Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 7. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 38-39.

Tree Houses of the World

A tree house.
A free house.
A secret you and me house.
A high up in the leafy branches.
A happy as can be house.
A street house.
A neat house.
A be sure to wipe your feet house,
is not the kind of house for me.
Let's go and live in a treehouse.

"If you hate 'progress' so much why don't you go back to living in trees, motherfuckers!"
- US Offroader.

On direct action camps we create spaces and communities that are windows to the future world we wish to create. One of the most beautiful experiences of camp life is treehouse living. Up in the canopy, surrounded by an amazing abundance of life we begin to feel a part of the eco-system we inhabit - not merely its defender. We wake up every morning, stretch ourselves towards the sky and gaze across the woodland canopy. It's as if we're standing on lush green clouds. We are rocked to sleep every night by the swaying of the branches in the breeze.

Activists in Britain first used tree dwellings as a defensive strategy at Jesmond Dene, in Newcastle in 1993. Since then treehouses have got more sophisticated, more difficult to evict and a lot more cosy.

Just as our struggles mirror those of our ancestors and of peoples all over the globe; so too do the shelters we build mirror others past and present. On every continent on earth cultures exist that live high in the trees. In N. India many animist ('all that exists lives') tribes make their homes in the branches (Image 4) while even ground dwellers often add leafy penthouses to their abodes (Image 3). In W. Papua (Image 2) and neighbouring Papua New Guinea (Image 7) tribes live, (as the illustrator put it), 'in houses like the nests of giant birds'. In Equatorial Africa and the Americas fragments of previous societies live on. Tree living cultures used to cover much of what is now known as Poland but few living examples still exist . In Europe - the fortress of domestication - apart from the dwellings/barricades of activists in Germany, Britain & Ireland treeliving cultures have been made extinct. Yet they live on whether in the memory of forest rebels like Robin Hood or in the wisdom of childhood. For years children imagine alternate worlds far more interesting than the ones they usually submit to when they leave their treehouses to join the commuter queues. It is no mistake that so many books have their tree dwelling utopias, (eg. Tolkien, S.Donaldson). Even Star Wars sets the tree village living low-tech ewoks against the Techno-Reich of the Empire. In a reminder of previous times Eastern European children often live in their treehouses throughout the summer (5). Probably the oldest treehouse in the world (Image 6) was built in 1692 for the children of Pitchford Hall, Shropshire. Tree dwelling is a proven ecological way of life - an amazing one at that. When revolution has ripened fully we'll see forests filled with treehouses.

Image 1: "One of the nice things about having a thatched roof on my treehouse is the life content. All the time lizards run around in it, & various insects, spiders etc. A couple of possums nest in it, (once there was a big commotion when a 7 foot snake raided one of the nests - it rained baby possums in my bedroom, the snake ate 2 baby possums then left). Spot-breasted wrens roost in the eaves, they sing duets, one starts the song and another comes in and finishes it up". So writes Hugh Brown who along with a friend built their five-level tree house on a Caribbean beach in Honduras to escape being sent to Vietnam. They used hard wood for flooring, thatch for roofs and, (a tip for camps here) barbed wire for a tensile framework for some of the floors and roofs.

Image A: Robinson was a popular Paris rendevous. Visitors around 1900 enjoyed an evening dance then retired to the tree-tops where their meal was hoisted up to them.

Image 2: Houses of West Papua's Kombai and Korowai peoples are built as high as 150 feet for a reason - "to see the birds and the mountains and to keep sorcerers from climbing my stairs" says Korowai tribesman Landi Gifanop. Though safe deep in the forest at the moment they are threatened. Timber, mineral and oil companies are invading the forest - but not without resistance. For two decades West Papuan tribes have waged armed struggle against the Indonesian military's invasion of their country and the companies that followed it.

Image 1 (below)


Image 2 (below)


Image 3 (below)


Image 4 (below)


Image 5 (below)


Image 6 (below)


Image 7 (below)


Image A (below)

Other images not mentioned in the text


(Image from bottom-right page 39 missing)

(Image from top-right page 39 missing)

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