Sun, 16 Mar 2003

C. Sulawesi loses traditional houses, rituals

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In many parts of the world, indigenous culture, rituals and traditional houses are among important tourism attractions that help boost the local tourism industry.

However, this is not the case in Central Sulawesi where some rituals have become obsolete and its traditional house, called tambi, is slowly losing popularity among the more modern locals.

The province has a distinct architectural style but each of its 12 indigenous tribes has its own unique details.

However, Ichsam, a member of staff at the Central Sulawesi museum said there was practically no new tambi being built in the past several years as locals prefer modern houses.

Tambi is a wooden house, elevated around 150 centimeters from the ground to protect the house's occupants against possible attacks from enemies or wild animals that, in the past, freely roamed the villages.

Ichsam added that a traditional house is usually built with the help of neighbors because of good social interaction.

To build a tambi, timber is used and each log is indented in several parts to keep the other logs in place. Rope, instead of nails, are used to bind the logs together.

The interior of the house is divided into sections (usually into bedrooms) with only cloth, made of tree bark which acts like curtains. Occupants sleep on mattresses which are also made of tree bark.

In the highland area, the beds are arranged around the kitchen in the center of the house to keep the occupants warm at night. People living in the coastal area have a wider terrace to sun dry their fishing nets.

The space right below the house is used to accommodate several functions, including a terrace, kitchen/dining room, for cattle, storage and other purposes.

The houses of ordinary people are left simple and plain, while those of nobility are carved and decorated with a buffalo horn on top of the roof as a symbol of wealth or status.

"It is now difficult to find a real tambi in Palu and you need to go to remote areas to find them," Ichsam said.

Some of the province's traditional rituals have already become obsolete because they do not comply with the values of major religions, namely Islam and Christianity.

Traditional rituals have their roots in animism and evolve around human life cycles from birth to death and other important events, like harvesting.

During a birth ritual, sources said that sando (a healer) has an important role to facilitate the delivery process and to ensure that the baby is born safely and unharmed by evil spirits.

However, when a delivery problem occurs, the healer would open the lids of all objects in the house, especially in the kitchen, unlock all boxes, open all doors and windows to help facilitate the process.

Should the problem persist, the healer would soak the keys and sprinkle the water on the head of the pregnant woman and her stomach. Another way is by rubbing hihikoi (bird droppings) on top of her stomach.

Funeral rituals, including those performed in Kaili and Pamona regions, have been banned since the late 19th century to early 20th century after locals embraced Islam and Christianity.

In Kaili, when a king died, his body would be kept in a coffin and would not be buried until the late king's tadulako (servant) could find the right person to be beheaded and the head be buried along with the king's remains to accompany the king in the after life.

In Pamona the funeral ritual, now obsolete, involved the mompemate ceremony where the body of the deceased would be kept in a small house, called a tambea, until only the skeleton remained and the mogave ritual, a ceremony to collect the bones of the deceased from the tambea to be kept at its final resting place, either inside a cave, a keranda (coffin), or tembikar (big clay or stone pot).

A tau-tau (a statuette, resembling the deceased) is usually placed in front of the cave and the house. "It acts as a memento to remember the deceased by," Ichsam explained.

Actually, a similar rite is still performed by Toraja communities in neighboring South Sulawesi even after locals embraced Christianity.

"There is a kind of cultural council which defends the continuation of the ritual in Toraja area," Ichsam said.