Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Inside Austronesian Houses

Inside Austronesian Houses: Perspectives on domestic designs for living

Edited by James J. Fox
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Inside Austronesian Houses
    Book Description:

    The eight papers in this volume examine the spatial organization of a variety of Austronesian houses and relate the domestic design of these houses to the social and ritual practices of the specific groups who reside within them. The houses considered in this volume range from longhouses in Borneo to the meeting-houses of the Maori of New Zealand and from the magnificent houses of the Minangkabau of Sumatra to the simpler dwellings of the population of Goodenough Island in Papua New Guinea. Together these papers indicate common features of domestic design from island South-East Asia to Melanesia and the Pacific. This volume is a publication of the Research School of Pacific Studies’ Comparative Austronesian Project.

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-84-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Chapter 1. Comparative Perspectives on Austronesian Houses: An Introductory Essay
    (pp. 1-28)
    James J. Fox

    The eight papers that comprise this volume share a common objective. Their purpose is to examine the spatial organization of a variety of Austronesian houses and to relate the domestic design of these houses to the social and ritual practices of the specific groups who reside within them.

    Throughout the Austronesian-speaking world, houses are given great prominence. Many houses are stunning architectural creations. Their construction is a subject of notable study. Such houses — as well as those that are far less striking — are invariably more than they appear to be, and certainly more than simple physical residences. Although...

  5. Chapter 2. The Lahanan Longhouse
    (pp. 31-44)
    Jennifer Alexander

    Longhouses are the archetypical form of Bornean domicile, although this form of dwelling is also found in other parts of the world.¹ Much larger than most visitors expect, longhouses are built on piles and comprise a row of individual domestic units accommodated under one roof. This unusual form of architecture has provoked considerable speculation concerning the reasons for its development and for its persistence in contemporary societies which are otherwise rapidly changing.

    A functional explanation for the siting of the longhouse on piles has been sought in the protection it provides from flood and heat in a tropical monsoon climate....

  6. Chapter 3. Good Walls Make Bad Neighbours: The Dayak Longhouse as a Community of Voices
    (pp. 45-64)
    Christine Helliwell

    Within the anthropology of Borneo, the Dayak longhouses found throughout the island have typically been depicted as each consisting of little more than a line of independent household apartments. It has consistently been argued, within this literature, that any apparent communality suggested by the fact that a number of apartments are joined into a single longhouse structure is an illusion; that each apartment is in fact a highly discrete entity. In this view, the ‘independent’ character of an apartment reflects a priority of household over community within Dayak social organization. Several ethnographers have taken this so far as to draw...

  7. Chapter 4. Posts, Hearths and Thresholds: The Iban Longhouse as a Ritual Structure
    (pp. 67-118)
    Clifford Sather

    Social and symbolic features of the Iban longhouse have been extensively described (see Freeman 1960, 1970). These descriptions, however, have consistently given priority to the longhouse as a built form. In this paper I begin by taking a very different approach, viewing the Iban longhouse, in the first instance, as a ritually constituted structure.

    Ritual is described by the Iban in what are largely dramaturgical terms. Ritual is thus ‘enacted’ (nunda) or ‘played’ (main) upon a stage; it is performed, that is to say, within a symbolically ordered setting. For the Iban, the longhouse is the pre-eminent setting in which...

  8. Chapter 5. Raising the House Post and Feeding the Husband-Givers: The spatial categories of social reproduction among the Minangkabau
    (pp. 121-142)
    Cecilia Ng

    The Minangkabau are among the largest of the ethnic groups in Indonesia. Besides being known for their matrilineal organization, the Minangkabau are also noted as energetic Muslim traders who have migrated far beyond their homeland in the province of West Sumatra.¹ According to the 1980 census, the population of West Sumatra was approximately 3.4 million, of whom an estimated 3 million were Minangkabau. The majority of the Minangkabau population lives in the fertile upland plains where irrigated rice cultivation is their mainstay.

    In this paper I am concerned with the principles of domestic spatial organization in Minangkabau society. The use...

  9. Chapter 6. Memories of Ridge-Poles and Cross-Beams: The categorical foundations of a Rotinese cultural design
    (pp. 145-182)
    James J. Fox

    In the classical art of memory from Roman times to the Renaissance, the house was made to serve as a structure for remembering. An imagined construction — with a succession of entry ways, passages, courtyards and rooms, all appropriately furnished — was used to fix the memory of specific objects. To recall these objects, one had only to journey through this familiar mnemonic space and to ‘recollect’ the memory of the objects that one had purposely stored in a particular place within the house. Images posed in ordered locations within a familiar architecture formed the basis of a complex mnemonic...

  10. Chapter 7. The Kalauna House of Secrets
    (pp. 185-198)
    Michael W. Young

    The first government census patrol of the D’Entrecasteaux Islands in the Eastern Division of Papua was conducted in 1921, on foot and by boat, by a British officer named R.A. Vivian. He is commemorated in local legend as ‘Misibibi’, a colonial culture hero whose fantastic exploits, draconian laws and ruthless feats of social engineering have almost mythical status. He is credited with having transformed the social landscape, though I deduced that, on Goodenough Island at least, ‘Misibibi’ represents a telescoped series of government officers (Young 1971:31–32). One man alone could not possibly have done so much in so short...

  11. Chapter 8. Maori Meeting-Houses in and Over Time
    (pp. 201-224)
    Toon van Meijl

    The landscape of New Zealand is remarkably European in character. Its folding surface is dyed with the verdant leaf of pastureland. Meadows are often marked out by hedgerows so typical of England. The grazing pastoral animals were all introduced from the northern hemisphere less than 200 years ago. Only the omnipresent Maori marae (ceremonial centres) remind travellers from overseas that they are, in fact, exploring a country in the South Pacific.

    Marae are distinguished from ordinary localities scattered over the countryside by a meeting-house used by Maori people for various ceremonies and community assembly. Meeting-houses are the most outstanding indigenous...

  12. Chapter 9. Houses and the Built Environment in Island South-East Asia: Tracing some shared themes in the uses of space
    (pp. 227-242)
    Roxana Waterson

    The place of architecture in people’s lives is a subject which anthropologists have, to a surprising degree, been guilty of neglecting. The extent of this neglect was highlighted recently by Caroline Humphrey (1988) in a review of Paul Oliver’s (1987) Dwellings: the house across the world. Oliver is one writer who has consistently and creatively crossed the boundary between architecture and anthropology, and his work should inspire greater efforts to make good the many areas of neglect still existing in the anthropology of architecture. The Austronesian world provides one of the richest fields for enquiry into this topic, and one...

  13. Contributors
    (pp. 243-244)