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Malay Culture

Limas House (The Traditional House of Palembang)

rumah limas palembang
The front part of Limas House with ladders on both sides

1. The Background

Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia, has a temperate tropical climate with relative humidity of the air from 2,3 km/hour - 4,5 km/hour. The temperature of the city is around 23,4 - 31,7 °c and the amount of rainfall each year is about 2.000 mm to 3.000 mm. The humidity of the air is range from 75 - 89 % with average sunlight at 45 %.

The topography of the land is relatively flat and low, only the north part of the city that has higher topography. Most part of the land is swampy so the area is often floody in raining season. Beside that, the rise and fall of the tides in Palembang is between 3-5 meters. That is why rumah panggung (stage house) functionally overcomes the topography problem in Palembang, which is called the Eastern Venice because it has hundreds of tributaries surrounding the land.

The geography of Palembang has effect on how people in the area build their houses. To maximize the function of a house as a shelter, its shape needs to adapt well to the condition of the environment. The local people show the ability of understanding the condition of the environment when they are building their houses.

One of house shapes in Palembang is Limas house. It is called Limas house because the roof shaped like pyramid (Limas). A house like this is also often called Bari. Bari in Palembang language means old or ancient. Limas house is basically divided into three parts: front, center, and back. At the front part, there are two ladders, one on each side left and right with an odd amount of stair steps for each ladder. The center part is a wide room. This room becomes the center place for gathering activities if there is a party. The living room (it is part of the center part of the house) is a "display room" to show how prosper the house owner is. The wall is decorated with flora motiffed carvings painted in gold. Often, the house owner uses the real tin and gold to embellish the carvings and chandeliers. The back part of the house is used as kitchen.

The knowledge of Limas house architecture passes on from one generation to the next. That was why the shape and composition of the house tend to be the same. Nevertheless, because of the changing condition of the environment, the people`s needs that were more and more complex, and especially the changing of human point of view, the architecture of the house changed a lot.

Beside that, the difficulty of getting the material (wood) because there are less forests nowadays makes woods very expensive, while the need of more rooms in the house because there are more humans, requires reinterpretation toward the architecture of Limas house.

rumah limas palembang
Limas house which had gone through a fusion of
original architecture and Dutch architecture

2. Material and Human Resource

a. Materials

  • Limas house is mostly made of woods with good quality. For pillars, people use Petanang, Unglen, Besi, and Tembesi woods; and for the floor and wall they use Merawan woods.
  • Belah Buluh. Belah Buluh is a bamboo that is cut into two. This material is used for the making of the roof.
  • Roof-tiles. Beside Belah Buluh, people often use Roof-tiles too.

b. Human Resource

Building a house is not an easy job. It is a big job, which needs special human resources to handle. These are the human resources needed for the job:

  • Designer

The knowledge of Limas house architecture usually passes on from one generation to the next, but not all of them have the skill to design the house. That is why before people build a house they will ask what is the perfect design for their house to the expert (usually the elders).

  • The builders

After getting the information from the designer, they contact the builders.

  • Friends and Family.

Although the authority to build and finish the house belongs to the builders, some work needs to involve neighbors and relatives. They usually help in digging the soil and setting the roof.

3. Timing and Location

To give the comfort for the inhabitants, beside the house has to be made from good material and built by experts, timing and location need to be noticed.

The people of Palembang believe that the best day for building a house is Monday. Monday is believed as a good day because Rasulullah Muhammad (The Prophet of Moslems) were born on that day. As location, the best spot is near/ around a river so that the back part of the house borders on the river. Limas house is also made facing the east side.

4. The stages of building Limas house

a. Preparation

1) Discussion

  1. Husband and wife discuss about building a house.
  2. If they have agreed, they will hold a building house ceremony. For this ceremony, they usually serve both two-feet animal like chicken and four-feet animal like goat. The ceremony is usually held on Thursday night (malam Jum`at/ the night before Friday).
  3. Once the preparation for the ceremony has finished, they invite close relatives and neighbors (jiron).
  4. When all the guests have arrived (or when the host thinks there are enough people already), the ceremony begins. At first, the host announces the purpose of the ceremony and then they pray.
  5. After the ceremony, they discuss about the plan of building the house including where, when, and how it will be built. This forum of discussion also helps the host to find solution if there is a problem.
  6. They feast after the discussion.

