Tribute to traditional T’ganu homes

Labour of love: Tun Ahmad’s house at Resort Warisan Pahlawan in Kampung Pauh, Hulu Terengganu. — Bernama

One man’s 20-year mission honours Malay architectural heritage

KUALA BERANG: About 20 years ago, his family members and friends considered him crazy for wanting to build a resort featuring accommodations inspired by the traditional Malay houses of Terengganu.

However, driven by his love for heritage architecture, Tun Ahmad Tun Abdullah, 65, turned a deaf ear and continued to pursue his dream.

In 2004, Tun Ahmad, affectionately known as Pak Tun, embarked on his labour of love. Utilising an area of about one hectare, he built one house after another until he erected eight units, each showcasing the unique characteristics of traditional Malay homes.

Finally, in 2010, Resort Warisan Pahlawan was ready to take in guests. The “heritage settlement” is located in Kampung Pauh about an hour’s drive from Kuala Terengganu.

“Each house is named after a renowned Malay warrior, independence fighter or famous scholar of Terengganu, such as Mat Kilau, Tok Gajah and Tok Pulau Manis,” Tun Ahmad told Bernama.

He said the houses were built without nails – just like how it was done in the old days – using the wedge and mortise method and chengal wood, known for its durability.

“I started this endeavour 20 years ago by searching for abandoned traditional houses across Terengganu to obtain chengal wood which was the cornerstone of most old houses. I bought these houses, dismantled them to collect the wood, and then brought it to the construction site in Kampung Pauh,” he said.

To ensure the authenticity of the houses, he also acquired “singgora” or terracotta roof tiles.

“When the first house was completed, it unexpectedly attracted a lot of interest from the public. I named the house Rumah Tok Pauh (after a scholar).”

During his search for old dwellings in Terengganu, Tun Ahmad stumbled upon the “skeleton” of an old abode. According to the locals, this house was once inhabited by Mat Kilau, a Malay warrior from Pahang who fought against British colonialists.

Located in Pasir Nering, the old-timers residing nearby said Mat Kilau lived in this house for a long period after arriving from Ulu Tembeling, Pahang.

Passion for preservation: Tun Ahmad standing by the entrance of Rumah Tok Pauh, one of the three houses built to fully replicate traditional Malay houses of the past. — BernamaPassion for preservation: Tun Ahmad standing by the entrance of Rumah Tok Pauh, one of the three houses built to fully replicate traditional Malay houses of the past. — Bernama

“I bought the remnants of the house from the owner’s grandson,” he said.

Using the materials salvaged from the crumbling structure, Tun Ahmad erected a traditional house and named it Rumah Mat Kilau.

Tun Ahmad said each house in his resort is constructed according to traditional Terengganu houses such as “Rumah Bujang Berselasar”, “Rumah Bujang Berkembar” and “Rumah Tele”.

Out of the eight houses, only Rumah Mat Kilau, Rumah Tok Gajah and Rumah Tok Pauh are faithful to traditional houses of the past with the bathroom situated outdoors and without modern amenities like air conditioning.

“As for the other houses, only their exteriors feature olden-day architectural elements. Inside, they are equipped with modern amenities to meet the needs of our guests,” he said.

Former director of the Terengganu State Museum Datuk Mohd Yusof Abdullah said both “Rumah Bujang Berselasar” and “Rumah Bujang Berkembar” are types of “Rumah Bujang Berpeleh”.

“Rumah Bujang Berpeleh” features a long roof with panels at both ends resembling an inverted “V”.

Mohd Yusof told Bernama it is known as “Rumah Bujang Berkembar” when two units of “Rumah Bujang Berpeleh” are joined together to form a single house, making the roof’s panels look like an inverted “W”.

“Rumah Tele”, on the other hand, can be distinguished by its central space, which sets it apart from other house types.

“Rumah Tele” also refers to a building or abode located at the back of a palace, which is designated for women.

According to the Terengganu State Museum website, “Rumah Tele” was built in early 1888 by Sultan Zainal Abidin III in the vicinity of the Maziah Palace.

Tun Ahmad said the houses in his resort were built using the expertise of local craftsmen who were assisted by foreign workers. They handled everything, from the basic construction to the wood carvings that adorn both the interior and exterior of the houses.

“The carvings featuring motifs of floral designs and Quranic verses are crafted in the same style as those from long ago. We also created our own furniture to maintain the authenticity of the traditional houses,” he said.

However, he noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find craftsmen skilled in building houses without using nails, posing a challenge for them to maintain the resort.

“The craftsmen who helped us build the houses were all elderly people. Some have passed away and others are ill.

“I don’t know what will happen in the next 10 to 20 years. I’m getting old too,” he said.

Tun Ahmad also said it costs him about RM30,000 a month to maintain and manage the traditional houses.

Despite the rising costs, Tun Ahmad does not regret embarking on this “crazy” endeavour two decades ago.

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