Mbaru Niang

Paskalis Khrishno

Mbaru Niang / Rumah Asuh Foundation

Rumah Asuh Foundation Jl Palem Puri No 7 Bintaro Sektor IX Tangerang 15413

Flores Island, Indonesia
2012 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award of Excellence for Cultural Heritage Conservation

The Waerebo Legacy


Wae Rebo is a traditional village, located in the hilly areas of West Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. The remote location of the village, which could only be reached by five hours trip by cars followed by a four hour trekking, made the village is almost unknown, even to the people in the Flores Island. However, the beauty of the village has somehow captured the attention of some international tourists. Mr. Blasius Monta, a local teacher who makes a list of the visitors coming to Wae Rebo has recorded an average number of 20 to 40 tourists per year during the period of 2002 to 2007. None of them is Indonesian, most of them are Dutch, Australian, Japanese and many other nationalities.

The Wae Rebo is the last village on Manggarai, West Flores in which the signature Manggarai conical houses called the "mbaru niang" could still be found. Originally, the village consists of seven conical houses, but on 2008, there were only four left in the village. Three of the house had been replaced by several gable  houses. Out of the four houses left, two of them are not in a good condition as they have been used for seventy years, while the other two have been reconstructed around 1998 by the help of some donators. Although the some of the villagers want to rebuild the conical house, they postponed to do so as the villagers will need to leave some of their daily life to work together in building the house. Before the conservation planning, the villagers were getting ready to lose two more of their conical houses.

On 2008, a group of Indonesian young architects planned their annual trip to different islands in Indonesia. That year, the group was planning their itinerary to Flores Island when they found two images of the Waerebo village on the internet. Despite the limited information, the group finally managed to visit the village. The short visit has opened their eyes to the richness of the culture and architecture. However, it challenged their contribution as Indonesian young architects as they watched the struggle of the people to preserve their culture and architecture.

Back to Jakarta, the group of architects then started to set a program to conserve the village. The motivation was to save the precious local wisdom of Wae Rebo. Looking towards the broader agenda, the group of young architects, later known as the Rumah Asuh Foundation, believes that the local wisdom are the key towards a more sustainable architecture, as the vernacular architecture has evolved for hundreds of years to fit its local culture and environment. The result was a sustainable and culturally rich structure.

Conservation goals and objectives

The conservation process is quite unique as the process was intensely involving the people living in the village. A conical house is seen not only as a shelter of life, but also as symbol of unity within a family and within the villagers as an extended family. The house is also the ritual space for the people to have their ceremonies to respect their ancestors. The main goal of the conservation was to preserve and support the living culture, rather than preserving the houses merely as a dead monument. A sensitive strategic planning were done during the process to make sure the donations will not destroy the community system and the people are aware that this conservation project is a collaboration in which all stakeholders need to give their best.

Therefore the participation of the villagers is the key point. The elders work as the supervisor, mentoring the younger generation in doing each construction details. This process by itself is a conservation process, as this is the way the local people conserve their local knowledge, techniques and wisdom. The people are not used to keep a written record, but the young generations of the village learning the techniques by doing.

The project physically brought back the village to its authentic formation of seven houses. However, not only as empty structures, the people are now choosing to live in the house and preserving their culture. The progressing conservation project has brought back the spirit and pride of the villagers of their own culture and local genius. Two of the families that had been given up their conical house and choose to live in more practical gable houses few years ago, then agreed to live in the conical house, therefore the phase three construction is arranged. Only one family refused to rebuild their conical house, therefore, the seventh house is designed as a guest house. The idea of making a proper guest house is to answer the increasing demand of eco-tourism to Wae Rebo these days.

Moreover,to make the process as a learning experience, not only for the villagers of Wae Rebo and the team of Rumah Asuh, but also to the young generations of Indonesian architects; started on the second phase, some universities were invited to send the representatives of their students to join the people of Wae Rebo in the reconstruction. The methods proved to be successful in terms of how the activities becoming the beginning of more intense discussions and attention about Indonesian vernacular architecture, including its local wisdom, development as well as their conservation.

Time frame

The project lasted from May 2009 to May 2011, consisting of three phases:
  1. Phase one (May 2009 - October 2009), dismantling the old conical house and reconstructing the Tirta Gena Ndorom.
  2. Phase two (November 2009 - May 2010), dismantling the old conical house and reconstructing the Tirta Gena Jekong.
  3. Phase three (November 2010 - May 2011), reconstructing another three conical houses. Two of them are used as the house for the people (Laksamana Gena Jintam and Panigoro Gena Mandok), while the other one is used as a guest house with a smaller conical house attached to the building as a separate kitchen (Tirta Gena Maro).


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