2) To Get the Materials

  1. After getting suggestions from family, they start preparing the material that they need. Woods, for example, whether they order them or get them from the forest.
  2. If they have to order the woods, they will need to order the right wood for the right function. For example; for pillars, the height of the wood must fit with the height of the house that is going to build.
  3. After the materials have been collected, they are soaked in the flowing water for three to six months, even a year. But for materials for galar (mat made of bamboo pounded flat), walls, window frameworks and doors, they are collected in a safe place, warehouse. It is to keep them dry. After that, the roof must be prepared. The roof is made of belah buluh.

b. The Stage of Building

After all the process above, the building is begun at the day it is decided. There are three stages of building Limas house: building the down part, the middle part, and then the upper part.

1) The down part

  1. Before it is built, there will be pillar building ceremony. This ceremony is marked with the slaughter of four-legged animal (goat, cow).
  2. Then the soil is dug.
  3. Before it is stuck into the ground, a hilt is put onto the pillar. The first pillar to stick into the ground is the middle pillar, and then followed by the other pillars.
  4. After all the pillars are stood, the next is to do siping (carving the pillars or making holes to put kitau).
  5. When the siping is finished, kitau is lifted and put into siping hole.
  6. If kitau has set perfectly, the hole on the ground where the pillar is stood will be buried.
  7. The next thing is setting the belandar, beam of wood set across upon kitau range from 40 cm to 60 cm. Galar will be set in the gap between belandar and kitau.

2) The middle part

Usually, while doing the down part, the materials for the middle part such as boards for the floor, walls, door, and window are also being prepared.

The working of the middle part is the core of Limas house building. The wall is set first, and then the galar, the board for the wall, and then the ceiling and the floor after they are planed down to make their surface smooth. In simple way, this is the process to build the middle part of Limas house:

  1. The setting of sako (sako is used to attach the walls). The sakos are usually set in the corners of the building and at the end of the stair step (kekijing). The sako which is set in the house is connected to the sento-sento. On these sento-sento, the walls will be set.
  2. Then it is continued with the setting of sako on the stair steps (kekijing) in inside part. The sako in this position is not to attach the walls but to support the above partition. Usually, the sako which is put inside the house is made as beautiful as possible and given decoration.
  3. The next is the setting of jenang to attach room door and kitchen, and the setting of window framework. Above the jenang there is a small window covered with gauze for ventilation.
  4. After the inside part is finished, the supporting part such as the floor, walls, doors, and windows are set. Since most of the woods were soaked and probably are not dry yet except for materials for the doors and windows that have been kept in a dry place, the setting is not perfect yet, meaning considering if some materials shrink after awhile.

3) The upper part

Sometimes the upper part of the house is done before the middle part so that the materials for the walls and the floor are covered from the sun and the rain. To make the upper part of Limas house, the builders have to set long partition (alang panjang), pengerap or horizontal partition (alang pelintang), trestle of sunan partition (kuda-kuda alang sunan or tunjuk langit), rafter (kasau), the pounding of rafter (tumbukan kasau), laths (reng), and roof.

These are the process of making the upper part:

  1. Making hole on long partition (alang panjang) to put hilts whether on sako or jenang.
  2. Pengerap or horizontal partition (alang pelintang) is put above long partition (alang panjang).
  3. The setting of trestle (kuda-kuda).
  4. The setting of tunjuk langit. Usually, few things such as water pitcher made of clay (kendi), a bunch of yellow bananas, coconuts, a sugar cane, fried crispy chips made of steamed rice (opak ketan); lempeng or kempelang, and long piece of cloth as banner are hung on tunjuk langit.
  5. A beam is put in the middle of the roof framework to make the roof stronger.
  6. The setting of rafter (kasau) on the beam and long partition. The amount of rafter is fixed to a count: kasau – langkau – penurun – bangkai and then go back to kasau again. The good amount is when the count stops at the word kasau.
  7. After all rafters (kasaus) are set, their edges are evenly cut then covered with the pounding of rafter.
  8. The setting of the laths on the rafter. These rafters function as holders and spot to set roof.
  9. The setting of the roof. For the roof, people use belah buluh or roof-tiles. Before setting the roof, there will be a climbing roof ceremony first (upacara naik atap).
  10. The setting of simbar (some kind of parasite plant) on the edge of the joining of the roof with alang sunan and the straight side of the pyramid (Limas) shape.
  11. The making of the ceiling.
  12. The process ends. But before it is inhabited, there has to be Nunggu Rumah ceremony (wait for the house ceremony). The purpose of the ceremony is to pray for the future inhabitants gaining safety and prosperity.

