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Borneo / Kalimantan Wooden Houses

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.

The corridor itself is divided into three parts. The space in front of the door, the tempuan, belongs to each bilik unit and is used privately. This is where rice can be pounded or other domestic work can be done. A public corridor, a ruai, runs the length of the building in this open space. Along the outer wall is the space where guests can sleep, the pantai. On this side a large veranda, a tanju, is built in front of the building where the rice (padi) is dried and other outdoor activities can take place.

The sadau, a sort of attic, runs along under the peak of the roof and serves as storage. Sometimes the sadau has a sort of gallery from which the life in the ruai can be observed. The pigs and chicken live underneath the house between the stilts.

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.

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