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Malay Culture

Rumoh Aceh (Traditional House of Aceh Malay in Aceh Province)

rumoh aceh
Rumoh Aceh

1. Background

The society`s or individu`s belief and environmental condition have a significant influence on the architecture of a house, as seen in the architecture of Rumoh Aceh in Special District of Aceh Province, Indonesia. Rumoh Aceh is a stage house whose beam is 2,50-3 meters in height, has three or five rooms with one of them as the main room named rambat. Rumoh with three rooms has 16 beams, while Rumoh with five rooms has 24 beams. A modification from three rooms Rumoh to five rooms Rumoh and vice versa is easy. It can be done just by adding or omittting parts of the house which are in the left side or right side of the house. These parts are called sramoe likot or back veranda and sramoe reunyeun or veranda with stairs (entrance to the house) which is always in east side.

Main door of Rumoh Aceh is always made lower than adult men`s height. Usually it`s height is only 120-150 cm so that everyone enters the house must bend the head over. But after entering the room, a wide room comes into sight because the room does not have furniture. Everyone sits cross-legged on ngom mat (made of some kind of thatch grass grow in a swamp) covered with mat made of pandanus (long leaves grow in tropical area. People use them for cooking ingredient because they have pleasing fragrance and for plaiting mats).

Rumoh Aceh is not only a place to live, but also the expression of belief to God and the adaptation to environment. That is why we can see culture, life style, and values of Aceh people through Rumoh Aceh. The adaptation to the environment can bee seen through the shape of Rumoh Aceh -which is stage house-, the beams that are made of chosen woods, the walls that are from boards, and the roof that is from sago palm.  The using of the natural products can also be seen through the using of peg or rattan rope instead of nail when they build the house. Although Rumoh Aceh has a sago palm roof and is only made of woods and built with peg and rattan rope instead of nails, it can last until 200 years.

The society`s belief also influences the house shape. The house is always made stretch along from east to west. The front part of the house faces east and the inside or back part of the house (that is sacred) faces the west. The sacred part is in the west because they want to build an imaginary line with Ka`bah (the small cubicle shrine in the Great Mosque of Mecca. It represents the direction to which Muslims turn in praying) in Mecca. The amount of the beams are always even, the rooms are odd, and the stair steps are odd too.

Beside the manifestation of social belief and adaptation to the environment, Rumoh Aceh also shows the owner`s social status. The more decoration in the house, the richer the owner is. For those who are not rich enough, only have few decorations. While the houses of those from low social class, sometimes do not have any decoration at all.

rumoh aceh
The original shape of Rumoh Aceh

As the years go by, the cost of materials for Rumoh Aceh is more and more expensive. Because effectiveness and efficiency are required in life nowadays, less people in Aceh build this traditional house. They prefer modern houses made of concrete because the materials are easier to find, the process of the building is easier too, and the cost of the house treatment is less expensive. Nevertheless, there are some people who love the Rumoh Aceh architecture as their forefather`s legacy. They build Rumoh Aceh attached to their concrete house.

rumoh aceh
Rumoh Aceh attached to a concrete house

Rumoh Aceh is the manifestation of values of live that people in Aceh live. That is why, preserving Rumoh Aceh means preserving the existence of the people of Aceh. Moreover, after the tsunami on December 26, 2004, many people from many different background of cultures came not only bringing help but also tradition that might not go together with the values of life in Aceh.

2. Materials

To build Rumoh Aceh, the materials needed are:

  • Woods. Woods are the main material for building Rumoh Aceh. They are used to make tameh (beam), toi, roek, bara, bara linteung, kuda-kuda, tuleueng rueng, indreng, etc.
  • Board. It is used to make the floor and walls.
  • Trieng (bamboo). Bamboo is used to make gasen (lath), floor foundation, beuleubah (where the roof is hooked), etc.
  • Enau/temor (sugar palm). Besides bamboo, sometimes enau is also used to make floor and wall.
  • Taloe meu-ikat (binding rope). Binding rope is usually made of palm fiber, rattan, waru tree bark, and sometimes plastic rope.
  • Oen meuria (sago palm leaf) is used to make the roof.
  • Enau leaves. Beside oen meuria, sometimes enau leaves are also used to make the roof.
  • Peuleupeuk meuria (stem of sago palm). This material is used to make wall, racks, and sanding.

3. The Stages of Building

For Aceh people, building a house is like building a life. That is why there are some requirements and stages for building a house. The requirements are: choosing the good day by Teungku (local ulama-religion (Islam) leader-), holding a kenduri (feast), finding good woods, etc.

