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Typological and Morphological Adaptations of Hakka

Diasporas Settlements in Cosmopolitan Southeast Asia:

West Kalimantan case

Johannes WIDODO ()
Associate Professor (Dr)
National University of Singapore, Department of Architecture
4 Architecture Drive, Singapore 117566, Republic of Singapore

In Southeast Asia cultural and geographical boundary is always blur, overlapping,
or intersecting, and never been very clear-cut. People in different places islands or
continents are keep moving, communicating, and intermingling from past till present,
influencing each other and producing hybrid, fused, diverse architecture and material culture.
Here the spirit of unity in diversity had been kept and passed as valuable tradition for
generations. Never ending process of layering, transformations, and hybridization, has been
going on for thousand years in the region around the Mediterranean of Asia.
The Diaspora immigration from Southern China (Fujianese, Cantonese, Hainanese,
Teochews, Hakkas, and other dialect groups from Southern China) into Southeast Asia has
been going on for centuries. Their presence and cultural production have been further
enhancing the development of the cosmopolitan architecture and urbanism in this region,
both coastal and inland. The Chinese Diaspora who migrated and settled in various parts of
Southeast Asia laid the basic structure of the urban pattern (grid, axis, blocks, thresholds,
zoning, etc.), built many primary elements (such as harbor, temples, shrines, market,
shopping street, community halls, etc.) and gave special identity to their adopted homes. They
became native to the locality where they settled, by adopting and blending tangible and
intangible cultural heritage into their own.

Keywords: Hakka diaspora, dwelling culture, morphology, typology, cosmopolitan Southeast


Chinese Diasporas Settlements in the Mediterranean of Asia

This paper is presented in the 2012 International Conference on Southeast Asian Hakka Studies
(ISEAHS), organized by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, National Chi Nan University,
Taiwan, 7-8 July 2012, at the Taiwan Hakka Cultural Center, Miaoli Park, Tongluo, Taiwan. Some
parts of this paper was previously presented in the 4th World Confederation of Institutes and Libraries
on Chinese Overseas Studies (WCILCOS) Conference, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China, 9-11
May 2009.

In Southeast Asia cultural and geographical boundary is always blur, overlapping, or

intersecting, and never been very clear-cut. People in different places islands or
continents are keep moving, communicating, and intermingling from past till present,
influencing each other and producing hybrid, fused, diverse architecture and material culture.
Here the spirit of unity in diversity had been kept and passed as valuable tradition for
Never ending process of layering, transformations, and hybridization, has been going on for
thousand years in the region around the Mediterranean of Asia 2 . The area covered is
conceptually called Bumantara3 the region located in between India, China, Australia,
and Oceania, right at the cross-road of international trading and immigration routes. This
situation has been producing a hybrid-blended culture, manifested in the material culture
through layering processes from the past to the present. It is a theatre of maritime trade and
cultural exchange. For centuries this region was unified by many maritime kingdoms such as
Funan, Srivijaya, and Majapahit, and continuously enriched by Indian, Islamic, Chinese, and
European layers and elements.

Fig 1: Mediterranean of Asia (South China Sea, Java Sea, Melaka Strait)
(Source: Google Earth, text by author)
Diversity, eclecticism, fusion, acculturation, adaptation, permutation, transformation, are the
basic nature of this region. Here diversity and tolerance have been practiced as living
tradition continuously handed over from the older generation to the younger one. All sorts
of new cultural influences coming from outside were considered as positive inputs and were

Mediterranean of Asia refers to the sea located in between Southeast Asias mainland and
archipelago (South China Sea, Java Sea, and Malacca Strait), where great cultures are emerged, linked,
and mixed for centuries.
Bumantara (a Sanskrit word) proposed by Sutan Takdir Alisyahbana, a prominent Indonesian
scholars, in 1980s.

