Not too many places in Indonesia that still preserve its traditional houses. Wae Rebo is a village where the last remaining trace of Manggarai architectural evidence is still intact. When the honai in Papua is built in a smaller scale, the mbaru niang, the traditional Manggaraian house, is a five-storied wooden building, wrapped with palm leave roof that resembles a giant cone on a lush hillside.
Empo Maro, the first resident and the founding father of the village, inherited 7 mbaru niangs, and the number has not change. As the population grows, the rest of the residents must move to Kombo, the new village with the same ancestors, but not as authentic as Wae Rebo. Visiting the village is like days of dream.
Photo by Leonardus Nyoman.
In the beginning, the founding father of Wae Rebo built the village with only 7 houses. After 18 generations, the number of the traditional house, locally named mbaru niang is still the same, although in previous years, the weather reduced the number to its half.
Encircled by Manggarai’s remote hills, the village of Wae Rebo is an international destination, although its neighboring township still considers it as far afield.
The tradition of building a house like mbaru niang in Manggarai, Flores has died in the 70s. Only the villagers of Wae Rebo still adopt the architectural knowledge and belief, as it is the underpinning foundation of the rest of the Manggaraian traditional values.
Using simple method of measurement, they build the house out of bamboo, log, palm leaves, and palm fibers to bind the joints.
The villagers are self-provision community although there are many new commodities coming in from outside their perimeter. Approximately, each person in the village carries outside products up to two tons per year.
One of the elders in Wae Rebo sits in front of an mbaru niang. The ritual leader is called tu’a gendang, and the administrator and political leader is called tu’a golo.
There are five stories in an mbaru niang. Each has its own function. The lower story is for sleeping and living, and the highest is for the souls of ancestors, a sacred place in a house.
Each mbaru niang, the house, is supported by the main post, called the siri bongkok. In the mbaru gendang, the drum house that acts as the communal and tribal house, the main post is a sacred place where the drum is hung, the symbol of the tribe.
Each floor is propped by wooden structure where flat floorboard would be placed. All materials are natural and from the surrounding areas. It would last tens of years, since the smoking kitchen plays its role to preserve the wooden materials.
As a communal settlement uphill, the temperature inside an mbaru gendang is quite stable although morning sun is always a good way to warm up the day.
Since there are no electricity in the village, Wae Rebo villagers have to live in rooms that receive limited sunlight from the opening of the palm leave roof.
From a place named Ponto Nao, Wae Rebo is visible as a cluster of traditional Manggaraian houses on a hilly area, embraced by lush green tropical forests.
In the middle of the settlement, a stone stage is a symbol of the communal place where the village ancestors live. They usually call it compang.