Located in the Karo district west of Lake Toba in North Sumatra, the village of Desa Lingga is emblematic of the challenges of maintaining local culture and vernacular practices in a rapidly changing world. Decorative timber structures with graceful thatched roofs characterize the village and are emblematic of traditional Karo Batak design and construction. In the mid-1980s, 28 of these dwellings were surveyed; now only a few remain. Many have been replaced with modern, concrete block housing. A community crafts program was established to fund restoration efforts in the past, but diminished tourism has decreased revenue and thus impeded repairs. A tornado that passed through the village in April 2011 further damaged the already compromised traditional structures and stretched limited resources. The introduction of new building forms and modern construction materials to the village compounds the loss of both the cultural landscape and the traditional knowledge that has been passed down through generations.
2012 World Monuments Watch
Because of these challenges, Desa Lingga was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, resulting in the development of a collaborative project to preserve four remaining structures, engaging the local community of Desa Lingga, the Sumatra Heritage Trust, St. Thomas University, and World Monuments Fund, with support from the Prince Claus Fund. This effort will conserve four traditional structures, including two communal houses (Gerga and Belangayo), a bone storage structure (Geritan), and a rice storage structure (Sapo Ganjang). Documentation and training are integrated into the conservation program to ensure traditional construction knowledge of the village elders is passed on to a new generation. St. Thomas University students will record the process so that documentation can be shared with others in the future. Oral histories, elementary school projects, and other community activities will assure a broad range of participants in the program. Long-term capacity to care for the structures and viable, sustainable uses for them is critical for their continuing survival.
Desa Lingga represents a timely opportunity for international cooperation in preserving local heritage and in preventing the loss of an important example of vernacular architecture of southeast Asia. By engaging students and younger generations in the project, both the construction traditions and the buildings themselves can be preserved for future enjoyment and education about the traditions of the region.