From Sabang at the western tip of Sumatra to Merauke in eastern Papua, Indonesia is home to more than 300 ethnic groups and boasts some 1,340 tribes. As a home, it takes pride in the beautiful displays of traditional architecture in every region, each of which reflects the diversity of cultural, historical and geographic influences that have shaped the nation as a whole. The uniqueness of each region would also depend on how locals view their relationship with the environment. Through the diversity of Indonesian traditional architecture, one could reflect on the magnitude of its cultural richness.
In the past, houses used to be built communally as people would gather all the required resources as well as contribute time and effort. Among the vast array of Indonesian traditional houses, here are some that still stand the test of time. A visit to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah can easily provide you a glimpse into their beauty.
Geography and intercultural influences were the main causes behind the wide variety of traditional Betawi houses, out of which rumah kebaya (kebaya house) is the best known. It is primarily distinguished by the rooftop, which indicates the social status of the owner. Most often, the rooftop would look like a folded saddle and seen from the side it resembles the traditional Betawi clothing known as kebaya.
The Kebaya house is identical with spacious, semi-opened veranda filled with wooden tables and chairs, surrounded by low fences. This part is used to receive guests as well as for relaxing. It is usually built on a cube-shaped ground with the floor position three stairs above the ground.
Based on the function, the house is divided into three parts: the front for public space, the centre for private use, and the back for service and kitchen. Almost every corner is filled with carved ornaments that are full of meanings, such as balang (lined triangle shape), banji swastika (sunflower) and jasmine flower.
This traditional Javanese house is generally made of teak wood. In accordance with the structure of the Javanese society and its traditions, Javanese houses are classified according to their roof form from the lowest to the highest – kampong, limasan and joglo – each characterised by dominant rules of hierarchy.
Nowadays, anyone can own a joglo house as long as he or she can afford it. It is no longer reserved to those from noble families. The roof is the most typical and most complex to make with several distinctive features that distinguish it from the others. The main rooftop of a joglo house tends to be steeper and the ridge not as long as the house. Four main pillars (soko guru) stand to support the roof. There are three parts in the composition of joglo: reception area called pendapa, middle room called pringgitan and back room, which also functions as family room, called dalem.
In Minangkabau language, gadang means big or large. This splendid house from West Sumatra has a distinctive rooftop which looks like buffalo horns and is covered with brightly coloured carvings of original motifs on the walls that are inspired by nature. Gadang house is typically inhabited by three or four generations of families from the same ancestry.
It is intended to resemble a house on stilt. The house has three main areas: immediately after the entrance comes the middle area (rumah tongah) where there is normally a central post. Adjoining this are rooms on the right and left wings of the house (anjuang) and bedrooms (biliak). Opposite the anjuang is the kitchen, and in front of it lies a large space (pangkalan) to receive guests. While the house is a meeting place for all, is essentially a women’s area.
Tongkonan House is the traditional house of the Toraja tribe in South Sulawesi. Because the buffalo is a very important animal for the Torajan people, you’ll see how the shape of the rooftop, as well as its accompanying ornaments, are usually made to resemble the buffalo horns. The number of the rows of buffalo horns that usually hang on the walls of villagers in Toraja symbolise status, courage, strength and fighting spirit.
Tongkonan means ‘to sit together’ facing the north, a direction considered to be a source of life. Based on archaeological research, Torajan ancestry can be traced back to migrants from Yunan and Tonkin Bay in Southern China who later assimilated with the indigenous people of South Sulawesi.
The house design, which represents the universe, has three parts: the roof as the Upper World, the middle of the building as the world where humans love, and the space under the floor as the Underworld. The interior of the room is used for sleeping and cooking. The house is also used to store dead bodies.
This traditional Dayak house is also known as lamin or longhouse. It has an average length of about 100 metres, the width of 15 metres and the height of five metres from the ground. It’s a permanent multi-family structure which can accommodate up to 100 people or more than 30 households, allowing them better communication and social relations.
A typical betang house is made with the upstream facing the east and the downstream facing the west as symbol of hardworking culture. It consists of many rooms to cater to the families living there.
The leader is positioned in the centre of the house, while those from lowest ranking are placed on the outer side, near the entrance. One long veranda is set aside for communal meetings, rituals, ceremonies, cultural performances and other common activities.
One cannot miss the presence of Hampatong wooden sculpture, which is intended to honour deceased individuals or ancestral figures. It is believed to serve as a guardian to protect the local people from illness and disruption of evil spirits.
Traditional Balinese houses are usually built according to the rules of Asta Kosala Kosali, the benchmark of directions and angles in which the north-east corner is considered to be a sacred area. That’s why temples in Balinese houses are always positioned in this corner.
The house doesn’t consist of a single building, but rather, several small buildings or pavilions which are distinguished by their function, in accordance with the Tri Hita Kirana concept of harmony between human, nature and God.
The North and the West are reserved for bedroom and reception areas, while the East serves ceremonial and other purposes. The kitchen, service area and rice granaries are positioned on the South. The house is usually made of bricks or mountain rocks and the roof made from dry grass. The gate is large and tall with a small door gap that is only enough for one person to pass. With many high-value sculptural ornaments, suffice to say that traditional Balinese houses are a reflection of artistic souls.
This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine March 2018 issue “Design for Living”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.