Rumah Limas: On the Brink of Extinction

South Sumatra province comes with a long history. Formerly known as Sriwjaya, it once was the biggest Buddhist kingdom in Southeast Asia. Like other regions in Indonesia, the ethnic group inhabiting this province has its own traditional houses and architectural style known as rumah panggung kayu (wooden stilt house) or rumah limas. The word limas refers to a shape similar to a pyramid with a sharp end. The Limas house is of typically South Sumatran architecture. Since the landscape is predominantly comprised of swamps and rivers, the local people have created stilt houses. Even near the Musi river one can find limas houses with their entrances facing the river. Due to modern development, both swamps and rivers have narrowed and, as consequence, limas houses once standing in the middle of a swamp or on water are now surrounded by villages.

A different angle of Rumah LimasThere are 2 types of limas traditional houses: the first with varying floor heights (rumah ulu) while the other maintains the same floor height throughout. A typical limas house is long and narrow, typically with a width of 20 meters and a length of 100 meters. A big limas house symbolizes the owner’s social status, frequently a member of the Palembang Sultanate, formerly that of a Dutch colonial government official or a rich merchant. Limas houses are commonly built with Borneo ironwood since this type of wood is waterproof. The walls are made of neatly arranged planks. On the left and right sides are 2 stairs leading up to the house proper. A spiked wooden fence called tenggalung surrounds the house’s terrace. The idea of this wooden fence is to limit girls from going outside. Once inside, the wooden door is a unique part of the house and, when opened, touches the ceiling. The living room (or kekijing) is basically a spacious area commonly the center for gathering and occasions. The living room is also a showcase for exposing a family’s wealth. Its walls are decorated with gold-painted flora motif. Sometimes carvings have tin or real gold accentuated with hanging antique lamps. Some owners of these houses still pay attention to differences in caste and will create levels for their floors in accordance to caste. Unfortunately, while Limas houses are indeed laden with philosophy, few remain due the more recent modernization of South Sumatra.

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