creatively absorbed into the richness of the individuals, familys, tribes, clans, races, and
even the nations layers of history and consciousness. It is manifested in the richness of
cosmopolitan urban culture and architecture.
The Chinese diaspora has been passing through and coming into this region, and many were
settling down in Southeast Asia since the establishment of the maritime trading route between
China, India and Arabia since the second century. During the cyclone periods or the changing
monsoon seasons, the traders stayed in Southeast Asian ports, while waiting for their trading
partners from the other parts of the world to come and to trade with them. During their stay
the crew and passengers of the ships populated the city and mingled with the local population,
and some of them would stay and become native to the adopted land.
The waves of Chinese Diaspora immigration from southern China (Fujianese, Cantonese,
Hainanese, Teochews, Hakkas, and other dialect groups from southern China) were coming
into Southeast Asia earlier than the 15th century and reaching its peak around the early 20th
century. At the beginning cosmopolitan settlements were growing in the coastal regions of
Southeast Asia, and many of them developed further into coastal town and port cities, where
the Chinese diaspora played substantial roles as traders, builders, fishermen, farmers, and
merchants. They lived together with people coming from all over the world (Arab, Yemeni,
Persian, Guajarati, Tamil, various Nusantaras tribes, and local vernacular population.
Portuguese arrived in the 15th century, followed by Dutch, British, Spanish, and French.
Many parts of Indonesian archipelago had been colonized by the Dutch since the early 17th
century until the first part of the 20th century. More temples with different functions and
different gods were erected, together with the construction of new generations of shop houses,
community halls, clan clusters, and other urban elements. During the colonial period, the
Chinese diaspora played a strategic economic role as middlemen between the European
colonists and the local populations and they became prosperous. Their prosperity was
expressed into the adoption of European design features into their architecture. The kind of
architecture developed by the Chinese Diasporas in Southeast Asia was different from their
original typologies in Mainland China, and became native in their adopted places.
The Chinese architectural elements blended with the local-vernacular design patterns and
features, and created numerous variations of fusion building styles. One good example of this
enculturation process is the typical traders house in Palembang, south Sumatra. The house
plan and some of its construction methods are of the southern Chinese courthouse, but the
roof typology, open veranda, timber material, and its raised floor were definitely local. Strong
elements of Arab, Indian, and even European origins were blended into this vernacularcosmopolitan fusion dwelling typology, and became uniquely local.

Hakkas Settlements morphology in Southern China

There are many variations (round, square, U-shape, pentagonal, hexagonal, etc.) of Tulou
communal dwelling plan in Southern China, where most of the Hakka diaspora migrants in
Southeast Asia came from.

Fig 2: Typical Tulou communal dwelling in Southern China (elevation, plan, and section)
(Source: Michi Bier, Asian Dwellings A Typology, an exhibition catalogue published in
The archetype, or the most basic typology, is the round one. This typology is based on the
basic spatial planning principle of Chinese dwelling typology with a courtyard at the middle
and a well at the center. The well is the source of water, which symbolically is the source of
life. The central courtyard is open to the sky where the light and air come from, which
symbolically is associated with the blessing from the heaven.
The relationship between outside and inside is clearly defined by the perimeter wall and the
thresholds (doors), and the main entrance is ideally oriented towards the South where most of
the sun light and warmer wind coming from. The main opening is protected by the ancestral
spirit by placing an altar right at the end of the central axis at the back of the house.

Ideally the dwelling is located in between the mountain (or the hill) and the waterfront (e.g.
sea, river, lake, or pond), backed by the slope and opened towards the water. This seemingly
symbolical principle (which is often associated with myth, legend, or philosophical
imaginations) is actually based on rational ecological principles of healthy and sustainable
living environment, not only for Chinese but also has universal validity.

Fig 3: Basic conceptual principles of Tulou design typology (source: author)

Typically Tulou is a multi-stories block, where the dwelling units are placed from the second
floor upward, and organized in sub-blocks of 8 units each ideally. In reality this basic design
principles may be varied or altered according to individual circumstances and specific
conditions. Eight is associated as the most auspicious number in Chinese culture
(prosperity, fortune, joy, happiness), which are the necessary ingredients and wishes for an
ideal community and family life.
The pattern of this dwelling arrangement might be read as based on the hexagonal geometry
associated to the 8 cardinal directions (North, South, East, West, North East, South East,
South West, and North West). The four main cardinal directions (N, S, E, and W) are
reserved for the thresholds of the building, where South is for the main entrance, and East and
West are for the side entrances. The North is blocked since it is acted as the spiritual
protective backdrop.

The staircases connecting the ground floor with the upper floors are placed in four subcardinal directions (NE, SE, SW, and NW), and not interfering with the main cardinal
directions (N, S, E, and W). This arrangement is clearly representing the hierarchy of
accessibility with the first priority is given to the spiritual being (the ancestor), then the
community, and finally the individuals.

Fig 4: The dwelling units and blocks arrangement interpretation based on the hexagonal
pattern oriented towards the eight cardinal directions (source: author)
All private dwelling units are oriented towards the inner common courtyard. The vertical
imaginary axis at the center of the inner courtyard is the symbolical connection between
heaven and earth (axis mundi). The ground floor is generally allocated for semi-private
functions for communal uses (such as ancestral shrine, meeting space, storage, etc.).

