2016
06.04
WOMAN AT RUMAH ACEH

WOMAN AT RUMAH ACEH

SYNOPSIS:  A tour with Auye’s tuk-tuk through rain and wind to see some traditional Aceh architecture in situ and some of the sites in Banda Aceh.

Dutch-built “indigenous” architecture created to showcase a colony at an exhibit (see Day 2) was not quite what I had in mind when I had hoped to see traditional houses.  The art historian in me objected.  At the museum library I inquired where to go to see some of the Rumah Aceh architecture in situ.  A small village, about 12 miles from Banda Aceh was given to me as the closest possibility.  Well, I had Auyi for the day and his tuk-tuk.  Too bad it was once again raining.  Tuk-tuks don’t fare that well in the rain.   And they are usually used for city transport, not for greater distances.  But I can’t wait for better days that might never come, so we both weathered the rain — this is no more fun for the driver than it is for the passenger — and Auyi mastered the distance.

Despite the rubber cover rolled over the front (but not the sides) of the tuk-tuk, completely obstructing my view, I was windswept and wet by the time we reached Lubok Sukon.  Many houses there seem to be from the colonial era, and made of stone.  Others are built with at least one of the distinct indigenous features: raised wooden poles.  But then the deterioration starts.  Corrugated metal is substituted for the traditional thatched roofs.  Cement replaces the traditional wood.  And the intricate carvings beneath the gables are missing altogether.  But Auyi asked around for the biggest and best of these and we found it: over 100 years old, it had remained in the same family for generations.  The family had always been part of the establishment and provided governors and ambassadors.  Their house was and is a status symbol.  Auyi drove right on to the property.  I was horrified.  I did not want to intrude on the family, just take a few outdoor pictures. 

But before I could say anything, the door had opened and a woman stepped out.  Auyi explained my reason for coming.  Oh, yes, she said.  Yesterday already a professor from Ireland had stopped by, so today it is a “professor” from the USA.  (At WCC we do not call ourselves professors, but this distinction is meaningless out here).   She welcomed us in and led us to the various parts of her house.  I have to hand it to the Dutch — their replica did this architectural style justice in every respect.  In these original ones, the often colorful paint on the exteriors is faded or lost altogether, but the layout is unique.  Under the eaves left and right are living quarters. Public quarters near the stepped entrance and private quarters, for women and family members only, are under the opposite eave.  The center is the kitchen on one end and a private room on the other.  Both the woman’s daughter and son were home.  And wouldn’t you know it — Auyi and the daughter recognized each other from years back in high school! 

I took photos, the two of them chatted, and then we returned to town.  Unfortunately, a lot of my pictures did not turn out too well as it rained a bit and my camera lens kept filling up with small rain droplets… Oh, well…

A few of the sites worth seeing in Banda Aceh are spread out a bit and Auyi drove me to two Tsunami monuments which I will talk about in tomorrow’s blog. 

One other historic landmark is worth mentioning, the Gunongan.  Because of a brand-new layer of whitewash, it looks like it was built yesterday.  But beneath the new coat of paint lies a 17th-century gift of Sultan Iskandar Muda  for his lonely Malaysian wife.  He built her a multi-tiered play-garden in the shape of a lotus flower, and a walled-in square bath for the times he was too busy being Sultan.  Originally, the Sultan’s palace would have been adjacent to it, but that is long gone.  Both places seem to have interior spaces but visitors are only permitted to circle around it. 

Once again the clouds gathered.  The white monument against the ominous gray cloud looked rather mysterious.  We had rain on and off all day, but overall I lucked out as it really gushed while we were on the road and while we had lunch.  Times at the sites were without rain or with sprinkles only, and for that, Ganesh, I thank you!

Auyi ordered quite some lunch, I have to say!  We only sampled a few bites of a few dishes, but I was able to get a glimpse of the variety of the Acehnese cuisine: squash, curry, chicken, all sorts of fish, spicy pastes rolled in bamboo leaves, tofu and vegetable dishes and on and on.  Near the center of town is a small port still filled with dozens of colorful fishing boats. We briefly visited it today.  But the main trading port for freighters — the original source of Banda Aceh’s wealth — has been moved several miles away from town. 

This was a full day.

And now I have a quiet room to come home to!  Life is good.

Good night.