weblogUpdates.ping Taneak Jang, Rejang Land, Tanah Rejang http://rejang-lebong.blogspot.com Taneak Jang, Rejang land, Tanah Rejang: Traditional Houses in Western Indonesia

Traditional Houses in Western Indonesia


18 - 19 FEBRUARY 1999

On 18th and 19th of February 1999 the KNAW research project 'Design and Meaning of Architecture and Space among Ethnic Groups of Western Indonesia' held an international workshop on traditional houses in Western Indonesia at its offices at the anthropology department of Leiden University.


The aim of this workshop was to present the results of research by the Leiden project staff as well as that of young Indonesian researchers, who had not yet had the opportunity of participating in previous workshops organized by the project in 1996 and 1997.

The workshop was opened by Prof. Reimar Schefold with a general introduction to the research problem, recounting the work that had been done and the progress that had been made since the inception of the project in 1995. This was followed by a presentation by Emmed M. Prioharyono on 'Round Houses in Timor'. These houses, um-bobo, incorporate ideas of ancestor veneration and express the household's connections with their clans and the ethnic groups. Especially important is the ancestral shrine located near the main post of the house. More recently the Indonesian government has been promoting square houses for reasons of health. These lack this main post and an interior kitchen. While these square houses have been adopted to some degree, the traditional houses are still used, especially during childbirth and for the storage of maize, because the smoke of the wood fire preserves the grain.

The theme of round and oval houses was continued by Gaudenz Domenig who pointed out the fact that these types are mainly found in two areas, namely on the islands north of Sumatra, and in the lesser Sundas. He discussed how oval houses are formed by adding rounded roof parts to the gable sides of an initially two-sided roof. He also argued in favour of also understanding the few circular roof types of Indonesia from the ethnographic context, rather than speculating pre-Austronesian cultural origins.

Marcel Vellinga's talk about 'Houses and a Competion for Status among the Minangkabau' focused on the ever extending numbers of rooms in the construction of houses in Abai Sangir. These houses, which are no longer used as family dwellings function as active instruments in marking the status of a descent group. This current trend of adding rooms differs from older methods of claiming status in which multiple roofs and raised floors tended to be emphasized. These older methods of claiming status, however, were restricted to the old Minangkabau nobility, while the lengthening of the houses can be employed by those who have come to prominence by other methods since Indonesian independence.

Acehenese hat

Robert Wessing analysed the geographical structure of Sundanese hamlets, pointing out that the way these West Javanese settlements are laid out on the ground is governed by a set of cosmological principles that include an axis defined by the location of the guardian nature spirit and the ancestor's grave. This axis is then further related to the flow of water, which conveys the positive influence of these two spiritual sources to the hamlet and its fields.

In his presentation on 'The Traditional Padang House', Eko Alvarez showed that although these houses had changed considerably in their external appearance owing to influences from Aceh and Coastal Malays, the internal configuration of the various spaces such as the bedrooms, family room and the like had remained either as it had been in the earliest recorded instances of these houses, or could be seen to be transformations of this earlier arrangement. Although the resulting transformations were numerous, in each case Eko was able to relate these back to the traditional Padang gadang house.

Peter Nas described the way in which architects of five generations in Banda Aceh incorporated elements of traditional Acehenese architecture in both public and private modern structures. One of the problems in this effort is that unlike in some other places in Indonesia, there is little out of the ordinary about the roof of the traditional Acehenese house, making it a less likely candidate for symbolical elaboration. This problem was solved by at least two of the architects by taking inspiration from specific Acehenese features such as the typical Acehenese hat and a well known roof covering an ancient sacred bell. Other traditional features that are commonly used are the protruding beams and upright posts of the traditional house that are now made of concrete rather than timber.

Dermawati Santoso described the history of the past seventy years of Kali Pasir, a less prosperous neighbourhood in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. The houses there and the land on which they stand tend overwhelmingly to be private property. Although there are official guidelines to be used in house construction in this settlement, these often are ignored by those building or renovating their houses in order to save money. In her study Dermawati focuses on the interaction of the inhabitants of this area with various areas in the rest of Jakarta.

Continuing the focus on less wealthy areas of the capital city, Atashendartini Habsjah, described one of the oldest settlements in the Jati Negara district of Jakarta. These neighbourhoods, which cannot be easily discerned, are approached through narrow alleyways. Rather than being only bedroom communities, they contain within them various businesses and individual entrepreneurs, with ties well beyond the confines of the area. Here, as in the previous example, land ownership tends to be individual to the degree that, when, owing to heavy rains, a fruit tree became separated from one house plot and attached to another, the public still recognized the claim of the first plot's owner to its fruits. In both latter cases, the ramshackle houses tend to expand vertically following the constrains of the shortage and resultant cost of land in the centre of Jakarta.

Individual property

Sandra Taal's presentation on 'Change and Diversification in Form and Function of the Limas House of Palembang', a major Sumatran city, pointed at a renewed enthusiasm for these houses, not so much as dwellings but rather as objects of tourist interest. Traditionally these houses focused on the River Musi but, in order to make them more accessible, both for residents and possible visitors, some are now being turned around to face the road. Whereas in the past these houses and the complex of which they were part were associated with noble lineages, today a growing number of this house type is individual property reflecting the wealth and prestige of their owner. Following the policies propagated by the Indonesian government, the characteristic roof of this house has become the symbol for the city of Palembang generally.

In his presentation on 'The South Sumatran rumah uluan in the course of migration', Bart Barendregt related the distribution of a particular architectural tradition in the Central Bukit Barisan Range of Sumatra to processes of mobility, expansion, and migration. The uluan house, though largely recognizable by an invariable core, has experienced significant modifications among several highland groups and led to subtypes that can be explained in terms of transformations of each other. In this process modifications occur both in the form of the house, as was shown in comparing the Serawai and Besemah houses, and in the social composition of a house, shown in the case of the Semende people.

The workshop concluded with a paper by Reimar Schefold entitled 'Telling Houses: Recent architectural transformations in Western Indonesia' in which he emphasized both the principles underlying the construction of Austronesian houses generally and the fact that these principles, can be used in varying ways to express and enhance the prestige of the owners. By skilfully manipulating these principles, competition for status among subgroups can be expressed in traditional ways while at the same time opening up new possibilities of interpretation.

Some of the papers presented will appear in one of the volumes to be published by the research project. *



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