The stages of building Rumoh Aceh are: (1) discussing with the family, (2) collecting the materials, (3) processing the materials, (4) arranging the materials.  The very first stage is discussion in the family who is going to build a house. Then, the family tells the Teungku about the plan, to get some advices about what they have to do, so that the house can give composure, peace, and prosperity to the inhabitants.

After getting some advices from the Teungku, they start collecting the materials. The collecting is done together (with the community). The good wood is the one that does not have root twist around its trunk and when it is cut, it does not fall on other wood. Woods like that are collected in a place that can cover them from the rain. If the woods have been collected long before the building time, they are soaked in the water so that babuk will not eat them.

The next step is processing the woods according to their uses. After everything is ready, the building of Rumoh Aceh is began. It begins with the making of foundation for sticking a wood in. The first wood to stick is the main beam (king beam), and then it is continued with the other beams. After all beams are stuck, the next part to build is the middle part of the house: the floor and the wall. Then it is continued with the making of the upper part of the house, and ended with putting on the roof. The last stage is finishing; arranging ornaments as decorations.

(the data of the complete process of the building is still being collected)

4. Parts of Rumoh Aceh

Generally, the house has three parts: the lower part, the middle part, and the upper part.

a. The lower part

The lower part of Rumoh Aceh or yup moh is a room between the ground and the floor. This part is for the children`s play room, a coop for chicken, goats, and ducks. This room is also used by the women to sell and make songket cloth (traditional cloth of Aceh: a cloth embroidered with bits of gold or silver thread).

rumoh aceh

The lower part of Rumoh Aceh

This can also be used to keep jeungki or rice pounder and krongs or rice container shaped round with about two meters diameter and height.

rumoh aceh

Jeungki or rice pounder

b. The middle part

The middle part of Rumoh Aceh is a place where all activities of the inhabitants, whether it is private or public activity, happen. This part generally has three chambers: front, middle, and back chamber.

  • Front chamber (seuramo reungeun). This chamber is also called Seuramou-keu (front veranda). This is called front chamber or veranda because there is a bungeun or stair as an entrance to the house. The chamber does not have rooms, and the entrance door is usually in the edge of the floor in the right side. But sometimes, the door faces the yard and the stair is in the border of the floor. In everyday life, this chamber is for receiving guests, a place where boys can lay down, and a place for children to learn about their religion (Islam) outside school. For special moments such as wedding ceremony or kenduri (a feast), this chamber is used as a place for everyone to gather and eat.
rumoh aceh The front part of Rumoh Aceh

  • Middle chamber. This chamber is the main room of Rumoh Aceh, that is why it is called Rumoh Inong (main room). The floor in this part is higher than the other floors, considered holy, and very private. The chamber has two rooms or bedrooms in left and right sides and usually face north or south with doors face the back. Between the rooms, there is an alley (rambat) which connects the front chamber and back chamber.
rumoh aceh
Alley that seperates the left room from the right
to connect the front chamber and the back chamber

The function of Rumoh Inong is for a bedroom for the head of the family, and Anjong is for the daughter`s bedroom. If the daughter got married, she would stay in Rumoh Inong and the parents would stay in Anjong. If there were two daughters who got married, the parents would move to the veranda or seuramo likot (before they are able to build a new house or add a new room/ widen a room). If there was a wedding ceremony, the bride and the groom sat in Rumoh Inong, and if the member of the family died, the dead body would be washed in this room too.

  • The back chamber is called seuramo likot. The floor in this chamber is as high as the floor in the front chamber, and this chamber does not have rooms. The function of this chamber is as a kitchen and dining room, and it is usually located in the east part of the chamber. Besides that, this chamber is also used by the women to do their daily activities such as weaving and embroidering.

Sometimes, kitchen is separated from the chamber and located at the back part of back chamber. This room is called Rumoh Dapu (kitchen). The floor is a little bit lower than the floor in the back chamber.

c. Bagian atas

This part is located at the upper part of middle chamber. Sometimes people make para (attic) whose function is to keep the family`s stuff. The roof of Rumoh Aceh is usually made from sago palm leaves which has been tied to small cuts of rattan.

rumoh aceh

Roof structure of Rumoh Aceh

5. Kinds of Decorations

In Rumoh Aceh, there are some decoration motifs: (1) Religious motif. The decoration is the carvings of verses from the Koran; (2) Flora motif. The carving is in the shape of plants such as leaves, roots, trunks, or flowers. The carvings are not made in colors, and if they are, the colors will be only red and black. This kind of decoration can be found on rinyeuen (stair), wall, tulak angen, kindang, beam in roof part, and windows; (3)  Fauna motif. The fauna motif that is often used is the image of animals that people often see and like; (4) Nature motif. The images that are often used are the sky and the clouds, the sky and the moon, the stars and the ocean; (5) other motif such as rantee, lidah, etc.

