Bamboo as an Elements of Toraja Traditional House

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit one of the areas in central Indonesia that have a quite interesting cultural variety, namely Tana Toraja. This is the first time I set foot into this region.

In the past, when I went to such an interesting place I usually had planned to take photos of some interesting objects or something that I find unusual. This time, I just glimpsed the itinerary that had been prepared. I just set up my camera with the battery fully charged, and my favorite 50mm fixed lens. I expect to capture interesting objects into the photo.

Maybe that lens that I choose will be less suitable because the area to be visited is a mountainous region. Supposedly wide angle lens would be more suitable to capture a beautiful Toraja’s landscape. But this “portrait” lens is enough I think, considering my 18-55mm kit lens often times crashes.

Our team departed from Jakarta to Makassar. In Makassar we had some time to rest until the afternoon while enjoying fried bananas and Saraba (a traditional Sulawesihot drinks) in a contemporary warkop named Coffeeholic (Warkop Sija) on Jalan Boulevard Makassar.

That night we left for Tana Toraja using a rental car with overnight stops in Pare-Pare. The next day we arrived at the destination.

Along the way, the natural beauty of the mountains does look striking with the rocky hills that seemed to suddenly emerge from the ground.

This could be seen clearly from the impression of vertical lines of gray and black on the rocky hill.

Arrived at the destination, we visited several tourist destinations and saw the progress of the nearby infrastructures development. As one of the National Tourism Strategic Areas (KSPN) which is favored to become new Bali (although this one is not included in the top 10 most priority KSPN) of course infrastructure support is needed to boost tourist visits to achieve targets that I think are very high.

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Of the several destinations that exist, there is one interesting thing that I noted. It is about bamboo material which is one of strong elements forming Toraja traditional house character (Tongkonan).

Bamboo seems to grow a lot in this region. The quality of bamboo that grow here seems also pretty good. Bamboo is not growing too close together, while the stem is quite straight and high. The type of bamboo that I see grows a lot in this region is including in the Dendrocalamus family.

Dendrocalamus bamboo
Dendrocalamus bamboo

Then, on which part ofToraja traditional house bamboo material is used?

Bamboo material is mostly found as roof cover material and ceiling material in Toraja traditional house.

Bamboo roofing in Toraja traditional house
Bamboo split used as roofing material

The two photographs above clearly reveal the details on how Torajan indigenous people use bamboo as one of the main materials in traditional buildings like ones in Kete Kesu. In the photo above the bamboo material is neatly arranged on top of the building structure built from Uru wood (local wood of Sulawesi).

The second photo shows a more detail example on how the arrangement of split bamboo is linked one to another, made up in layers so that together they are able to bring the roof function properly (ie, as a protector of sunstroke and rain) as a sustainable architectural solutions.

When viewed more carefully the bamboo-split that was stacked does not look uniform. This is very reasonable considering bamboo is a natural material so it is difficult to get material that has the same shape and size.

It seems that the bamboo used as a roofing materials it is not from Dendrocalamus family, but from Gigantochloa or Bambusa family.

Meanwhile, bamboo materials that is used as ceiling/plafond attached in a slightly different approach.

Bamboo that is used as a cover material is the smaller one in the form of bamboo stems (not bamboo split). The bamboo stems are not mounted transversely but longitudinal according to the length/orientation of the building. The following photos show this approach clearly:

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Bamboo as ceiling material

One of the advantages of using bamboo (especially in the Toraja region which is a mountainous) combined with wood material is that it will keep the temperature in the room warm during the night. While in the daytime it does not absorb heat quickly so the room remains cool.

Here is another photo of bamboo roofing on an old traditional Tongkonan house:

Old bamboo roof on Tongkonan

How the ancestors of this nation built their homes actually provide many lessons for those who were born later. They are wisely able to cultivate what is around them, something which live and can be regenerated to become environmentally friendly and sustainable architectural materials.

We could also apply this wisdom when planning our simple house nowadays.

Unfortunately, in Toraja itself is currently found many Tongkonan houses built using new materials, especially the roofing and ceiling materials. Bamboo began to be replaced with metal or zinc tile, perhaps with consideration such as easier, cheaper, and faster in the installation and construction process.

New material applied on Tongkonan-shaped house

It is our duty to keep these local wisdom according to the local context in which the house is located. Thus, this precious knowledge will be sustainable.

If you are interested, you can read more about the social history of Toraja community in the book entitled “Tana Toraja Social History“.

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