The Fairy Tail Homes of Sumatra
Beautiful Minang House, on the road to Solok, Sumatra
I doubt anyone could travel through Sumatra and not be totally taken at the beauty of the spired roof houses (the “Rumah Bagonjong”) typical of Minangkabau culture. These iconic Minang long house dwellings have become a well known symbol of Indonesian heritage to the point that their features are often mimicked in the architecture of Indonesian consulate and embassy buildings around the globe.
Minang home decor is really like no other. These constructions ooze tradition and craftsmanship. Forged by the capable hands of local carpenters, many of these essentially wooden homes are painstakingly decorated with brightly painted floral carvings and looked after obsessively by their proud owners (women of the household most of all). Prominent upswept gables are easily the most eye catching feature of these structures that make the buildings appear as if stretched into the air by some kind of invisible threads. The onlooker is easily held in an admiring gaze, transfixed in awe as if in trance, completely captured by the simple beauty of the designs (I certainly was anyway).
Solok is close to Padang on the centra western coast of Sumatra ( licensed, Creative Commons )
The village of Solok, not far from the port town of Padang (west coast of Sumatra), is well known for these traditional dwellings, some of which here are over sixty years in age. Big hoses, small houses, shops, schools few buildings fail to incorporate the features of traditional design. Some are external plain with no adornment and perhaps in need of a little attention but others are cherished and well maintained.
Traditionally Minang houses are intended intended for an extended family nucleus as are the Long Houses found in other parts of South East Asia (Borneo in particular). However, in more recent times elegant spire designs feature in smaller individual homes as well not to mention government buildings too.
Minang Long House
Riding past these homes on my motorbike I couldn’t help feeling and though I had been plunged into some sort of a fairy tale. “Hansel and Gretel must have come from this part of the world” I remember thing to myself “…and no doubt the evil witch in there story lived around here too”.
My curiosity got the better of me at one point, I simply had to find out what these homes looked like inside. I pulled over and parked my motorbike in front of a larger Minang home I had spotted a lady sitting in front of. I asked the woman on the porch in the politest half broken Bahasa I could counger if I might peer inside her home. To my astonishment, I was welcomed inside.
Creecking floor boards, and dim lighting accompanied me through the entrance of the old home. As I lifted my gaze inside I found a beutifully kept “log cabin” with leather armchairs, pictures, hanging on walls and mats and rugs. A kitchen at on end of the open plan and individual sleeping compartments behind the living area. Everything seemed meticulously well taken care of and gleaming with pride.
I was amazed to be invited inside…
Kids rushed towards from the kitchen to great me with smiles and surprise. An elderly laydy at in the kitchen stove smiled and wached me as I strolled around. It felt homely, warm and cosy. It was beautiful, certainly a place I would have eagerly spent spent a night in.
Local society in western Sumatra is matriarchal meaning that it’s a mother’s name (blood line) that is passed on in a family. This has implications on inheritance laws and practices too. Minang houses are thusly passed from mother to daughter from one generation to the next almost like a dowry.
Beautiful Minang House on the outskirts to Solok
The costs involved in building a Rumah Bagonjong have increased over the years along with the price and availability of quality timber. Today a new Minang style home are no longer affordable to man locals in a rapidly developing Sumatra and Indonesian nation but there are still plenty of old style homes to admire and restore. Some have been transformed into guest houses that offer lodging for the occasional tourist.
Of course I absolutely recommend a trip to Solok if you’re ever travelling through Sumatra!
Minang grand house in Solok
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