rumoh aceh
Roof decoration

6. Values of Life

Rumoh Aceh architecture is the manifestation of Aceh people`s wisdom in dealing with nature and belief. The stage house architecture using woods as the main material is an adaptation to the environment condition. The architecture also gives a certain comfort for those who live in the house and a positive support to the social security system to keep the village (gampong) in order and secure. As an example, the house structure makes it easy for people to keep an eye on the neighbor`s house so that they can guard each other to maintain the orders in the village.

People`s ability in dealing with the environment condition can also be seen from the house position that faces the north and south so that the house lay across from east to west. Although as the years go by it is said that the position is meant to build an imaginery line with Ka`bah in Mecca, before Islam came to Aceh, the position of the traditional house was already like that. This was how the people of Aceh dealt the wind which blew from east to west and vice versa. If the house faced the wind direction, it would collapse. Besides, the house faces north and south is meant to let the sunlight come through the windows, whether the west side or the east side windows. After Islam came to Aceh, Rumoh Aceh position got a religious justification. The religious values can also be seen through the amount of rooms and stair steps which are always in odd number, and a large water jar (made of clay) for washing feet before entering the house.

Having a family discussion, asking for advice from Teungku, and working together in the building process are efforts to create family tie, solidarity, and respect to local tradition. By working together, problems can be solved and social harmony can always be maintained. With the Teungku`s advices, it is hoped that the house will be a blessing for the inhabitants.

The many kinds of house exterior and interior decorations and their functions are the symbol of obeying rules. Private rooms such as Rumoh Inong, public rooms such as the front veranda and girls` room, just like back veranda, are meant to teach and maintain politeness value and social etiquette. The entrance stair is not merely a means to get into the house, but also a border point which only close family can cross. If a man (member of the family: father, husband, son, or brother) is not at home and there is only woman (mother, wife, or daughter) left in the house, a male guest who is not a close family (not from the same muhrim (sex)), is not allowed to enter the house. Letting someone from different muhrim (opposite sex) enter the house is a taboo thing. Thus, it also has a function as social control for the society daily interaction.

The low door, which makes people who enter the house bend their head over, has a message that whatever a guest`s position in the society is, a guest must give respect to the house owner. But once the guest enters the house, the comfortable wide furnitureless room will be in sight. Some people say that Rumoh Aceh door is like the heart of Aceh people. It is hard to enter, but once we enter it, they will welcome us warmly.

The bulding ceremony process (before, during, and after) is not to show off riches but to express their respect for others and thanks giving to God for the blessing.

Knowing the values of Rumoh Aceh makes us understand and appreciate kinds of treasure in it. Although as the years go by the Rumoh Aceh architecture may change, but by understanding the values and giving new meaning to the symbols, the values that the ancestors wanted to say will be maintained and up to date.



Translated from the Indonesian version by (DW)

Reference :

  • Arif, Ahmad, "Rumoh Aceh yang Kian Hilang”, dalam, diakses tanggal 5 Desember 2007
  • ”Arsitektur Tradisional Gayo”, dalam, diakses tanggal 5 Desember 2007.
  • Bustami, Mauliddin, 2003, Ukiran pada Rumoh Aceh Prof. H. Ali Hasjmy di Desa Lamteumen Timur Banda Aceh, Skripsi pada Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia (STSI) Padang Panjang (tidak diterbitkan).
  •, diakses tanggal 5 Desember 2007.
  • Mahmud, Muntasir, 1989, Nilai-Nilai Dakwah pada Rumah Adat Aceh, Skripsi pada Fakultas Dakwah IAIN Ar-Raniry Aceh (tidak diterbitkan).
  • ”Menjaga Rumoh Aceh di Lubok”, dalam Republika, 6 Desember 2007.
  • ”Museum Negeri Aceh”, dalam 3045&Itemid=1478, diakses tanggal 5 Desember 2007.
  • ”Rumoh Aceh”, dalam, diakses tanggal 5 Desember 2007
  • Syarif, Sanusi M., ”Ureung Inong &  Desain Tradisi (Sebuah Refleksi Hari Adat Sedunia),” dalam, diakses tanggal 5 Desember 2007.
  • Tiga Versi Peletakan Rumoh Aceh” dalam, diakses tanggal 5 Desember 2007
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