Houses and House-Building In Donggo

By: Peter Just

Originally Published in 1984

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Throughout the islands of Indonesia a house is more than a home. Traditionally, each of the scores of Indonesian ethnic groups had a distinctive architectural standard for every house built by a member of the group, which constituted an active expression of that group’s ethnic identity. The design of a house

often had deep symbolic resonance for its in­habitants. For the Toraja of the Celebes, for example, the traditional house, with its high, boat-shaped roof, is a concrete representation of the boats in which their ancestors came to their current territory. It is also a representa­tion of the authority of the noble founding families that occupied those boats and to whose descendants alone is reserved the right to build such houses (Tangdilintin 1981). Else­where in Indonesia, the house and the divi­sion of the space inside it may reflect the rules of social organization and represent the order of the physical and spiritual universe (see Cunningham 1964, on the houses of the Atoni of Timor, and Kana 1980, on the houses of the Savunese). For the Don Donggo of Sumbawa Island “a good house” is one of the four most desirable things a man can have, the other three being “a good wife, a good horse, and a good iron weapon.”

In Indonesia such houses are called rumah adat, a term that translates as ‘traditional house’ but also connotes an emotional tie with the whole complex of customs, social organi­zation, laws, religion, myths, and cosmology of the group’s past. In many parts of Indo­nesia these houses are no longer being built, and the skills for doing so are being lost.

More and more often, traditional houses are being replaced by houses on the modern Ja­vanese model, built of brick and cement with galvanized iron roofs. Often this is simply be­cause modern houses are more comfortable, cheaper to build, and require less mainte­nance than traditional houses. In other cases modern houses are built by wealthy or impor­tant figures in the community as a conscious denial of the traditional ethnic past and as a means of identifying with the Javanese-domi­nated national culture of the present. This ar­ticle will take a brief look at the houses of the Dou Donggo of Sumbawa, how they have changed in the past few decades, and how they are built.

The Lesser Sundas, that long arc of islands to the east of Java and Bali (Fig. 2a), have long been objects of anthropological investiga­tion. But the island of Sumbawa (Fig. 2b), lying at a transitional point between Indian­ized ‘high’ cultures of the west and the tradi­tional pagan cultures of the east, has received relatively scant attention. The western half of the island is occupied by the Sumbawanese; the eastern half by speakers of Bimanese and a small group that is linguistically separate, the Don Tarlawi. Politically, the eastern half is divided into the regencies of Bima and Dompu, reflecting the historical boundaries of two sultanates that shared a common lan­guage and culture. Since 1975 Bimanese agri­culture has been investigated by J. D. Brewer (1979), and M. J. Hitchcock (1983) has re­ cently produced a Ph. D. thesis on Bimanese material culture, to which this article owes a great deal. Brewer’s and Hitchcock’s re­searches were devoted primarily to the ma­jority Muslim Bimanese who inhabit the val­leys and lowland plains of Bima.

My own fieldwork was done in the regency of Bima with the highland group known as the Don Donggo (literally, “Mountain People”) who have adopted Islam or Chris­tianity only in the past few decades and with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Living in the massif to the west of Bima Bay and num­bering about 20,000, they speak a somewhat archaic form of Bimanese and share many cul­tural traits with the lowlanders, but they have long and jealously preserved a distinctive ethnic identity, social organization, ethnic cos­tume, and traditional architecture. Never conquered by the Sultan of Bima, they be­came part of his realm by a treaty that gave them a special, semi-autonomous status within the sultanate until Bima was absorbed into the modern Republic of Indonesia and lost its sovereignty. Bimanese also refer to the Dou Tarlawi, who speak a different language and inhabit the mountains to the east of Bima Bay, as the ‘Don Donggo Ele,’ or Eastern Mountain People.

Uma Leme: The Traditional House

When educated Bimanese describe the Don Donggo to foreigners, two things are bound to be mentioned: their black clothing (about which an article is soon to appear in these pages) and their traditional houses. These are the concrete ‘ethnic boundary markers’ in terms of which the Bimanese still distinguish the Don Donggo. In fact, both the clothing and the houses are to be found in everyday use only in the village of Mbawa, where my wife and I lived for almost two years. When we arrived in November 1981 there were four such houses in Mbawa, which has a population of almost 3,000; by the time we left in September 1983 only three remained standing, and only one of these was occupied. According to Hitchcock (1983:239-241), the uma lame (Fig. 1), as these traditional houses are called in Donggo, may once have been in general use throughout Bima and are also found in a slightly different form among the Dou Tar­lawi.

