There is an abundance of natural materials in the South Pacific which may
be used to provide for the comfort of troops as well as for the protection of
equipment. However such materials must not be wasted as they represent resources
that should be carefully preserved for the population. Native methods of construction
should be carefully investigated and improvements effected whenever possible.
Bamboo and rattan are the most universal of building materials among
people of the South Pacific area. They are generally plentiful and easily available.
No native material has proved to be more versatile or useful. Some natives say it
is best to cut bamboo in the last quarter of the moon, as wood-boring insects are
less apt to infect the wood when the sap is down. Rattan may be cut at any time.
All sizes and shapes of bamboo are useful; however, the well-dried yellow stalks,
about six inches in diameter, are best. Do not attempt to drive nails or screws
through the wood without first boring holes--it splits easily. If nails or screws
are not available, native methods of binding building members together can be
used. As a structural member, bamboo is fairly reliable especially if seasoned.
There are several methods of curing and insect-proofing bamboo; one is to soak
the wood for at least a week in salt water; the other is to bury the freshly cut
bamboo in warm sand exposed to the sun. Moderate heating of the sand hastens
the process. Petroleum creosote, thinned and sprayed on, is effective. Smoking
the bamboo will dry it and kill the insect larvae. Some of the uses of the material
are wall sheathing, plumbing, furniture, lamp fixtures. When used for sheathing,
it requires a backing of some sort, such as building paper, water-proof paper from
packing crates, or salvaged canvas.
As a ready-built, nature-supplied roof, thatching has no peer. Though to
most Americans it is a lost art, it is very much in evidence throughout the South
Pacific. The best material to use is three-foot-long swamp grass which should be
cut with a sickle and tied into bundles of convenient handling size. The grass should
not be put on the roof while wet. If well done, grass thatching is durable and
waterproof, and should last for a number of years. The technique of thatch laying is
specialized, but once the basic steps are learned, mastery comes easily. If it is
possible, natives should be hired to do the first thatching job. Observation of their
technique will be instruction enough.
Figures 2 to 6 explain the basic process as observed in the South Pacific.
The thatching is started from a lower corner of the roof, and is laid on the
horizontal rafter-branches. The first layer of grass is put on with the roots on
the down-side, running the length of the building. The next layer is laid directly
over the first, with the grass reversed--top down, root ends up; all the following
layers of thatch are built up like overlapping layers of shingles. As each section
of thatch progresses, branches are laid as shown in the illustrations.
The "shingles" are cinched with wire at 18-inch intervals; the wire "sewing" is
done by a man standing underneath the roof, who uses a long pole with an
eye in one end as a needle, see figures 7 to 9. This pole is flattened on the eye-end
to permit easy passage through the thatch. The handler pushes the stick up
through the thatch, next to one of the rafter sticks, where the man on top threads
the eye with wire; the pole is then withdrawn and shoved through on the other side
of the rafter, where the top man ties a knot as shown in the drawings. If no wire
is available, rattan may be used. This process continues until the last layer next
to the peak is reached. The peak is completed with bundles of grass laid horizontally
and finished with a layer of grass bent over the peak and cinched on both
sides (see figure 4). The water-proof nature of thatching makes it equally useful
for the sides of buildings, where it is laid in the same manner as for the roof.
Good, weather-proof, insulated walls can be made from a mixture of
straw and mud. The technique most used by the natives of the South Pacific is
rather like the method of laying plaster on laths. The building is first framed with
upright poles, set into the ground six feet apart. Willow lath sticks are tacked
horizontally to the poles, three inches apart. The adobe, which should be mixed
with plenty of short straw, is then applied like plaster, two or three inches of it
on each side of the framework. Another method is that of making adobe bricks
with mud and straw poured into wooden moulds 10 x 12 x 4 inches. Well dried
in the sun, they can be used like standard baked bricks.