The Reconstruction of the Mbaru Niang

Waerebo, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, 2009

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 Three of the house had been replaced by several gable  houses.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.
Conservation goals and objectives
The conservation process is quite unique as the process is intensely involves 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. Mr. Fransiskus Mudir, the leader of LPW (the tourism committee of Wae Rebo) was appointed as the construction manager. 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.
Key conservation interventions
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, the construction itself is a conservation work in which the indigenous techniques are transferred to the younger generations of the village. On a broader scale, the project is now has impact on the university in which their students join the villagers in the reconstruction process.

Time frame
The project last 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).
First two houses take up to 6 months for each house. The first three months was to ask for the permit to take the wood from the forest, then the next two months was for gathering the materials, while the last month was to assemble, constructing the house. However, the second house took slightly faster than the first house.

According to Mr. Martinus Anggo, the project leader from Wae Rebo, the Wae Rebo village has last for more than five hundred years, as there are already eighteen generations lived in the village up until now. Statistically, there are 1200 villagers of the village. However, some of them are now live in the lower part of the mountains in order to support their children’s education and to get easier access for their economic activities. Around 150 villagers of Wae Rebo lived in the conical houses in 2008.
The Wae Rebo is the last village on Manggarai, West Flores in which the signature Manggarai conical houses could still be found. Each structure consists of five storeys. The conical shape of the house resembles the surrounding shape of the hills and the mountains while allowing the strong mountain winds to smoothly flow through the houses. The structure and the construction details showed the richness of the vernacular constructions, evolving for hundred years to fit specifically to its context. All of the materials used to build the house were taken from the surrounding forest.
There were originally seven conical houses in Wae Rebo. Six of them are called the mbaru niang, while the other house, located in the centre of the formation, is called the mbaru tembong. One extended family lives in each mbaru niang, and all of those families have their family representatives (usually the elders) lives in mbaru tembong. The mbaru tembong also acts as a meeting space for the people while they have any issues that have to be discussed by the whole villagers. The diameter of mbaru tembong is fifteen meters with a sign of a buffalo horn on top of the house, while the diameter of the mbaru niang is eleven meters.
The five storey construction of the mbaru niang was erected without any dead joints. Only few joints are using nails to strengthen the joineries. Most of the joineries were done by simple wooden joints techniques or tied construction using rattan or ijuk ropes. The people live on the first floor, while the upper floors are used to store their crops and make them dry, as the house has a fireplace in the centre of the house. On the fifth floor, the people placed their offerings for their ancestors.
The construction method is one of the significance of Wae Rebo’s mbaru niang. As all of the building materials are organic materials, the materials need to be replaced periodically and some of them need to be replaced more often than the other. However, in the construction of mbaru niang, the least durable materials are put outside while the most durable materials are used as the main structure. For example, the roof cover (ijuk and ilalang) that needs to be replaced every five years could be replaced without destroying the other structure as they use tied construction. However, after reaching its maximum age of approximately 70 to 100 years, the structure needs to be reconstructed.
In 2008, only three mbaru niang and one mbaru tembong are left in the village. Two of the mbaru niang is almost seventy years old, while the other two houses were still in a good condition as they were rebuilt in 1998. The other three houses had fall down several years before, and the families living inside the house decided not to rebuild their mbaru niang, but rather lived in a more practical gable houses.
The unique feature about the village is their communal living culture. The villagers live harmoniously lead by the elders. The discussion culture is quite strong in the village. Facilitated by their circular shaped house, especially inside the mbaru tembong, the people of Wae Rebo used to gather together and discuss every time issues that involved the village. It is also their tradition to gather together when they are welcoming new guests, having conversation with the guests about the village and their culture. In this way, Wae Rebo managed to preserve their culture while the other village has started to leave their traditions.
The communal system, their conical shaped house, and the radial village formation formed a unique integration in Wae Rebo. This radial formation, could also be seen in their paddy field system. Rather than dividing the fields into squares, the people divided each big fields into several circle, and divide from its centre to the outer ring (pizza shaped). This paddy fields system is called cancar, and could only be found in this area.

The Tirto Utomo Foundation
The foundation aims to help the development of culture and education in Indonesia. The foundation is not only acted as the donor for the Tirta Gena Ndorom (first phase) and Tirta Gena Jekong (second phase), but also gave their full support during the overall project.


Mr. Laksamana Sukardi, as the donor for the Laksamana Gena Jintam (third phase)

Mr. Arifin Panigoro, as the donor for the Panigoro Gena Mandok (third phase)

PT Tirta Investama Aqua.Danone, as the donor for the Tirta Gena Maro (third phase)