Fig 5: Diagram of vertical zoning section of generic Tulou typology (source: author)

Hakka Settlements morphology of Montrado, West Kalimantan

The Hakka immigrants came from the mountainous region of Southern China (Guangdong
and Fujian) during the Dutch colonial period, and many of them settled down in the mining
towns in the Malay Peninsula, Kalimantan, Bangka and Belitung, especially after the failed
Hakkas Taiping revolution against the Manchu Dynasty in China.
Memory travels carried by immigrants from their place of origin and transplanted in the new
lands where they settled down. The original concepts and ideas from the ancestral land were
translated and adapted into the new localities. Some basic elements were preserved, while the
other elements were changed according to local climatic, economic, material, functional,
social, cultural, and ecological conditions.
The Hakka traditionally venerate terrestrial or land gods (Dabogong) rather than coastal or
water gods, and are keen worshippers of Guandi (the god of war in the Tales of the Three
Kingdoms) and Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy). Therefore their settlements are structured
around these temples. The center of the settlement is the main temple, which often doubled as
the community and ancestral hall. The settlement basic morphological structure is a radioconcentric one with three-pronged main roads or axis with a central temple in the middle,
guarded by a joss-house or threshold shrine at the boundary of the village (Widodo 1999).
Most of the coastal settlements along the west coast of Kalimantan were formed during the
gold rush period in the eighteenth century, when the Sultan of Sambas recruited many
Chinese immigrants to work in the gold mines at Montrado (West Kalimantan). They were
soon followed by the traders and other workers, not only from Southern China, but also from

Sumatra and Madura. At the peak of their prosperity, the Chinese communities - mostly the
Hakkas - had been quite independent and had strength to ascertain their own affairs and
social-cultural identity, even once they managed to establish a short lived "Hakka Republic".
The town of Montrado has a unique pattern with a temple for Guandi located at the center on
the main streets junction. The main marketplace is located at the town center opposite the
temple. The main roads leading into the town center are guarded by small shrines of the earth
god, located at the town thresholds or entrances.

Fig. 6: Hakka mining town of Montrado (West Kalimantan) with a temple for Guandi at the
city center (source: part of Kaart van den Vierkanten Paal Gouvernements Grondgebied
te Montrado, opgenomen en in kaart gebracht in Oktober 1886, published by
Topographische Bureau Batavia, 1887)
This spatial arrangement of the Hakka villages gives us the impression of an introvert or a
closed village, with its thresholds guarded by temples. The spatial structure of the village is
the reflection of their social structure based on closely knitted neighborhoods or clan groups.

Fig 7: Simplified morphological diagram of Montrados settlement structure (source:

Montrado does not follow strictly the North-South compass direction, but it maintains the
directions to the mountainous inland and to the sea. The main temple dedicated to Guandi is
oriented towards the sea direction, guarding the main road. The three main entrances or the
settlements thresholds are guarded by temples (Chin. bedehuis or Chinese temple in Fig.
6), creating an imaginary circular boundary (virtual wall) to enclose the settlement and to
define outside and inside domains clearly. The well at the center is replaced by the
marketplace (Pasar in Fig. 6), the economic or life center of the whole community. The
dwelling units are organized in clusters of row-houses, located on both sides of three roads
radiating from the urban center. This morphological pattern resembles a virtual circle on the
plan, which is similar to the conceptual spatial pattern of the original Hakka communal house
Tulou in Southern China, but manifested differently Southeast Asian contexts (please
compare to Fig 3, 4, and 5).
The other road (the fourth road) which connects the center in front of the main temple with
the Dutchs military and administrative center, is also the road to Mandor (a small town
famous for the massacre by the Japanese occupation army in 1944). This road is an addition
to the basic Hakka urban geometry. The original symbolical spirit or the basic
morphological concept is preserved, maintained and remembered, but the actual realization
on different locations and regions is freely re-interpreted, localized, and hybridized.