5. Parts of Limas House

Limas House is a stage house with stairs (kekijing) and the roof shaped pyramid (Limas). At the front part, there are two ladders, one on each side left and right with an odd amount of stair steps for each ladder. Beside the ladder, there is a large water jar filled with water to wash feet. If there is a jogan, some kind of veranda, the ladder will not go directly to the house door but to the jogan. Jogan`s function is to connect the house door and as a resting place at noon and night. Beside that, jogan is for keeping tools, ceremony place for children, and sitting place when there is an activity, especially art show, inside the house.

rumah limas palembang
Stair steps in Limas house are always made odd

To get to the middle room, there are few stair steps (kekeijing) with a window on each left and right side. Between those steps there are partitions like wall that can be lifted. They are called kiyams. For kiyam which is always opened, its size is small. The partitions between steps are only at the first and second steps. The height from the floor to the kekijing is around 30 – 40 cm. On ordinary days, the last kekijing is used as bed and storage for some stuff. If the house owner had a grown-up daughter, the room would be called kamar gadis (girl`s room). And if the girl got married, the room would be kamar pengantin (bride`s room).

But if there was a ceremony, kekijing would have another function. The first kekijing is used by relatives and young guests. The second kekijing is used by middle-aged guests. While the third and the fourth are used by the elders and the respected people.

The back part of Limas house is a kitchen whose floor is lower than the other parts` floor by 30 to 40 cm. But sometimes the kitchen is made separated from the house. If so, to get into the kitchen people use ladder. The room`s function is as a place to prepare and keep cooking ingredients. In the kitchen, there are a hearth from stones that are put on the floor which given soil as thick as 15 to 20 cm, cooking tools, place for washing dishes, and others.

rumah limas palembang
Kitchen can attach on the house building or separate from it

6. Kinds of Decoration

One of the characteristics of Limas house is the decorations. There are three kinds of decorations in Limas house: flora motiffed/ shaped, fauna motiffed/ shaped, and nature motiffed. The one that people often choose is the flora (plants, flowers) decoration.

There are many images of plants that people often choose, especially leaves and flower. People choose according to the purpose of the making. Decoration shaped in tanjung flower, for example, is to welcome guests. That is why it is usually put on the door. The colors people often use in decorating Limas house are chicken liver red and golden yellow.

7. Values of Life

The shape of houses in Palembang reflects kinds of values of life of the society, such as cultural, religious, and social values. Those values are the manifestation of the local society wisdom. The local wisdom comes from `reading` (figuring out) and understanding natural and social phenomena in that area.

The cultural value of Limas house can be seen through the architecture. It is shaped stage house (rumah panggung) and made of woods. For hot swampy area, stage house from woods solves the problem. The house will not get flood when the rain or tide come because the floor is not directly above the ground. People inside the house stand the hot weather because the height between the floor and the roof is quite tall. The cultural value can also be seen in the preparation for the materials. The chosen woods are only the good quality and soaked in the flowing water to make them stronger.

The location near the river is chosen for cleanliness. If the house is near the river, the rubbish will be swept away by the water. The water jar beside the ladder is meant to keep clean water so that before get in the house people will wash their feet first. The house has many windows for air circulation. It faces the east to get enough sunrise in the morning. The image of plants in bright color is to indicate the important of keeping the environment clean and the people healthy.

The religious value is seen through the choosing of Monday as the day to start the building. It can also be seen through the ceremonies from the preparation until it is ready to live in. The ritual relates to the faith. The odd amount of stair steps is believed bringing blessing to the inhabitants, and the even amount is bringing troubles.

The social value is in the kekijing or stair steps. Every kijing or step becomes the symbol of difference in the hereditary line of Palembang society. The first kijing is the lowest. It is where the Kemas (Kms) gathered. The second kijing is higher from the first and it is for the Kiagus (Kgs) and Massagus (Mgs). The third is for the class of Raden and the family. The seats for the guests are determined by their social status. The youths gather in the first kijing, the middle aged gather in the second, while the elders and respected people gather in the third kijing, and the mothers gather at the back part of the house.

References :

  • Doty Damayanti, "Nuansa Masa Lalu di Rumah Bari," in, accessed on October 20, 2007
  • Keadaan Geografis, in, accessed on October 23, 2007
  • Moh. Alimansur, dkk., Arsitektur Tradisional Daerah Sumatera Selatan, Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Kebudayaan Daerah Direktorat Sejarah dan Nilai Tradisional Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan tahun 1990 / 1991
  • Rumah Bari Batang Sembilan, Rumah Kayu Bumi Sriwijaya, in, accessed on October 20, 2007
  • Rumah Bari Palambang, in, accessed on October 20, 2007
  • Rumah Leluhur Palembang, in, accessed on October 20, 2007
  • Rumah Limas, in, accessed on October 20, 2007
  • Rumah Tradisional dan Perkampungan, in, accessed on October 20, 2007
  • Rumah Tradisional Limas, in, accessed on October 20, 2007
  • Rumah Melayu Tradisional, in, accessed on October 20, 2007.
Translated from Indonesian version by (DW)

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