12 December 2012

"Chicken-footed" building (Sami storehouse)

Traditional raised Sami storehouse, displayed at Skansen, Stockholm. A similar structure, the izbushka, is mentioned in Russian children stories as a house with chicken feet.
I haven't found any further information on this design.  The izbushka is mentioned in a Wikipedia article on Baba Yaga:
He journeyed onwards, straight ahead [...] and finally came to a little hut; it stood in the open field, turning on chicken legs... Ivan walks for some time before encountering a small hut identical to the first... After walking for some time, Ivan eventually finds the chicken-legged hut of the youngest of the three sisters turning in an open field.
There are a number of images of chicken-legged huts retrievable at Google Images, most of them related to the Baba Yaga tale.

I would have to assume that the Sami structure is a practical rather than a whimsical creation, developed in response to the types of wood/driftwood available and probably the presence of a difficult-to-penetrate (frozen) ground or unstable (thawing) tundra and the need to elevate the storehouse above predators.

No time to look it up now.  Some readers may wish to pursue the matter on their own.

Photo credit m.prinke. 

Addendum: Reader Steve notes the similarity to English "staddle stones":

...originally used as supporting bases for granaries, hayricks, game larders, etc. The staddle stones lifted the granaries above the ground thereby protecting the stored grain from vermin and water seepage. In Middle English staddle or stadle is stathel, from Old English stathol, a foundation, support or trunk of a tree...

The staddle stones usually had a separate head and base which gave the whole structure a 'mushroom' like appearance. Different areas in the United Kingdom had different designs. The base varied from cylindrical to tapered rectangular to near triangular. Flat topped cone shaped staddle stones are to be found in parts of the Isle of Wight. The tops are flat to support the beams, however some variation does exists, such as square tops, fluted designs, slate tops, etc.

Old land deeds in northeastern United States often refer to Oak Staddle or Walnut Staddle. These deeds are from the late 18th century to the middle 19th century. Either the owners would cut a tree leaving the stump and request that the surveyors measure to it, or the surveyor would measure out to the location of a new lot corner and a staddle would be inserted into the ground like a boundary stone.


  1. Baba Yaga stories were an on-going series in the children's magazine, Jack & Jill, during the mid-'50s. I recognized this immediately!

  2. Baba Yaga is a Russian witch living in this house. In some fairy tales she is so big, she fills the whole building and sometimes the building rotates. She is not necessary evil character as typical witch in western fairy tale culture, she is more a sort of test for the hero.
    This kind of buildings are not so rare either. We have had them many centuries ago in today's Ljubljana, Slovenija. Not with so nicely decorated 'legs', but essentially the same thing. The reason: swamp and floods.

    1. In the version I know, it looks just like a normal izbushka on the ground, but without doors or windows-- until you say, "Little house, little house, turn your back to the forest and your face to me," which makes it stand up on its legs and turn to reveal a door.

  3. In the central interior of British Columbia, the Carrier, Sekani and Secwepemc stored their dried salmon and preserved meats in elevated storehouses, or caches, for the winter. Underground cache-pits, which they also used, would be difficult to access in heavy snow. Furthermore, these structures protected the food stores from predators such as bears. So, a practical worldwide custom, it seems.

  4. I was thinking that snow might be the issue.

  5. A movement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is inspired by a picture based on the legend.

  6. In England they had granaries elevated likewise, but with mushroom shaped rocks called "Staddle Stones". Keeps grain, hay etc. away from water and critters.


    1. I've never seen those before - will append to the post after I get some errands done.

      Thank you, Steve.

    2. Quite welcome :)Thank you for the always interesting subject matter.

  7. Notice the thing lying between the "legs" of the hut, that is the ladder, which is always taken down when not in use.

  8. Also Switzerland (probably any cold area, but I hadn't thought about that until I saw your post):


    I first ran into them in Saas Fee, Switzerland years ago:


    And there are many, many traditional raccard granaries--still IN town. "Downtown". :)

    1. This is from Saas Fee:




      And this is from elsewhere, and shows a substantially larger structure:


  9. I was reading in Wikipedia on Sami people (Laplander's) and saw these storehouses on legs and immediately recognized the similarity to the Chicken House in the Babba Yaga Russian Tales, as I fancy Russian Fairy Tales and folklore and recognizing that the laplands are also part of Russia (so I just read on Wiki as well) it would make sense that someone, who started these Baba Yaga tales, talked to someone or seen these storehouses themselves or heard of a description of them to have put them in the Baba Yaga story because they are IDENTICAL to the chicken house with legs! Only thing they don't do is run on them, ha ha ha. Love that part of the story)For those of you not familiar with the story: B
    Baba Yaga lives in a hut deep in the forest. Her hut seems to have a personality of its own and can move about on its extra-large chicken legs. Usually the hut is either spinning around as it moves through the forest or stands at rest with its back to the visitor. The windows of the hut seem to serve as it's eyes.
    All the while it is spinning round, it emits blood-curdling screeches and will only come to a halt, amid much creaking and groaning, when a secret incantation is said. When it stops, it turns to face the visitor and lowers itself down on its chicken legs, throwing open the door with a loud crash.
    The hut is sometimes surrounded by a fence made of bones, which helps to keep out intruders! The fence is topped with skulls whose blazing eye sockets illuminate the darkness.
    When a visitor enters her hut, (not too often) Baba Yaga asks them whether they came of their own free will, or whether they were sent. (Only one answer is the right one!)


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