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Revisiting the Southeast Asian House: An Outlier’s Perspective

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Fieldwork and the Self

Part of the book series: Asia in Transition ((AT,volume 12))

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Abstract

Overviews of Southeast Asian houses often overlook Hispanised Philippine houses. This chapter suggests that we need a perspective that will include not only such houses but also vernacular houses using brick or stone in northern Vietnam and South Sumatra. The argument is framed around a number of key points. First, because Southeast Asia is a recent construct dating back only to 1944–1945, defining frameworks should be flexible. Second, to pursue the Austric-Tai hypothesis about the underlying unity of the three language families—Austronesian, Austroasiatic and Tai-Kadai—research in nonlinguistic domains like architecture is needed. Third, we should be wary of the lingering tendency to prioritise Indianisation as the key integrating motif and conversely to exclude Chinese and especially Western influences as an excrescence. Fourth, in the urban centres new influences may have reshaped indigenous traditions, but these indigenous traditions in turn localised the foreign. And finally, the localisation of once-foreign traditions could be analysed in the future on the basis of materiality, functionality and symbolism. For instance, the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Philippine house and South Sumatra’s rumah gedung seem similar in being constructed of wood above and stone below. What would the differences be in construction methods, function and symbolism?

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Hence the Euro banknotes celebrate the evolution of Europe’s architectural heritage: Classical (€5), Romanesque (€10), Gothic (€20), Renaissance (€50), Baroque (€100), nineteenth-century iron-and-glass buildings (€200) and twentieth-century Modern (€500).

  2. 2.

    A parallel is with scholasticism, the favoured philosophy of the Catholic Church, which is unimaginable without St Thomas Aquinas’s dialogues with Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Avicenna (Ibn Sina).

  3. 3.

    This was pointed out to me by Jesús Hernandez. Ostapirat (2013) revisits and agrees with the Benedict hypothesis in a study of the Tai-Kadai linguistic family.

  4. 4.

    I am grateful to my student, Dave Go, who enjoys delving into linguistic issues, for citing this word.

  5. 5.

    However, we cannot claim that northern Vietnam is the cradle of the house on piles. The tradition of building on piles most likely antedates the bronze drums (Waterson 1990: 24, 26).

  6. 6.

    Though houses in Manila’s Walled City were destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945, there are eyewitness accounts of the houses before and after the 1645 earthquake. A will left by Isabel Navarro de Piñero in 1699, donating her house to the Dominican Order, gives a detailed inventory of the different parts of her house, their location and their measurements. The house’s reconstruction in Zialcita and Tinio (1980: 242ff.) is based on it.

  7. 7.

    Perez at al. (1989) did an overview of vernacular houses among the peoples of the non-Hispanised Cordillera (Isneg, Kalinga, Bontoc, Ifugao, Kankanai) and of the Muslims of Mindanao (Sulu, Samal, Yakan, Tausug, Maranao).

  8. 8.

    In Indonesia, the examples would be the Madurese (Prijotomo 1997b), Niha in Nias (Viaro 1997) and Siberut (Mentawai) (Kis-Jovak and Schefold 1997).

  9. 9.

    The description by Prijotomo (1997a) of the Badui Kajeroan house fits the house where I stayed in another part of the uplands of West Java. The door at the entry provides access to the imah (main room) which is for receiving guests, dining and sleeping. At the rear is the parak (hearth).

  10. 10.

    Shuji Funo et al. (2005: 130) note that in Kampung Luar Batang, north of Jakarta, the bedroom is not necessarily ‘a spatial unit enclosed by solid walls, doors and windows’. Moreover, there is flexibility in the allotment of supposedly specialised rooms. The ruang tamu (guest room) can become an ‘open bedroom’ for minors and adult males. The kamar tidur (bedroom) is usually given to elders and adult females.

  11. 11.

    Before the Chinese conquest, inheritance was through both father and mother and thus bilateral, and residence after marriage was uxorilocal (Taylor 1983: 13). A similar pattern prevailed among Austronesian Filipinos. The Chinese imposed patrilineality which was reinforced by Confucianism. However, starting in the 1400s, Vietnamese codes allowed daughters to inherit parental property. Though the Confucian reaction of the Nguyễn legal code of 1812 sought to reduce women’s status, what resulted was a discrepancy between the law and popular customs (Woodside 1971: 45–46). The bilateral urge manifests itself even in house rituals.

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Zialcita, F.N. (2021). Revisiting the Southeast Asian House: An Outlier’s Perspective. In: Jammes, J., King, V.T. (eds) Fieldwork and the Self. Asia in Transition, vol 12. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-2438-4_12

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