The traditional Malay house is one of the richest components of Malaysia’s cultural heritage up until today. The Malay houses, or called Rumah Kampung, represent the beauty of traditional architecture in Malaysia, sharing a home with others, and living harmoniously with nature. In its simplest form, the traditional Malay house is structured in the way that raised on stilts high above the ground, covered with thatched roofs, enclosed with wooden walls, and perforated with lattices and windows.
The traditional Malay houses are often surrounded by the pastoral landscape of rice paddies, fishing jetties, and fruit orchards. The size of the house depends on the wealth and status of the family in the community. In days long past, the Malay settlements were found everywhere across Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatran Island in Indonesia. Thus, the houses in both countries are influenced by one another and are quite similar.
The design of the traditional Malay house’s roof was steep and elevated to cater the monsoon rain season in Malaysia. Due to the warm climate in Malaysia, most of the Malay houses have large openings on the sides and the building is raised up for ventilation purposes. There are three major elements of the traditional Malay house, namely the roof, window, and pillars.
1. Rumah Limas
Rumah Limas, also known as the Rumah Potong Belanda (Dutch-style House) is predominantly found in Selangor, Kelantan, Terengganu, and Johor. The Malay houses that built in this style were incorporate with the Dutch-style roof that resembles a pyramid. Moreover, the Limas roof design is commonly found in the government and public buildings in Malaysia, particularly the Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur.
You can join a free walking tour and see the Rumah Limas in Kampong Bharu, Kuala Lumpur.
2. Rumah Jawa
Rumah Jawa is a subset of the Rumah Limas style, incorporates with the Dutch-style pyramid roof, as well wide and covered open spaces in the front yard. This style along with the common Rumah Limas can be regularly found in the countryside of Selangor, particularly in Kampung Sungai Janggut.
You can also join the cycling tour through Malaysia countryside.
3. Rumah Perabung Lima
The Perabung Lima (five roofs) style is distinguished by the unique style of the roof. The roof resembles a five-sided pyramid influenced by the Dutch-style home architecture. Malay houses in this style were commonly found in the states of Kelantan, Terengganu, and Perak. They were the Royal families favored style for their palaces. The Istana Kenanga in Kuala Kangsar was built as an official residence for the Perak Royal family.
4. Rumah Gadang
The Rumah Gadang or Rumah Minangkabau is created by the Minangkabau people, who are an ethnic group indigenous to our neighbor country, Sumatra, Indonesia. They are famously known for being the largest matrilineal society in the world, which led to a widespread diaspora of Minangkabau men all across the Malay provinces in Southeast Asia. This traditional style is easily distinguished by its roof form, which is multi-tiered and has dramatic, upward curves.
Though it is more commonly found in Indonesia than Malaysia, the Rumah Gadang is important as it is a forerunner style to the Rumah Negeri Sembilan, where Minangkabau people have made Negeri Sembilan their home since their diaspora from their native homeland.
5. Rumah Tiang Dua Belas
The Tiang Dua Belas (twelve stilts) style is a subset of the Rumah Bumbung Panjang. It is commonly found in Kelantan, Kedah, andPerak. Rumah Tiang Dua Belas and its cousin, Rumah Tiang Enam Belas (sixteen stilts) were commonly used in rich and large families. Therefore, they are also distinguished by elaborate woodcarvings on the doors, porch, awnings, windows, and walls.
6. Rumah Negeri Sembilan
Among the rest of the Malay houses found in Malaysia, the Rumah Negeri Sembilan is unique in that it differs from other Bumbung Panjang style houses. The curved roof form bears a strong resemblance to the Ruman Minangkabau, where most Malays from Negeri Sembilan are descended from their Minangkabau ancestors who migrated from Sumatra to the Malay Peninsula.
The houses are distinguished by its elegant and elaborate woodcarvings on the lattices, windows, and doors that express the Minangkabau culture.
7. Rumah Bumbung Panjang
Malay houses are often classified by their roof forms, and the Bumbung Panjang (long roof) style is the most common style in Malaysia. It is characterized by its tall and long ridged-slopes. All Malay houses were traditionally built in this style, before the arrival of the Dutch in the Malay Archipelago. Likewise, the Bumbung Panjang style is also differed from one Malay state to another, depending on the preference of the carpenter and the needs of the community.
8. Rumah Bujang
Apart from roof forms, Malay houses are also classified based on the type of wood used for building. The Rumah Bujang (single house) is another subset of the Bumbung Panjang style and is largely found in Terengganu along the fishing jetties. It is most frequently built with kayu cengal, or timber wood native to Malaysia, due to its strength and the ability to withstand strong monsoon winds that affect the eastern coast. However, the Rumah Bujang is smaller compared to other Malay houses.
9. Rumah Gajah Menyusu, Penang
Another subset of the Bumbung Panjang style, the Gajah Menyusu (suckling elephant) style is named as such because the smaller house attached to the main house is like a baby elephant suckling on a mother elephant. Typically built with thatched roofs, this Malay house can be found commonly in Penang.
10. Rumah Melaka
Rumah Melaka, also known as the Rumah Serambi Melaka, can only be found in Melaka. Due to the historical influence of cultures and styles in this state, the Rumah Melaka integrates architectural styles from the Bugis, Jambi, and Minangkabau culture from Sumatra, as well as the native Peranakan style. This can be easily distinguished by the stone piers and especially the stairs leading up to the house, which is a borrowed from the architecture of Chinese temples.
11. Rumah Kutai, Perak
The Kutai is predominantly found in Perak, specifically near Kuala Kangsar, which was the seat of the royal family. It is also known as the Rumah Perak or Rumah Tua (old house), as the word “Kutai” is another word for old in the local Perakian dialect.
The Kutai style integrated the Bumbung Panjang style, but it is notably different by the carvings on the door, porch, awnings, windows, and walls, which can be more elaborate than other styles. Rumah Kutai is also preferred by the Perak royal family and influential members of the community since the elaborate ornamentations were a luxury that could only be afforded by certain people.
Many of these traditional houses have been converted into museums and exhibit pieces due to its safety and logistic reasons. As the culture and tradition of these traditional houses slowly disappear from sight, we as Malaysians should always keep in mind our roots and where we come from.