In Mbawa, one of the two remaining unoc­cupied uma ire was the former residence of the ncuhi, the high priest for the village under the old religion. The members of the community have kept it in good repair, even after the ncuhi moved next door to his daugh­ter’s house when his wife died; he himself died in 1983. It has largely been preserved because the pagan spiritual leaders of the community still feel that Raju, the most im­portant annual cycle of rituals performed on behalf of the whole community, can only be properly performed in an uma leme.

As with all Dou Donggo houses, the urea leme is built up on stilts resting on heavy foundation stones. Access to the single door is by a hardwood ladder which is pulled up at night or when the household is away (Fig. 5). The four thick houseposts made of teak are about 2.5 m. high and are held together near the base with stout tie-beams and topped with round capitals supporting the frame of the house. The house is roughly square, about 3.5 in. by 4.5 in. and has no walls, but is covered by a high A-frame roof, suspended from a ridge pole about 3 m. above the main floor (Fig. 6). These houses are built entirely without the use of nails or bolts. The frame is of mortise-and-tenon construction; the floors are made of bamboo splits lashed to studs with vine cording; and the roofing is con­structed of grass thatching tied to bamboo bats and lashed to the house frame.

The interior of an uma leme is divided into a main floor and an attic. The main floor is separated into two parts by a teak panel wall pierced by a small door. A living and cooking area takes up about two-thirds of the space: a storage area for grain, mats, and other posses­sions takes up the remaining space. Along most of one long wall in the main living area there is a 1 in. square earthen hearth. or mu, set in a wooden frame with three up­right stones forming a tripod on which pots may be rested (Fig. 7). A hardwood bench a few centimeters high and about 2 in. long sits in front of the hearth. A large covered pot that can hold up to 25 liters of chinking water-is kept next to the hearth. A deep rack made of a wooden frame and bamboo splits hangs over the hearth and water pot and serves as a place to keep cooking implements, drying firewood and sheaves of rice, other food, and sundries. Shelves or pegs for hanging clothes and tools may be set at shoulder height on the wall separating the living area from the storage room. Another shelf is often built catty-corner onto the roofing strut opposite the hearth. The taja dewa, (‘shelf of the gods), is reserved for offerings to the house­hold’s ancestral spirits.

Additional sleeping and storage space is provided by an attic set about 3 in. above the main floor. Often a platform of bamboo splits is also lashed to the tie-beams that hold the main houseposts together. Called a saronge, this platform is used as an area for working, visiting, sitting, or napping, and if frequently used is sometimes augmented by a wind­screen on three sides made of thatching or bamboo splits (Fig. 8).

Architectonic detail is not highly (level­ oped. One invariable feature of Don Donggo uma leme, however, is a wooden ‘threshold’ carved in the shape of a parrot and set at the single door, against which the ladder rests during the day (see Fig. 5). The capitals of the houseposts and the interior beams that hold up the attic floor are usually decorated with incised geometric designs.

Once built, an uma leme requires little more maintenance than occasional repairs to its thatching and flooring, though a house­holder able to muster the labor and materials might rethatch the house twice in a decade. Although an uma leme has no windows and only a single door about 1.5 m. square, the loose thatching lets in a surprising amount of light. And because firewood is dried for a day or two in a special holder attached to the un­derside of the rack over the hearth, cooking fires are almost smokeless; what little smoke is produced has no trouble finding its way out the thatching. A well-kept una leme is snug vet airy and comfortable.

Housekeeping is a continuous affair, and Dou Donggo make every effort to keep their houses as clean as possible. Those wearing sandals invariably take them off before as­cending the ladder into any house. Water is always provided for washing one’s feet; if many guests are expected a water pot with a dipper or a special pot with a spigot resting in a forked branch will lx set out in front of the house for that purpose. During the day the bamboo slats of the floor are left uncovered, allowing water and other debris to fall to the ground under the house, an area that is swept several times a day. When guests are present, or at night for sleeping, the floor is covered with pandanus mats, of which the Don Donggo produce very fine examples. Personal possessions are generally kept tucked away out of sight, partly out of a sense of tidiness and partly because visitors are in­clined to ask for anything they see and it is awkward, if not impossible, to refuse.

