Thousand Feet House: West Papua’s Unique Traditional House

Meta description: Like other regions in Indonesia, West Papua has its own traditional house, commonly known as the Thousand Feet House. Find out what the house is here!

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Overview

Traditionally, Indonesia is famous for its abundance and richness of traditional culture, each with their own distinctive hallmarks. Be it cuisine, music, dance, local flora and fauna, and architecture, each region in Indonesia has their own distinctive uniqueness. And this richness is no different than the others in Indonesia’s West Papua province.

The province itself is famous for having so many tribes (approximately more than 800) spread across the province. In West Papua, some of the most renowned tribes are Arfak, Asmat, Biak, Doreri, Kuri, Simuri, Kambouw, and many others. With such richness in culture stemming from the number of traditional tribes in the province alone, one particular example that stands out as a hallmark of the province’s architectural uniqueness is the Thousand Feet House (Rumah Kaki Seribu).

Thousand Feet House from West Papua

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Thousand Feet House is a traditional house that comes from the tradition of the Arfak tribe in the Manokwari Regency. Commonly located on the northeast side of West Papua, the house is known in the local Arfak language as Mod Aki Aksa or Igkojei. This house gained its name from the number of stilts supporting the house’s foundation, likened to the number of centipede’s (kaki seribu) legs.

The house’s technical aspects

The rooftops are made from straw leaves and sago (sagu) leaves to build the house. Generally, the house has the size of 8 x 6 m in total. When building the house, the walls and the floor are made from extended tree barks that are tightly knit together with smaller wooden branches. To make sure that all of the building materials are closely tightened, they are conjoined with rattan ropes to ensure their strength. From this type of architecture, one might think that the essence of this architectural rationale is the house’s naturalness and strength against the elements.

As for the stilts, they are made from short and long-sized logs that can support each other and have a height of 1-1.5 m. The Thousand Feet House is supported by the numerous amount of smaller logs compared to its counterparts supported by large-sized and firm wooden logs that are heavier and stronger.

A unique part of the Thousand Feet House is that the house has no windows whatsoever. Any means of air circulation is done from the house’s only two doors, the front, and the back doors. This means that anytime the house’s denizens want to get some fresh air, they need to open the front and back doors at all times.

The name of each part of the house is as follows:

  • Stairs (lina)
  • Terrace (bisai)
  • Main door (dimbou mem)
  • Family room (tiepou)
  • Men-only room (beitet)
  • Women-only room (beigwei)
  • Valuables’ storage (run ti)
  • Sleeping room (ngihim)

Room compartments

Since the house is relatively different from modern houses, so does its way to divide the sleeping rooms between the men and the women. There are no rooms like modern houses – the house is divided into two sections, the men’s sleeping room on the right side (ngimdi) and the women’s sleeping room on the left side (ngimsi).

To warm themselves up, there is a heating section in the middle of the house where all family members can gather themselves to warm themselves up. In fact, a single Thousand Feet House can be inhabited by more than one family.

Cultural meaning of the house

The Arfak tribe made the house because of the belief that by using so many wooden logs to support this house, they could prevent attacks from wild animals, rival tribes, and black magic. Given that traditionally the Arfak tribesmen are living in the dense woods of the region, it is logical for them to build houses with high stilts to prevent unwanted attack and intrusion by intruders.

Not only for a place to live in, has the Thousand Feet House had other cultural uses. Usually, the house is used to educate children during their educational years and tribal parties. The party is held in a section of the house with no floor, which means that the party (usually involving dances) is held directly in the ground.

Reservation urgency

However, as modern architecture became the new standard of living, many Arfak tribesmen began slowly abandoning the use of the Thousand Feet House. As houses made from concrete walls and foundations become more popular, more and more people from the Arfak tribe no longer see the Thousand Feet House as a viable means of living.

To address this issue, academics called for the reservation of the house to prevent its total loss from the Arfak tribe’s modern consciousness. According to the call, there needs to be cooperation between the government of West Papua and the society to preserve the existence of these houses.

Conclusion

Much like other traditional houses from Indonesia, the Thousand Feet House from West Papua is a worthy part of the nation’s cultural richness that shouldn’t have been dissolved in time as architectural modernity reigns as the new standard. By all means, the houses should be preserved seriously by all parties.

 

References

https://www.kompas.com/skola/read/2021/01/27/193000469/rumah-kaki-seribu-rumah-adat-suku-arfak-papua-barat 

https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumah_Kaki_Seribu 

http://bobo.grid.id/read/08673437/rumah-kaki-seribu-rumah-khas-pegunungan-arfak 

https://ambon.antaranews.com/berita/19613/peneliti-rumah-kaki-seribu-arfak-perlu-dilestarikan