Hidmo is a traditional house type common in Tigrai, and the adjacent area of the Eritrean highlands. It consists of mainly masonry walls, wooden ceilings, and a soil roof. The term ‘hidmo’ is derived from the verb ‘ha’deme,’ (‘de’ read with strong emphasis) which means to cover with soil concrete. It is said to have been introduced by the Semitic people who came from Southern Arabia around 1000 B.C.

Hidmo applies to the main house built in the parcel, and is where the vast majority of daily indoor activities are carried out. There could be small variations as to how many rooms a Hidmo may have and its layouts.

Gheralta area

In some parts of Tigrai, the central apse of the floor with entrance door of the house is named midri-bet. In addition, a two-storied part for cereal storage and housing small domestic animals, and one-storied part for sleeping and storing equipment are often attached. The indoor environment of the hidmo house is stabilized because of the thick walls, ceiling and roof, and the limited number of openings.

Stones for the walls, woods for the ceilings and soil for the roof are the principal building materials of hidmo. The masonry walls on which the beams are placed are usually made from hewn stone and mud. The beams are then overlaid with rods and branches of trees before they are covered with soil, which serves as the roof. Inside, huge timber poles are erected to carry the heavy roof joists. The number of timber poles depends on the size of the house.

These poles that support the wooden bar ceilings and the soil roof are known as ‘Andi’ or ‘Endifti’. Thick and strong woods are selected to serve this important purpose.

The making of hidmo requires plenty of wood to support the concrete made of soil. For this reason, the gathering of wood is one of the biggest tasks in the building process.

Hidmo is often built by the man of the house and his countrymen. The country men do not get paid, but when the major work is completed, the man of the house throws a party to thank his country me. The finishing touches are done by the members of the family.

At the entrance to the hidmo there is a porch which is called gebela, a hangout for the family where the yoke often hangs from the ceiling. This something similar to what we call ‘salon’ in modern house.

Inside, there is midri-bet where most of the daily activities happen. The wall is plastered with mud and decorated using colors made from leaves. The midri-bet is multifunctional; it serves as a living, dining and bed room. The bed (medeb or ni’edi), bench (medhe) and shelf (seregela) in midri-bet are all made using stone and mud. In addition, there are big barns made of mud that are erected in the house and help separate the midri-bet and wushate.

Wushate, which is adjacent to the midri-bet, is reserved for women and serves as the kitchen. It has a met’han (grinder) at the very entrance, mogogo (a traditional oven for making bread – injera and qicha), moqlo (mogogo-like but made of metal instead of earth), which is used for roasting grains and baking meteka (bread used in brewing the traditional drink siwa), gulisha (a traditional stove), and Tush or gubitish (used as a steam bath for women).

Tush is a shallow hole, about 20 cm in diameter and 10 cm in depth, dug in the ground. Women who want to have a steam bath place fresh leaves and roots from trees in the hole and burn it to create smoke. Then they put butter on their head, sit on a stool near the burning leaves and roots and cover themselves with a blanket and stay there for as long as they can and leave before they start to feel safucacted by the smoke.

Some hidmos have a small exit door through wushate called ‘guaro’ or ‘higua’, often used as a shortcut passage to the backyard. And there is also a small window for light to enter the room.

Within the courtyard there is dembe (space for the cattle and pack animals), which may have a roof but no doors to give the animals freedom to move around in the whole compound. There is also unroofed encircled space for the smaller domestic animals such as sheep and goats. The chicken are usually kept within the main house, or in small delicately built rooms.