The Sundanese House
Each house has the same several rooms: a kitchen, a visitor's room, a central dining area, bedrooms, and a storage room. The kitchen and the rice-storage room — controlled by Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice — are female zones, which men can enter only briefly. The visitor's room is considered a male zone, and the bedrooms and central dining area are neutral.
The wood for the kitchen fire is from the forest or from the bamboo gardens. It's stored in front of the kitchen, which is also the place for drying fruits and spices. The bamboo-floored kitchen is the place for family meals, neighbor meetings, and early-morning warming.
The visitor's room is next to the kitchen. The entrance to the house is a wide stair about 20 inches (50 centimeters) from the ground, in front of the doors to the kitchen and visitor's room. This porch is a favorite playground for the children.
Building a House
The Naga community fulfills its need for building materials by maintaining the surrounding environment. Materials needed in larger quantities, like timber and bamboo, are harvested from their own gardens. The palm leaves needed for roofing are purchased from another village, a three-hour walk away. The stones for the foundation are taken from the Ciwulan River.
Before a family begins to build, the male head of the household asks permission from the village spiritual leader, kuncen. The day before construction starts, a village meeting is held along with the first of three sacred ceremonies. For the first ceremony, to safeguard the house, yellow rice prepared by the house owner's wife is shaped in a pyramid form and served to the neighbors.
The building process starts with the leveling of the ground, the measuring for the house, and the placement of 16- by 16- by 16-inch (40- by 40- by 40-centimeter) foundation stones. During earthquakes, the house can safely, flexibly move on these stones.
Before the foundation stones are placed, a chicken is sacrificed for the purpose of keeping catastrophes away from the house. Its head, feet, and wings are buried under the foundation stones, the head facing east, surrounded with rice and spices — betel leaves, garlic, tobacco, and lime. The blood of the chicken is spread on the foundation stones. Also a singe coin is placed under every cornerstone.
Then the main beams and columns are installed. These serve as frames for the woven bamboo walls. The door and window frames are also put up. The roof frames are assembled on the ground and lifted into place after all the columns and beams are erected. The roof is covered with two layers, of palm leaves and of strong black grass.
Finishing consists of laying down the floor covering and installing the walls, doors, and windows. Bamboo for the floor covering is slashed and dried and placed in the house as 5- to 6-1/2-foot- (1.5- to 2-meter-) long, 6- to 12-inch- (15- to 30-centimeter-) wide plates.
At the conclusion of construction, another sacred dinner is held for the whole community to express the house owner's gratitude for the work that has been done collectively.
Rules of Simplicity
The houses are 320 to 640 square feet (30 to 60 square meters) in size. There is no electrical equipment, but a few families have battery-operated radios. The houses are made from natural materials that cause little pollution or other harm to the surrounding natural environment.
The materials are very light and cannot support heavy furniture or machines inside the house. By Western standards, the houses are basically empty. People use palm or bamboo mats for sleeping. They use no chairs, tables, or storage furniture. The heaviest item is the kitchen stove, and its base is placed directly on the ground.
The major disadvantage of these natural materials is that they easily catch fire. This is why they use the "sasag" pattern for the kitchen walls and door. This pattern of weaving creates small gaps enabling anyone, inside or out, to detect unusually high flames.
Otherwise, the exterior walls are covered with white lime, serving as a preservative and giving each house a clean appearance. The uniformity of the colors and shapes is dictated by the ancestors. These rules help to maintain a social equality. Yet in the ventilation spaces, doors, windows, and the weaving of the walls, it is possible to find unique, individual patterns.
Sustainable Village Life
The villagers mainly eat rice, fish, fruit, and vegetables from their gardens. The rice and fish are cyclically connected. The rice from the field goes to the threshing-house, which sits over the fish ponds. The bran is thrown into the pond to feed the fish, which are caught by children and prepared by their mothers.
The outlook and the mechanisms of everyday life in the village are strictly controlled by rules of the ancestors, which are taught to every generation and closely guarded by the villagers. This is despite a road to the city of Bandung being just a few hundred yards (meters) away from the top of their 300 steps.
The villagers of Kampung Naga recognize modern influences and accept them to the extent that they do not harm their traditions. Some recent architectural arrivals are concrete, glass, and furniture. The influence these elements will have on traditional building is difficult to predict. This community has been here for over 600 years, adapting to or rejecting many different influences.
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Gabriella Mihályi is a sociologist living in Budapest, Hungary who lived in West-Java for two years, as a student in the Art History PhD Program of the Institut Teknologi Bandung.