Uma Pete and Uma Mbolo: A More Modern Form

World War II marked the beginning of a period of rapid social change in Donggo, which has continued to the present. The first Don Donggo converts to Islam were regis­tered in 1940, an indication of increasing in­terchange across Bima Bay. During the war the Japanese stationed an entire division in Bima, outnumbering the local population. For the Bimanese, the Japanese occupation meant suffering, hunger, and hardship, but it also seems to have promoted travel within the sul­tanate and a greater lowlander cultural influ­ence on Donggo. House architecture is one of’ the most obvious areas of cultural change. Butt the new housing style that began to ap­pear in Donggo in the 1940s was not that of the typical Bimanese house, but of the typical Bimanese rice barn, called a jompa by the Don Donggo (see Fig. 8).

In size and the basic construction of its frame, the Bimanese rice barn closely resem­bles an uma leme (see also Hitchcock 1983:249) but tends to be built on lower stilts and lacks the curved struts typical of the unlit leme. The A-frame is replaced by four walls, over which is set a simple thatch roof in the shape of an inverted V closed at the ends with thatch gables. In its earliest form such houses were called uma pete, literally, a “tied house.” The walls were made of bamboo split frames which were filled with the dried leaves of the areca palm. These frames were then lashed with vines to wall posts made of forked hardwood branches, hence the name “tied house.” Later these branches were re­placed with teak posts. There were no win­dows, but a door set in a hardwood frame now replaced the thatch flap of the uma leme.

There are only two or three remaining uma pete in Mbawa (Fig. 3), and I am under the impression that few were ever built. In rela­tively short order they were superseded by the uma mbolo, or ‘meeting house’ (Fig. 4). In an uma mbolo the tied wall frames are re­placed by teak wall panels inserted into slotted studs. A window is set into the wall opposite the hearth. The most significant dif­ference, however, is a technological one. The technology required for building the basic frame of an uma pete was familiar to any Don Donggo who had ever built an uma leme, and the walls of an uma pete are the same as the walls of the semi-permanent field shelters Dou Donggo build at their swiddens. An unto pete is essentially a Bimanese rice barn built with Don Donggo technology. The wooden walls of an um mbolo, however, require techniques and tools that, although common­place in the lowlands, had never before been used in Donggo. An uma mbolo, then, is a slightly enlarged Bimanese rice barn with the addition of a window built with Bimanese technology. I will have more to say about the technology of house-building later.

Uma mbolo are still quite common in the  older hamlets of Mbawa; in the oldest part of the oldest hamlet they constitute 43% of all houses. The interior arrangement and furnish­ings of uma pete and uma mbolo are the same as in an uma leme, though the attic is some­times omitted. In recent years a few owners of uma nbolo have replaced their thatched roofs with unglazed terracotta pantiles (curved roofing tiles), painstakingly carried by hand or on horseback from the kiln at a lowland market town nearby. The cost of replacing a thatch roof with pantiles ran to about $60 in 1983. This is a major expense in what is for the most part a poor subsistence economy, but has the great advantages of providing a more waterproof house and sparing the owner the effort of periodic re-thatching.

Uma Na’e: The Bimanese Wooden House

Around twenty years ago the people of Mbawa began to build their houses entirely on the model of those of the Bimanese low­landers. These houses, called unto na’e (“big house”), are rectangular, much larger, and are set lower to the ground, resting on from 6 to 16 houseposts (see Fig. 4). A Don Donggo will describe an tuna na’e according to the number of its houseposts, or ri’i, and since their spacing and configuration are more or less standardized, this will give a good indica­tion of its size.

