so done.

The final touches were done using a coating of clay mixed with fresh cow’s dung into a paste-like texture. The floor was also prepared and enhanced with this paste.  The process was known as ‘leepaying’ which is similar to plastering.  To maintain the integrity and strength of the building, ‘leepaying’ was a routine task done mainly by the East Indian women.

Today, these structures still exist in Bangladesh and India.  However, cement is mixed in the clay to give it a more lasting effect to withstand the rough monsoon rains.