AskDefine | Define longhouse

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Any of several long communal dwellings for multiple families


communal dwelling

Extensive Definition

In archaeology and anthropology, a long house or longhouse is a type of long, narrow, single-room building built by peoples in various parts of the world including Asia, Europe and North America.
Many were built from timber and often represent the earliest form of permanent structure in many cultures. Types include the Neolithic long house of Europe, the Medieval Dartmoor longhouse and the Native American long house.


Many of the inhabitants of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo (now Kalimantan, Indonesia and States of Sarawak and Sabah, Malaysia), the Dayak, live traditionally in buildings known as a longhouse, Rumah panjang in Malay, rumah panjai in Iban. Common to most of these is that they are built raised off the ground on stilts and are divided into a more or less public area along one side and a row of private living quarters lined along the other side. This seems to have been the way of building best accustomed to life in the jungle in the past, as otherwise hardly related people have come to build their dwellings in similar ways. One may observe similarities to South American jungle villages also living in large single structures. The design is elegant: being raised, flooding presents little inconvenience. The entry could double as a canoe dock. Being raised, cooling air could circulate as well as have the living area above ground where any breeze is more likely. Livestock could shelter below at night when their security might be a concern.
In modern times many of the older longhouses have been replaced with buildings using more modern materials but of similar design. In areas where flooding is not a problem, beneath the longhouse between the stilts, which was traditionally used for a work place for tasks such as threshing, has been converted into living accommodation or has been closed in to provide more security.also in modern times long houses in asia were made of grass and tree bark
The layout of a traditional longhouse could be described thus:
Along the whole length of the building runs a wall placed near the middle. The one side would seem like a corridor or hall from one end to the other, while the other side is blocked from public view by the wall.
Behind this wall lay the private units, bilik, each with a single door for each family. These are usually divided from each other by walls of their own and contain the living and sleeping spaces. The kitchens, dapor, sometimes reside within this space but are quite often situated in rooms of their own, added to the back of a bilik or even in a building standing a little away from the longhouse and accessed by a small bridge due to the fear of fire, as well as reducing smoke and insects attracted to cooking from gathering in living quarters..
The corridor itself is divided into three parts. The space in front of the door, the tempuan, belongs to each bilik unit and is used privately. This is where rice can be pounded or other domestic work can be done. A public corridor, a ruai, basically used like a village road, runs the whole length in the middle of the open hall. Along the outer wall is the space where guests can sleep, the pantai. On this side a large veranda, a tanju, is built in front of the building where the rice (padi) is dried and other outdoor activities can take place. Under the roof is a sort of attic, the sadau, that runs along the middle of the house under the peak of the roof. Here the padi, other food, and other things can be stored. Sometimes the sadau has a sort of gallery from which the life in the ruai can be observed. The pigs and chicken live underneath the house between the stilts.
The houses built by the different tribes and ethnic groups can differ from each other. Houses described as above may be used by the Iban Sea Dayak and Melanau Sea Dayak. Similar houses are built by the Bidayuh, Land Dayak, however with wider verandas and extra buildings for the unmarried adults and visitors. The buildings of the Kayan, Kenyah, Murut, and Kelabit used to have fewer walls between individual bilik units. The Punan seem to be the last ethnic group that adopted this type of house building. The Rungus of Sabah in north Borneo build a type of longhouse with rather short stilts, the house raised three to five feet of the ground, and walls sloped outwards.
A lot of place names in Sarawak still have the word "Long" in their name and most of these still are or once were longhouses. Some villages like Long Semado in Sarawak even have airfields of their own. Regions with long houses are for example Ulu Anyut and Ulu Paku in Sarawak. Another long house is the Punan sama.


A traditional house type on the island of Siberut, part of the Mentawai Islands some 130 kilometers (81 mi) to the west off the coast of Sumatra (Sumatera), Indonesia is also described as a longhouse. Some five to ten families may live in each, but they are organised differently on the inside.


The M'nong and E De of Vietnam also have a tradition of building long houses (Nhà dài) that may be 30 to 40 m long. In contrast to the jungle versions of Borneo these sport shorter stilts and seem to use a veranada in front of a short (gable) side as main entrance.


The Tharu people are indigenous people living in the Terai plains on the border of Nepal and India. A smaller number of Tharus live in India, mostly in Champaran District of Bihar and in Nainital District of Uttar Pradesh. The Tharu live in longhouses which may hold up to 150 people. The longhouses are built of mud with lattice walls They grow barley, wheat, maize, and rice, as well as raise animals such as chickens, ducks, pigs, and goats. In the big rivers, they use large nets to fish.
Because the Tharu lived in isolation in malarial swamps until the recent use of DDT, they developed a style of decorating the walls, rice containers and other objects in their environment. The Tharu women transform outer walls and verandahs of their homes into colorful paintings dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and fertility.

All Around The World

Each longhouse was covered on the sides with ropelike grass and tree bark. Its roof was made of bark and strenthened with animal skins. If the skins and bark were peeled away, a frame of bent young trees would appear.

See also

Notes and references


For the Longhouses in Sarawak on Borneo these books were used as sources among others:
  • Morrison, Hedda. [1962] (Fifth impression 1974). Life in a Longhouse
- Borneo Literature Bureau Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. Printed in Hong Kong by Dai Nippon Printing Co.(Int.) Ltd. - with translations to Malay, Iban and Chinese (Pendiau Dirumah Panjai - Kehidupan Di-Rumah Panjang). Short introduction text followed by the photo section (ca. 170) with quite detailed descriptions to each photo in the four languages.
  • Dickson, M.G. [1962] (Third edition (revised) 1968).Sarawak and its People
- Borneo Literature Bureau. Printed in Hong Kong by Dai Nippon Printing Co.(Int.) Ltd. Basic school book keeping the language simple and explaining things so children unaware of the world outside of their village can easily understand. Yet, as school books often are, very rich in information. On page 100 is a drawing of a longhouse (cut open) with a detailed description. Some of the photos are from Hedda Morrison - see her book "Life in a Longhouse"

Further reading

longhouse in Danish: Langhus
longhouse in German: Langhaus (Wohngebäude)
longhouse in French: Longère
longhouse in Western Frisian: Langhûs
longhouse in Malay (macrolanguage): Rumah panjang
longhouse in Dutch: Langhuis
longhouse in Norwegian: Langhus (bygning)
longhouse in Norwegian Nynorsk: Langhus
longhouse in Low German: Langhuus (Wohngebäude)
longhouse in Polish: Długi dom
longhouse in Finnish: Pitkätalo
longhouse in Swedish: Långhus
longhouse in Vietnamese: Nhà dài
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