Home is where the heart is. This quote also applies to the people of Papua. For the Papuan people, nature is their home. There are many Papuan tribes which inhabit this magnificent and abundant land. All of them live with close relationship with the nature and their traditions. Although they live separately, they have a unique commonality, which are the Papuan traditional houses called Honai and Millipede. Besides the the unique characteristics of the Papuan traditional houses, it also have local wisdom that we can take as lessons to learn in life.
Honai comes from two words, “Hun” which means an adult man and “Ai” which means House. Literally, Honai means the house of an adult man. As for women, the name of their Honai is Ebeai. Ebeai also comes from a combination of two words, which are “Ebe” that means body and “Ai” which means house.
Furthermore, many people think that the Papuan people live together with their livestock. Actually it is not true, as they live in different honai called Wamai, where most of their livestock are pigs. The houses look similar, but as a matter of fact, the house for men are usually higher. Honai mostly exists in mountain areas where the livelihood of the tribes are farming like the Dani tribe.
The Construction of Honai House
From the outside, Honai has a very unique display. It looks like the combination of a Hobbit house and an Igloo. The house is round shape with a cone like or dome roof, with one small door that faces the sunset and sunrise, hence, people must bow when entering the house. The house has no windows nor ventilation, to protect them from the cold temperature in Papua, the hard wind and wild animals.
To build a Honai, there are special requirements and considerations in the building, such as safety, disaster risks, and other concerns that might be faced in the future. They use natural materials such as; straw, root, rattan, weed, dry reed, strips of timbers and woods.
Honai is 3 – 7 meters high with a diameter of 4 to 6 meters. It has two levels, where they use the ground floor for gathering, meeting and other activities at night. On this floor, there is a fireplace to keep them warm at night. They also keep mummified deceased members of the family in the first floor. The second floor is where they sleep. To access each levels they use wooden stairs. Although the house is small and narrow, 5 to 10 people can live in the same house. This arrangement also serves to keep the house temperature warm.
The Wisdom of Honai
Every Honai and Ebeai has the function to educate the teenagers in becoming adults. For female teenagers, the mothers will prepare and teach their daughters about the things they need to know as a woman, what they will face and should do when they are about to marry and have their own children.
While for the little boys, they only live in Ebeai for a short-term. When they grow up as teenagers, they will no longer stay in Ebeai, instead they will live in Honai with the adult men. The adult men will teach the young boys how to survive, and be a man by taking responsibilities for the life of his community.
In conclusion, for the Papuan people, these small houses which they call Honai, are not only ordinary houses, but it is an excellent place for teaching and educating the next generation of the tribe about their heritage, life, responsibilities and mutual respect between human and nature.
The other Papuan traditional house is from the Arfak tribe which has a unique traditional house called Mod Aki Aksa (Lgkojei) or Millipede house. Since the livelihood of the Papuan people who live in West Papua are fishermen, they build their house on stilts, which is ideal for the fishermen. Nowadays, this house can be found in Manokwari, but it is getting rare. The Papuan people who still live in this unique house is the native people of Arfak tribe who live in the deep parts of the Papuan inland, especially in the central part around Arfak mountains.
The Construction of Millipede House
Millipede house has many foundation poles distributed on the bottom to support the house. Therefore, they call it the Millipede house. As for the roof, they use pampas grass that has wicker grounds. The walls are made from woods that are arranged vertically and horizontally to form a cross like figure sticks, so it strongly binds one another. The average height of the house is about 4-5 meters with about 8×6 meter wide. While the foundation are poles with a diameter of around 10 cm per pole and arranged around 30 cm between the poles.
The Wisdom of Millipede
The poles are carved and equipped with the statues of their ancestors that function protection against evil spirits or black magic. The height can protect them from enemies and threats from people with bad intentions. This unique house has two doors and no windows. What makes this house more unique is the poles that are arranged very densely close to each other that it resembles a Millipede’s legs. The aim of the house design is to protect the family from wild animals, cold temperature and natural disasters such as storm.
Although nowadays there are many modern houses in Papua, the Papuan traditional houses should be preserved. These houses are more than just a home as it has a great wisdom of life. Also, the ancestors already give great knowledge on house development which is friendly to the nature. Let’s preserve the Papuan traditional houses for the next generation of Papua.