Afrikaans for "house of mats". Pronounced "MY-kis-hys". The plural of matjieshuis is matjieshuise.
Well into the Twentieth Century, most Khoikhoi houses were dome-shaped huts known as matjieshuise. These most characteristic artifacts of Khoikhoi life, visible in almost every early European depiction of south African scenes, were made of reed mats laid over a dome-shaped frame of green saplings planted into the ground. Each matjieshuis housed a single nuclear family. Few, if any, larger structures were built.
The men of the family would be responsible for cutting and planting the saplings for the frame, tying them together with leather thongs to form interconnected arches. Women collected the reeds and threaded them together to make the mats. These mats could simply be untied and rolled up for easy transportation on migrations - if the tribe intended to return to the same spot later on, the frames of the huts would often be left behind.
The matjieshuis was ideal for the climate in this area. The dome shape provided superiour stability in high winds. In warm seasons, light and air could easily move between the reeds, giving good air circulation. When the rains came, the reeds would swell to form a water-tight barrier. Animal skins would be attached to the inside of the frame during the coldest months to provide extra insulation.
Pots and wooden food vessels, almost always made with lugs for the attachment of leather thongs, were usually hung from the frame or from a single interior pole built for this purpose. Historically, the semi-nomadic Khoikhoi led rather Spartan lives, so it seems likely that the floor of older matjieshuise was usually free of clutter, with most of their belongings hanging above the floor. The floor itself was not treated as Zulu huts' floors were, but was often covered with reed mats (see uMgungundlovu for further comparison to Zulu dwellings).
The matjieshuis was not only the dominant architectural style amongst the Khoikhoi, but was adopted by many of the European farmers who settled in the area, most significantly the trekboers. Even into the 1900s, matjieshuise were used by many different groups of Cape people who did not own their own land.