The first uma na’e built in Donggo were of 6 ri’i set about 3 in. apart in two rows of three. They are relatively rare nowadays, and are found mostly in the lower reaches of the district where the change was first adopted. The next largest and most common uma ride are of 9 ri’i, arranged 3 by 3 in a rectangle measuring about 4 in. wide and 6 m. long. My wife and I lived in such a house that was 6.09 m. long and 4.07 in. wide. The height of the houseposts was 1.39 in., and the distance from the floor to the ceiling was 1.98 m. and an equal distance to the ridgepole of the house, giving the whole house from ridgepole to the ground a height of 5.35 in. A cooking shed of 6 ri’i, slightly wider than the rest of the house and about 2.25 m. deep, was also tacked on to the back of our house. Less common are houses of 12 ri’i evenly set about 3 m. apart in a 3 by 4 configuration. In all of Donggo there is a handful of houses built on 16 ri’i in an almost square 4 by 4 pattern.

An unto na’e is occupied, usually by a newlywed couple, as soon as the floor, roof, and walls are up. As time and resources permit an interior wall may be added, di­viding the house into a sitting room in front and a room for cooking, eating, and sleeping in the hack. Later, an attic may he added, an elevated cooking shed tacked on to the back of the house, a verandah added to the front, and the area tinder the house fenced in. If the household is doing well economically. they may replace the original thatch roof with tile; a few of the wealthiest families in Mbawa have recently re-roofed their houses with gal­vanized steel sheeting. My wife and I lived in our house rent-free for two years on the un­derstanding that we would buy the nails and sheeting for a new galvanized roof. This we did, at a cost of about $100, and on the ap­pointed day the owner, Salama ama Ta, ar­rived with a party of about a dozen relatives and friends to do the work. He then promptly carted off the tiles to replace the thatching on his own house in a distant hamlet, and it was a struggle to keep enough tiles for our gables. We found that the new roof with its extra-wide eaves kept the house much drier, a more than adequate compensa­tion for the absolutely deafening ‘pitter-patter of rain on a tin roof’ we had to endure during the storms of the tropical rainy season.

The area under the house, called the wombo, is often enclosed with a bamboo split stockade and used as a storage area, chicken coop, or transitory goat pen. My wife and I kept our horses stabled under the house. We also fenced in a portion of our wombo for a chicken coop and were satisfied with the re­sults until a civet cat broke in while we were away and made off with what had promised to become several tasty chicken dinners. An na’e usually has front and hack doors, set off-center in each of the two short walls. Many doors are made with high sills to keep infants and toddlers from wandering about too freely. Both interior and exterior walls are made of unfinished teak panels, constructed in the same fashion as the walls of an uma mbolo). Two windows are placed in each of the long walls. Windows have both shutters and a wooden grill to keep toddlers in and thieves out. In some houses these grills in­clude decorative pierced fleshings, carved with geometric designs (Fig. 9).

The interiors of most uma na’e are divided by a 2-meter-high panel partition and doorway running across the short axis of the house about two-thirds of the way down the long axis. The larger front room is mostly used for receiving guests and for bedding down the younger members of the household at night. The back room serves as the house­holder’s bedroom and as the kitchen, if no separate cooking shed has been added. The floors are made of bamboo splits or, when­ever possible, of hardwood planks, except for the area around the hearth, which is always of bamboo splits so spilled or discarded liquids can fall to the ground. In some houses an attic is added to provide additional storage or work space and to keep the house cooler during the day and warmer at night.

At their most elaborate, furnishings include a few beds with useless mosquito netting, a few glass-fronted wooden wardrobes and buf­fets, and either hand-made or store-bought chairs and coffee tables. The tables and chairs are used only for entertaining important guests; members of the household and casual visitors prefer to work or chat on pandanus mats laid on the floor. Kitchen furnishings and arrangements are the same as in other Dou Donggo houses.

Sentavo and Ngguvu: Field Houses

Don Donggo economy is based on the cul­tivation of swidden rice for subsistence and, more recently, the cultivation of soybeans as a cash crop. The planting, weeding, and har­vesting of swidden rice requires a great deal of cooperative labor, and in the last six weeks or so before harvesting, the fields must be guarded constantly from the depredations of deer; wild pigs, and monkeys. More often than not, the swiddens are cut far from the village, and it is more practical for all or most of the household to live out in the fields for long periods of time.

When a man is out clearing the swiddens and needs only a sheltered place to rest during the day or to spend an occasional night, he will build a sentaco (Fig. 10), a simple platform of unfinished boughs lashed together and supported by four forked branches set into the ground. A few battens of grass or leaf thatch will be raised in a lean-to roof to complete the structure. Later, a sentaco can be used as a convenient place from which to guard the fields from pests. When the time comes to move the whole family out to the fields, a man will erect a more elaborate shelter, the ngguvu (Fig. 11). It, too, consists basically of a platform lashed to forked branches set in the ground, but is much larger, has walls, and a peaked and ga­bled thatch roof.

