Iraqi Marshes: Reed House Builders

Date: 1951-58

Wilfred Thesiger (d. 2003) describes the differences between the houses (known in Arabic as mudhif; smaller structures were known as sarifa) in the Euphrates and Tigris regions. Those around the Euphrates were larger with up to fifteen arches (those around the Tigris being up to eleven). The Euphrates houses were also wider and higher. Another difference was that the Euphrates examples could be cut down as the reeds decayed, whereas the Tigris houses would be entirely rebuilt. Thesiger photographs a mudhif at al-Juaibar. See also: Mat Maker; Coracle Maker; Brickmaker.

Citation: Wilfred Thesiger, The Marsh Arabs (London: The Folio Society, 2004. First edition: London: Longman, 1964), pp. 183-85. Illustrations appear between pp. 174, 175 (images: 16020.1, 10556.1, 23206.1, 16864.1).


Date: before 1957

The Marsh Arabs could build a house in two hours or less from reed arches which would then be covered in reed matting. These reeds, which were found in the marches, were also used for making mats. Gavin Maxwell (d. 1969) describes the men digging parallel holes to hold the base of the arches in place and pulling the tops of the arches together using the foot of a spade. Sedge leaf was used to bind the tops together. He counts five arches and fourteen horizontal bundles before the matting is added. See also: Architect; Builder; House Painter; Mat Maker.

Citation: Maxwell, Gavin. A Reed shaken by the Wind (London: Longmans, 1957), pp. 152-53.

Also: Milwright, Marcus. Islamic Arts and Crafts: An Anthology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), p. 191.