These early Hakka migrants were soon followed by the arrival of the traders and workers of
different occupations, not only various groups from Southern China, but also from Sumatera
and Madura as well. The Chinese goldmine "kongsi" was formed in West Kalimantan around
the eighteenth and the nineteenth century as territorial organizations, which often called
"secret societies", "brotherhoods", or even "federative republics". The members of a "kongsi"
came from the same place of origin in China, very well organized, and had a high degree of
autonomy from the local population and rulers. The most significant "kongsi" in Western
Kalimantan was the Hakkas Lanfang Kongsi in Mandor, besides another federation in
Montrado, Landak. and Mempawah. [Heidhues, pp. 37-38]. Competition between kongsis
often turned into open conflicts, involving local rulers from Sambas. In 1792, Thai Kong
Kongsi (from Lara Lumar) and Sam To Kiu Kongsi (from Monterado) engaged in fighting.
Sam To Kiu Kongsi supported by Pangeran Anom of the sultanate of Sambas. [Ronggo, pp.
36-37]. In 1850 the confederation of Chinese kongsis in Mandor (Thai Kong, Sam To Kiu,
Mang Kit Tiu, and I-Iang Fong) rebelled against Sambas. Sultan of Sambas asked the Dutch
to help, and in 1851 the Dutch troops from Batavia conquered Sam To Kius defense in
Pemangkat, but in 1854 stronger troops were sent from Batavia to end the rebellions
completely. [Ibid., pp. 41-42]. The Chinese of Western Kalimantan was then put under Dutch
After repeated harassment during colonial period and Japanese occupation period, the worst
modern time massacres and destruction of Chinese villages happened between1955-1967,
when political chaos plagued Indonesia. In 1967 massive relocation and resettlement policies
was carried out, to push the Chinese population out from the hinterland villages into the
coastal region. This policy had turned many former inland Chinese settlements into "ghost
towns," which were later re-occupied by the other migrant groups (Madura, Malay) and the
indigenous Dayak people. On the other hand many new settlements and enclaves were
formed after 1967 on the urban fringes in Pontianak and Singkawang, scattered along the
coastal road between these two cities. However, the absence of peace and order for a long
period has managed to preserve the original typology and morphology of early settlement
built by the Chinese settlers.

The human settlement is a product of collective memory and the materialization of the culture
of its inhabitants along history. The settlement is in itself a repository of history; it is the
locus of the collective memory of its community, manifested through the physical articulation
and hybridization of architecture and planning of the built environment. In Southeast Asia
from the dawn of its civilization until today the cosmopolitan spirit of unity in diversity had
been kept and passed as valuable tradition from generation to generation. All sorts of new
cultural influences coming from outside were considered as positive inputs and were
creatively absorbed into the richness of the individuals, familys, tribes, clans, races, and
even the nations layers of history and consciousness.
The dwelling and material culture of the Hakka diaspora, especially on the morphology and
typologies of their settlements, urban patterns and architecture in Indonesia, in relation to
Southeast Asia and its origin in Southern China, maintains the conceptual links to original
Hakka planning and design principles in Southern China, but manifested differently in the
new localities in Southeast Asian context. Since the beginning, the transplanted community

has consciously adapted themselves into the local social, cultural, and ecological contexts,
and adopted the local wisdoms and techniques in order to survive and to thrive.
The wave of globalization in Asia within the last two decades after the Second World War
has changed the course and the fate of its architecture and urbanism dramatically. The rapid
economic growth has unfortunately accelerated the cultural and physical transformation
process, which often leading to the fragmentation and destruction of old urban fabrics and
creating serious problems of cultural identity of its inhabitants. The new typologies and styles
have been broadly and carelessly applied to local contexts, creating divisions, fragmentations,
conflicts, tensions, confusions, and loss of identity. The layers of urban history and shared
heritages which kept the shared memory of the whole community for many generations and
centuries had been forgotten and even erased systematically, to be replaced with a totally new
forms alien to the existing contexts, following a certain political agenda or economic market
One example from Montrado case is not the only one to show the transplantation, adaptation,
and hybridization process of the Hakka diaspora morphology and typology in Indonesia, also
in Southeast Asian context. Some other cases have been studied and recorded, but many more
are still unaccounted. Many of them have been transformed, the settlement integrity has lost
to fragmentation, and the memory of the original values and traditions have disappeared due
to modernization process.
Therefore the task to preserve whatever is left, to restore the lost urban and architectural
heritage, and to nurture a more sustainable future, have become more urgent and imperative
for the sake of our future generations. Our Asian cosmopolitan built-heritages including the
Hakka diasporas material culture, architecture, and settlement patterns - have many layers:
morphological, sociological, and symbolical (form, function, and meaning). It is in the
intersection of many disciplines from art to science, from philosophy to engineering.
Therefore inter-disciplinary approach is necessary in dealing with the current issues and
problems. To ensure continuity and sustainability we need to empower the ordinary members
of the community through comprehensive inventory, training and education. Ethics planning,
design, and conservation education and practice should be based on the understanding of self,
openness towards the universal value of humanity and responsibility towards natural
environment. To be sustainable, ethics should be based on traditions and continuity. Efforts
should not be spared to educate future generation in appreciating, protecting, and extending
the meaningful presence of our heritage in Asia.

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