The walls of an nggucu and the thatching for its roof are often assembled in advance at the village and carried out to the field site. Otherwise, locally available materials are used. In a good nggucu, the walls are made of plaited bamboo splits or of a frame filled with areca palm leaves (as in an uma Pete). A hearth and its rack will be made on the spot. A large nggucu will have a roofed porch in the front, sometimes with bars to keep small children from falling out, to provide a place to sit and watch the fields or visit while others are sleeping or cooking inside. Al­though considerably less comfortable than a house in the village, Don Donggo enjoy the freedom of living in an ngguvu and find con­ditions we would consider cramped and lacking in privacy merely cozy. A few elderly couples who have retired from active fanning live by preference in ngguvu located in small gardens a few kilometers from the village—the Don Donggo version of a ‘retirement community’! When ngguvu are vacated after harvest they are disassembled and everything hut the hearth is carried back to the village to be used or broken up for firewood. Dou Donggo are not given to waste.

Kandawi Uma: The Organization and Technology of House-Building

All of the houses just described arc of mod­ular construction. Since they rest on stilts rather than foundations, and consist of little more than a frame and hung panels that are joined by mortise and tenon and tongue and groove pieces are virtually interchangeable, or at least can be trimmed to be so. Put to­gether rather like tinker toys, houses may be assembled and taken down several times during construction, disassembled and moved to a new site for reassembly, or cannibalized for the building of a new house or the expan­sion of an old one In the lowlands, house-building is a matter largely left to profes­sionals, who will build a house on commission in their own village, knock it down. transport it to the buyer’s village by truck, and reas­semble and finish it there (Hitchcock 1983:257-260).

In Donggo, however, every man is at least a journeyman carpenter. While a few men, called panggita are recognized as the fore­men of house-building work parties, they are more in demand for their command of ritual knowledge than for any particular wood­working expertise. When a man wishes to build a new house (usually in preparation for the wedding of his son as part of the agreed brideprice), he will call on the services of as many of his relatives, friends, and neighbors as are needed for the particular stage of con­struction. Close kin can be called upon to give money and material resources as well as labor. The degree of their obligation depends on both genealogical proximity and personal affect; the paternal uncles and the brothers of the prospective groom are expected to make the greatest contributions. Only rarely are materials other than roofing tiles, hinges, and nails paid for. Labor is never directly paid for, but workers must be given food, tobacco, and betel makings as long as they are on the job, and in a marginal subsistence economy that can be something of a burden. People are naturally expected to return labor in kind for labor given. I know of only one or two in­stances in which an already standing house in Mbawa was actually bought and paid for; I have never heard of anyone paying to have a house built. In the dry season after harvest, hardly a week goes by without at least one house-raising workbee, and hardly a day goes by without smaller groups of men working on subsidiary house-building tasks.

Although the final assembly of a house can be dramatically accomplished in two or three days, the house-building process from begin­ning to end usually takes several years, since work is only done in the two- or three-month respite between harvesting and planting (see Figs. 12-20). The process begins with the search for the wood needed to make the houseposts, main frame, rafters, and studs. A group of men will take off for the deep hard­wood forests on an expedition that may last two or three days. Teak and a fragrant hard­wood related to sandalwood are by and large considered the only suitable woods for house timbers, floorboards, and wall panels. Once an appropriate tree has been found it will be felled and roughed out into timbers as long as 6.5 m. which are carried back to the village for further processing. The tools used for felling trees and roughing out timbers are store-bought hatchets and any one of three kinds of locally-made hush knives. Other Forest products collected for house-building include imperata grass fir thatching, and a variety of vines used for making twine and cording. Bamboo, the only other major nat­ural material used in house-building, is grown in clumps around the village: most house­holds in Mbawa own at least some bamboo.

