Rumah Adat Sumba

The Traditional Sumbanese House

Rumah adat means traditional house. Sumba is an island in eastern Indonesia, is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, and is in the province of East Nusa Tenggara.

As in many sacred architectural forms in Indonesia, the house is not only seen as a mere dwelling place, it is regarded as symbol of the cosmos linking the divine world to that of Man.

According to the ancient Sumbanese myths, when the first ancestral house was built on the eighth heavenly sphere, the roof was covered by human hair taken during head hunting raids. Now dried palm leaves symbolically replace the human hair.

Traditional Sumbanese houses are built with tall peaked roofs that are topped with a projecting wooden beam at both ends holding a male and female figure made of carved wood or bound grass. The wooden beams on the roof are believed to be the entrance for the ancestor spirits to enter the house and give blessings to their descendants. The presence of Marapu is omnipresent among the living and the house is also seen as an important place of ancestor worship.

The four main wooden posts supporting the house from its foot to the top are closely associated with the rituals of ancestor worship. Racks made of rattan and wood hanging from the posts serves as offering altars. The first front post is where the Rato, the Animist priest, carries out his rituals of divination by invoking the appropriate spirit to guide him into the future. The second front pillar symbolizes the female ancestors. While the two rear pillars symbolize the male and female ancestors, as well as the spirits of fertility. These four main pillars are often carved with the same geometric designs that decorate the stone monuments that are in and around the village. In the house there are offering altars where sacred objects of the Marapu are kept. It is in these carefully selected corners of the house that the Rato make contacts with the spirits during religious ceremonies. Worship of the powerful invisible forces is a prevalent element in megalithic cultures and inseparable in Sumbanese daily life. As in many sacred architectural forms in Indonesia, the house is not only seen as a mere dwelling place, it is regarded as symbol of the cosmos linking the divine world to that of Man.

Although the house is regarded as a living heavenly altar on earth, ancestor worship is also common within the village and anywhere else that needs the blessings of the invisible forces. Small effigies known as Katoda are placed in front of houses, at the entrance of a village, and in the rice fields. Katoda may also take the form of simple branches or an undecorated upright stone carefully chosen by the Rato when performing a specific ritual.

Information source: http://www.nihiwatu.com
Pictures courtesy of Yori Antar Awal.

Architect Yori Antar Awal started the Rumah Asuh project, a movement trying to preserve traditional houses. Supported by funding from the Tirto Foundation, he goes to remote villages to help locals rebuild and renovate their traditional homes.

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