The Dayak people, live traditionally in buildings known as a longhouse, Rumah panjang, Rumah Betang, Rumah Kalimantan. They are built raised off the ground on stilts and are divided into a more or less public area along one side and a row of private living quarters lined along the other side.
In Indonesia, the construction of the house symbolizes the division of the macrocosm into three regions: the upper world, the seat of deities and ancestors. The typical way of buildings in Southeast Asia is to build on stilts, an architectural form usually combined with a saddle roof. Another characteristic of Southeast Asian houses is the forked horn on the roof, which is considered to be a symbol of the buffalo, regarded throughout the region as a link between Heaven and this world.
This seems to have been the way of building best accustomed to life in the jungle in the past, as otherwise hardly related people have come to build their dwellings in similar ways. The design is elegant: being raised, flooding presents little inconvenience. The entry could double as a canoe dock. Being raised, cooling air could circulate underneath the floor of the dwelling, and the elevated living areas were more likely to catch above ground breezes. Livestock could shelter underneath the long houses for greater protection from predators and the elements.
In modern times many of the older longhouses have been replaced with buildings using more modern materials but of similar design. In areas where flooding is not a problem, the space beneath the longhouse between the stilts, which was traditionally used for a work place for tasks such as threshing, has been converted into living accommodation or has been closed in to provide more security.
The layout of a traditional longhouse could be described thus,
a wall runs along the length of the building approximately down the longitudinal axis of the building. The space along one side of the wall serves as a corridor running the length of the building while the other side is blocked from public view by the wall and serves as private areas.
Behind this wall lay the private units, bilik, each with a single door for each family. These are separated from each other by walls of their own and contain the living and sleeping spaces for each family. The kitchens, dapur, may be situated within this private space but are quite often situated in rooms of their own, added to the back of a bilik or even in a building standing a little away from the longhouse and accessed by a small bridge. This separation prevents cooking fires from spreading to the living spaces, should they spread out of control, as well as reducing smoke and insects attracted to cooking from gathering in living quarters.
This is a structure supported by hardwood posts that can be hundreds of metres long, usually located along a terraced river bank. At one side is a long communal platform, from which the individual households can be reached. The Iban of the Kapuas and Sarawak have organized their Longhouse settlements in response to their migratory patterns. Iban Longhouses vary in size, from those slightly over 100 metres in length to large settlements over 500 metres in length. Longhouses have a door and apartment for every family living in the longhouse. For example, a Longhouse of 200 doors is equivalent to a settlement of 200 families.
On Borneo the long house forms a center for both social life and for rituals. Here people meet to talk after work, and its here the central ceremonies and rituals of the group are performed.
In each long house is a central stilt or main post which is the first to be placed in position when the house is built.
This post is associated with the ancestor who founded the house has a sacred significance; it stands in the center of the house and its looked on as the link between the underworld and the upper world. The long houses were often decorated with representations of water snakes and rhinoceros birds. They were connected with the groupâ€™s central creation myth, for water snake is associated with the underworld and the rhinoceros bird with the upper world of the good spirits.
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