Houseposts are the heaviest beams used in house-building, and are fashioned directly from timbers using a hatchet, a small hand­held adze, and a heavy bush knife with a rounded blade called a cila golo by the Dou Donggo and, according to Hitchcock (1983:207), a cila mbolo by the Bimanese (Fig. 21). Finishing is done with a plane. Floorboards and the thinner timbers that make up the frame of the house are cut from the rough timber with a big timbering saw, operated by two people. Timbering saws have only been available in Donggo for the past few decades; there are only two or three in Mbawa, but they are freely borrowed. Wall panels and studs are cut in a similar fashion.

When the materials for assembling the frame of a house have been gathered and roughed out, the person building the house will call on his relatives and friends to begin the assembly of the frame; as many as thirty people may participate. The services of at least one panggita will also be requested. In part the panggita’s job is to oversee and co­ordinate the work, but his services are most valued for his command of the esoteric knowl­edge concerning the proper proportions of the house, the correct placement of doors, and the rituals that must be performed to in­sure the propitious building of a house. Al­though sticks are marked and used as mea­suring rods, carpenters’ measures are based on parts of the body (e.g., a hand-span, an arm-span, etc.; see Fig. 22), and I am told that a panggita will take the measurements that are to be standard for a given house from the body of the person for whom the house is being built, so that a house is in proportion to its owner.

There are a number of taboos that attach to various house-building tasks. Once while helping to build a house, I was merrily pounding a peg into its hole until the pang­gita pointed out to me that this was a job for men whose wives had passed their child­bearing years (Fig. 23) and that if 1 insisted on continuing my wife was sure to have diffi­culty in childbirth. I stopped at once.

With the timbers of the frame laid out and marked by the panggita, mortise and tenon are cut into the ends using cila golo, chisels. and mallets. In more recent times, store-bought handsaws are also in use. Mortise­and-tenon joints are tied in place with ta­pered hardwood pegs pounded into holes that have been drilled through the timbers with a T-shaped bore (Fig. 24). The frame of the house is assembled and checked for square­ness and fit. The foundation stones on which the houseposts rest are set in place, with eight or ten men lifting a whole side of the house as the stones are adjusted for leveling (Fig. 25). The frame, or parts of it, may then be taken down for finishing and adjustments. In the process of assembly a house may be put up and taken down several times until the builders are satisfied. When the frame has been completed the panggita will perform a ritual, blessing the houseposts by offering prayers to the spirits and by pouring a special mixture of water and leaves on the posts (Fig. 26).

Normally, the assembly of the frame fin­ishes the work for that year. The roof will be given a rough covering of thatch to keep it dry and the owner will go about gathering the materials for the studs, wall panels, floor, and roof. This may take several years, but in the meantime the frame has the chance to season as a completed unit, which adds to its durability.

When the time comes for completing the house, the owner will once again assemble a work party of relatives and friends. The walls of the house are made up of a frame of studs into which teak panels are fitted. The studs are hung from the house frame proper and project slightly out over the frame by about 30 cm. A special kind of plane is used to cut grooves in the wall studs; the panels are fash­ioned with a cila golo and finished with a plane. A temporary floor of bamboo splits may be lashed in place, but when possible a wooden floor of planks is preferred. Fixing the floorboards is the only part of the house-building in which nails are used; the hinges of doors and windows complete the use of hard­ware. A curved wooden ladder with broad, flat risers, running from the ground to the front door, completes the house (Fig. 27).

Once built, Dou Donggo houses require relatively little maintenance, and properly cared for will last for many decades. Because they are elevated and because the area around all houses is kept clear of grass and is swept daily, it is easy to keep termites from attacking the house. Shallow ditches and low dikes keep the area under the house dry, so as long as the roof is kept in good repair there is little danger from rot. The mortise­and-tenon construction of Dou Donggo houses provides enough ‘give’ to make them virtually impervious to the earthquakes that are a constant threat. High winds can do a fair amount of damage to roofs, but fire is by far the greatest danger, especially considering that about half of the roofs in Mbawa are made of thatch. At least three times in this century, large parts of Mbawa were destroyed by fire, prompting some members of the community to found satellite hamlets. Don Donggo are extremely indulgent with chil­dren, but even a very young child who is careless with fire will be sternly disciplined. One case of arson (by a psychotic) is remem­bered; the perpetrator was immediately stoned to death by the entire community.

