Emawa, the Last House of ‘Mee’

This is a story about emawa, the Mee tribe’s traditional house. The Mee tribe is one of the tribes in the Central Highlands of Papua, Indonesia. The construction of emawa is made from wood, rattan for fastener, and pampas grass or sugarcane’s leaves and tree bark for the roof. No manufactured or synthetic products are used at all. All materials needed to build emawa are provided by the forest and it’s surroundings.

The wooden planks used as walls and cantilevers have a pointed edge on one side, which is made by using axes and choppers, not a saw. That is why the wooden planks are referred to as chopped woods. They have an asymmetric shape and size.

The floor construction of emawa is similar to a house on stilts but the appearance of emawa is different from common stilt houses. It seems the cold weather of Central Highlands is the reason for making stilted floors. In the middle side of the room, there is ugu; a place for bonfires. According to the Mee people, ugu is a symbol of women, the center of the living space of the emawa, while men are symbolized by the roof. The warmth of emawa life is a cooperation between ugu and roof.

The emergence of a town in the areas of the Central Highlands of Papua, associated with the expansion of administrative areas, has driven the changes to the way of living for local people. Lately, the houses are built for practical reasons and to show how modern they are. The houses are merely a product of a business and builders, who are typically workers from outside Papua. A House is no longer a ritualized form, used to interact acrossPapuan kinship relations.

Nowadays, the number of emawa is decreasing. The organization of collective works and kinship patterns of the Papuan is also changing, as if to adjust to the modern life, which is supposedly more practical.

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