11 March 2014: Rumah – Ode to the Malay House

The Malay house represents the wisdom of traditional ways of building

rumah-1Where else would we find a place to shelter that is more peaceful, than in an abode such as this… – Lat

Tenas Effendy once said that a house is not only a place to live, but it should also serve as a microcosm of the perfection of life. The Malay house, poetically depicted in his poem, represents the wisdom of traditional ways of building, of sharing a habitat with others and of living sustainably with nature. Size, form, grammar and ornament depend as much on the wealth and status of its owner, as it does on the regional variations of its location. From the humble fisherman’s hut to the elegantly carved house of Terengganu, the eclectic brick-piered house of Melaka, and the magnificent communal house of Negeri Sembilan – each Malay house type expresses the culture, customs and the genius loci or spirit of the place.

rumah-2In the kampung, people, families and neighbours are connected by a communal web of mutual obligations, which find expression in daily acts of kindness. At the centre of this web is the dapur – ‘the heat of the hearth’ – where with alimentation, advice and admonishment, children are nourished and kinship is nurtured. These old values and sayings (pepatah pepatih) are seldom forgotten.

For the contemporary architect, the Malay house is the classic design prototype for the hot humid tropical climate of Malaysia. Its attributes – a steep pitched-roof for the rapid removal of torrential rain, floors and windows to allow ventilation and the multi-layered fenestration – are acknowledged as intuitive precedents to today’s building designs.

rumah-3The poem’s author Tenas Effendy was born in 1936 in Pelalawan, a regency of Riau, Indonesia. His familiarity and expertise on Malay customs and traditions have been expressed through numerous poems, proverbs and parables. Today, Tenas is revered as the éminence grise of Malay culture. He was accorded an honorary doctorate from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 2005. Rumah was translated by Raimy Ché-Ross, an accredited Malay translator based in Australia and illustrated by Ahmad Harun, a visualization artist working with an architectural firm based in London.

Rumah was launched on March 15 by Malaysian cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid (Lat). Copies now available from Areca Books.