The Social Organization of Homing

With Indonesian independence the Sul­tanate of Bima willingly gave up the internal sovereignty it had enjoyed under Dutch rule, and, as mentioned earlier, shortly thereafter lost its semi-autonomous status within the In­donesian state. The Sultan was replaced by a regent appointed by the national government who, more often than not, has been Javanese rather than Bimanese. Lesser positions in the local government, once filled by members of the upper nobility, have been taken over by members of the lesser nobility and com­moners who have tended to be more de­voutly orthodox Muslims than their predeces­sors. The new rulers had little regard for the special status the Don Donggo enjoyed under the Sultan’s rule, and found offensive their continuing adherence to the pagan beliefs of their ancestors. Thus Donggo continually found itself on the short end of the stick with regard to roads, schools, health care, and po­litical power. Access to these things has been bought at the price of conversion to Islam or, in a fewer number of cases, Catholicism (which operates its own educational and health-care services).

The result of all of this has been a degree of Dou Donggo acculturation to Bimanese Muslim ways. These changes have not been restricted to religion alone, but are reflected in changing patterns of language, inheritance, marriage, and social organization. And per­haps it is no coincidence that the changes in house architecture described above began to happen at the same time. The newer houses are certainly larger and more spacious, but the Dou Donggo could have begun con­structing them long ago; that they chose to begin replacing their traditional houses with Bimanese houses at the same time they began replacing their traditional ways with Bi­manese ways seems hardly accidental. To the Dou Donggo the uma leme represents the ways of their ancestors, and their abandon­ment of the uma leme is largely symbolic of their movement into the `New Order’ of the independent Indonesian state. Those who were first to adopt Islam were also those who first began to build uma na’e, and those who have remained culturally most conservative have tended to stay in uma mbolo.

An uma leme was inhabited in a very dif­ferent way than an uma nae. The household was often an extended family composed of parents, their unmarried children, and one or two married daughters with their husbands and children who had not finished paying the brideprice and had not yet built their own houses. Unmarried girls would sleep in the attic, young men would sleep in the saronge under the house (see Fig. 7), and a young son-in-law would sit up, standing guard through most of the night, at the entrance to the main floor. Life in such cramped quarters was intensely communal and revolved around the hearth that took up a quarter of the single living room.

About the time people started building uma Pete and uma mbolo there was a ten­dency for newlyweds to have their houses built before marriage, rather than to live for a period in the bride’s parents’ house. But the social organization of space within the house remained the same. The change to the uma na’e also reflected a change whereby Doti Donggo made building a house part of the brideprice paid by the groom, if at all pos­sible before the marriage took place. In former times, according to Dou Donggo tradi­tional law, the bride’s parents and patrilineal kin were allowed to keep the brideprice for themselves. By Bimanese standards, this is contrary to Islamic canon law, and among Dou Donggo the brideprice is now used (at least in theory) to build and furnish a house for the newlyweds. Built for newlyweds and mostly occupied by nuclear rather than ex­tended families, the uma na’e both creates and symbolically represents a weakening of inter-generational bonds and greater indepen­dence for younger couples.

The social organization of houses in Donggo has also changed with respect to the internal space of the house. In uma leme, uma pete, and uma mbolo there was no divi­sion of the living space. In the uma na’e, however, the wall dividing the front and back rooms also divides the sexes. At social and ritual gatherings in an uma na’e the men meet in the front room, while the women sit in the back room by the hearth preparing food, as is done in Bima. Although the Dou Donggo have always observed extraordinarily egalitarian relations between the sexes, changes in inheritance to conform to Muslim canon law have tended to put women at a disadvantage. It seems to me that the phys­ical segregation of the sexes evident in the in­ternal partition of the uma na’e reflects a movement away from that egalitarian stance.

Ulna leme, uma pete, and uma mbolo are things of the past; they are simply no longer being built. As time goes on and they are abandoned, or cannibalized to make uma na’e, or converted into rice barns, their scarcity will attest to what seems to be the inexorable absorption of Donggo by Bima. Still, it is instructive to recall that at least in Mbawa people have begun to feel a need to preserve the remaining uma leme, not out of nostalgia, but out of a genuine desire to re­tain their unique traditions and identity.

Cite This Article

Just, Peter. "Houses and House-Building In Donggo." Expedition Magazine 26, no. 4 (August, 1984): -. Accessed June 22, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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