The Architecture of Life and Death in Borneo. Robert L. Winzeler.

The Architecture of Life and Death in Borneo

University of Hawaii Press, 2004. Item #45864
ISBN: 9780824826321

Present-day travelers visiting Borneo to see the marvelous buildings pictured in books are liable to wonder if they somehow ended up in the wrong place. Much of the architecture of Borneo and other areas of the humid tropics was never intended to last and, built as it is of wood and other organic materials, last it has not. Among Borneo's spectacular indigenous buildings, the longhouses, mortuary monuments, and other architectural forms of the interior are some of the most outstanding, and much of the renewed interest in indigenous architecture has focused on the rapidly vanishing or now extinct traditional forms of a small number of surviving examples or recreations.
Drawing on the author's extensive research and travel in Borneo, this impressive and original study offers a more comprehensive account of this architecture than any previous work. Organized into two sections, the book first documents and explains traditional built forms in terms of tools and materials, the environmental context, village organization and social arrangements. This section includes a full discussion of architecture designs and symbolism, especially those dealing with life and death. The author next looks at the destruction or transformation of traditional architecture based on a number of interrelated developments, including religious conversion, Western influence, internal migration, and logging, as well as governmental attitudes and efforts. The differences between Malaysian Borneo longhouses, which remain a common form of dwelling, and those of Indonesian Kalimantan, which have largely disappeared, are striking.

Just as the traditional architecture of Borneo was being abandoned or transformed, it began to attract greater attention and be put to new religious, economic, and political uses. Christian churches started incorporating the shapes and symbols of traditional cosmology and ritual into their designs and embellishments. Tourists began visiting longhouses, leading to a flourishing industry and the creation of whole resorts based on longhouse themes, and to efforts by the Indonesian government to save the few remaining longhouses in Kalimantan and construct replicas of others. The book concludes with a discussion of recent efforts to document and preserve traditional structures and turn indigenous as well as colonial architecture into history and heritage.

Illustrated with more than 150 photographs and line drawings, The Architecture of Life and Death in Borneo will appeal to those with an interest in Southeast Asian art, architecture, and religion and in past and present cultural developments involving native peoples.

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