My visit to Padang brings me to see this real-life Gadang House (Rumah Gadang: meaning big house). Gadang house is the traditional tribal house of Minangkabau Indonesia (Western Sumatra). It’s really amazing and thank God this heritage survived through centuries! This house right here is not exactly built centuries ago but it is a reminiscent of the original one. It was built in 1988 and is now a mini library about Minangkabau. If you’re interested in visiting it, it is located in Padang Panjang a little bit outside of Padang. Pusat Dokumentasi dan Informasi Kebudayaan Minangkabau (Documentation and information Centre of Minangkabau Culture).
Whenever you see rumah gadang, the most obvious element of is the curved and pointy roof. In Minang it called bagonjong. It is a symbol of the buffalo’s horn which to their culture is considered very sacred. A little introduction about Minangkabau. Once upon a time the Minangkabau people were often mocked for their small buffalos. So one day a tournament is held between the local buffalo and a buffalo from another area. The other buffalo was huge! So the Minangkabau people did a trick. They got a newborn buffalo, a calf which is still in breastfeeding. They set it away from the mother for a few days that it made the calf very hungry. They put a pointy horn on the calf’s head. So on the day of the tournament, the calf thought that the big buffalo was its mother and ran to it with hopes to be fed. But instead, the calf killed the big buffalo so that the Minangkabau wins. Minang means winning. Kabau means buffalo. So literally it means winning buffalo!
Now about the house. So there are two types of Rumah Gadang. The first one has an ‘anjungan’ (up leveling) and the other has none only a flat floor (heritage to the Bodi and Caniago tribe). Now, whether a rumah gadang has an anjungan or not depends on which tribe builds it. This one that I’m visiting has an anjungan and it is a heritage to the Koto and Piliang tribe. The anjungan is used for the Datuk (head of tribe) to sit and on the other side for girls to create embroidery and textiles. Now, that it is a tribal house, it is inhabited by several families depending on the numbers of rooms in the house. The rooms in the house are usually uneven to keep the architecture balance of the house. So if there are 9 rooms. It means it has 8 rooms for the family and 1 kitchen. The kitchen in the very middle of the house with access to the area downstairs which they use to raise livestock (chicken, goats etc). Room 12346789 are bedrooms, room 5 is the kitchen. Families living in Rumah Gadang are those who are economically still unstable so the tribe helps them by letting them live in it. Once they are economically stable they have to get out of the house to build their own house. Not a gadang house, but just a normal one for the family.
There is a living system in this house. Families living here will move from one room from the side to the other side (The rooms are next to each other). The ones who enter the house are most likely a newly-wed. They will live in the first room. If another new family comes to live in the house they will have to live in the first room and the family previously living in the first room should move to the second room (which is next to it). The family living in the second should move to the third, and so on. What happens to the family living in the last room? Well, because this family has lived and benefited long enough from the house, they have to move out. Moreover, it is not necessary to wait until the family reaches the last room. Whenever they are able to afford/create a house, they are free to move out. The rooms are very small. It is intended for a young family (mother, father, a child). I think it’s only for the bedroom. If the family has a son who reaches 10 years old. He should not live in the rumah gadang anymore. He can only visit it to see parents and get clothes. Where does the boy live? He will help farming, he will go to a mosque to study religion and live there. Because back then it was very rare to get formal education so it was the only place to get educated. It has been tradition for a Minang (a person from Minangkabau) to get out of Minangkabau to look for better living. Nowadays Minangs are pretty much spread across the archipelago. Okay back about the small room. The reason it is small is to motivate the man not to be lazy and work hard to earn, so that the family can move out from the rumah gadang.
Another system, is the border of the family’s living area. Each family’s area is defined by pillars. So their living area is their bedroom and in front of their bedroom between pillars on the sides. That area is used for having their meal, receiving guests, etc. They are not allowed to enter other’s area. In the kitchen, each family has their own stove so in this house there should be 8. They cook only for their own family.
A custom on receiving guest include receiving them in the family’s area. The guest should sit facing the owner to the outwards and the owner facing the guest, inwards facing the bedroom. That way the guest will only see the owner, the beautiful rumah gadang pattern and the nature outside the window and not the bedroom.
Like most of Indonesia’s traditional houses it is constructed of wood. Rumah gadang is built with a earthquake safe construction which does not include concrete. When an earthquake hit in 2007 and 2009, nothing in the house or the construction was broken. Rumah Gadang may seem like a little bit leaning but it is actually very strong. There is even a Minang phrase about it “Condong nan indah mambao rabah” meaning, although leaning, it will not fall apart. The walls are made of woven natural material. On the windows, doors and outside wall patterns are present. Phrase about the patterns “Alam takambang jadi guru cancang kayu jadi ukiran” meaning that creating the pattern, the Minangkabau people learns from the nature. The big wood are made as construction and pillars, but the leftovers are not wasted. It is used to create patterns.
Let’s talk about the pattern! The colors are not paint! The colors are derived from natural material that produces color such as leaves etc. The pattern carved on the pillars is called “Kuciang lalok” meaning a sleeping cat. It symbolizes awareness. When you see a sleeping cat, although its eyes are shut, its ears keeps moving, being aware. On the doors and windows the pattern is called “Si kambang manik” meaning the beautiful flower. It symbolizes the friendliness of the Minangkabau people in receiving their guests. Another one is called “Itiak pulang patang” meaning chicks go home in the evening. It symbolizes discipline and in order in the patterns. Similar with chicks, when they walk they’ll walk in a line. “Pucuk rabuang” pattern has the phrase of “Kete paguno gadang ta pakai”. Literally it means that a young bamboo can be used as food and an old bamboo can be used to build a house. The real meaning behind that phrase is, as a human from young to old we apt to be useful for others. It is a culture of Minangkabau to have meaningful phrases.
In front of the rumah gadang they have the rice house which is called “Rangkiang”. The first question that popped of my head was ‘Where’s the door?’ The answer to that is that it doesn’t have one. In order to collect the rice, a person has to get a ladder and climb up to that rectangular hole. It is made that way to reduce risks of getting the rice stolen. The ladder is not placed on the rangkiang for safety, it is saved under the rumah gadang. The reason why the rangkiang is put outside the house is also for safety. In case the house burnt down. They will still have food to eat. There are 4 rangkiangs. The first rangkiang with 4 pillars is the place to store rice that will be used for ceremonies such as weddings etc. The second rangkiang with 4 pillars is to store rice that is used for helping the poor and surviving the drought. The rangking with 6 pillars is used to store rice for daily use of the rumah gadang. And the last is rangkiang with 9 pillars is used to store rice for the community and development of area. For example the rice can be sold and the money can be used to help the development.
However, the real rumah gadang does not have furniture such as shown in the picture, they sit on the floor. There are furniture now basically because it’s a library.
Last but not least this is the traditional Minangkabau dress for a wedding! They have this in the house you are able to hire and take photos in it. Complete with the traditional decoration of a wedding party! I had so much fun learning about all this. Indonesia is indeed very rich in culture!