Nias artifacts damaged in powerful earthquake

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
By nias

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Nias Island

Father Johannes Hammerle stared silently at the fragments of traditional clay pots scattered on the floor of the Nias Heritage Museum, which houses more than 6,000 artifacts from the megalithic island.

It was four days since an earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale hit Nias, killing more than 500 people.

The museum’s four pavilions were still standing, but many of the items in the museum’s collection had fallen to the floor and cracked.

“Those are genuine pots, not replicas,” the director of the museum said quietly, almost talking to himself.

“We could glue them back together carefully,” he told The Jakarta Post while inspecting the damage done to the museum during the quake.

At a quick glance, it seems the damage was minor. A staff member, Nata’alui Duha, said he estimated dozens of items were damaged in the quake.

Besides the clay pots, the quake also damaged some carved stones traditional wooden horns.

Father Johannes built the museum and the Nias Heritage Foundation from scratch, with support from Germany’s Catholic Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and several donors.

Almost all of the artifacts in the museum came from Father Johannes’ personal collection. After the Catholic Order agreed to establish the museum, he donated much of his personal collection.

The museum has now survived two natural disasters. The quake-triggered tsunami on Dec. 26 had almost no impact on the museum, even though it overlooks the water. This recent quake damaged some artifacts, but most of the collection and the building itself survived.

Other historic sites on the island were not so lucky. A 150-year-old traditional oval wooden house, located in Siwahili village in Gunung Sitoli, was destroyed. The quake shattered the main part of the house, leaving only the elevated foundation standing.

Fortunately, the nine people of the Gea family who were sleeping in the house at the time of the quake all survived.

“If the administration is willing to help us with some funds or some wood, we could reconstruct this house. But if we do not receive any help, we cannot do anything except use the remaining timber for firewood,” one member of the Gea family told the Post.

Five other traditional oval houses in the village — all belonging to the Zebua family — are still standing, suffering only minor damage.

But the island’s traditional houses, called omo hada, are used to surviving with cracks and dings because of the lack of attention from the government.

Although officials say they are local assets, they do not provide the funds to maintain these houses.

Before the quake, a traditional house in Bawomataluo village in southern Nias, was crumbling bit by bit because a lack of funds.

Martinus Moarota Fao, a cocoa farmer and the last descendant of a local noble family, told the Post before the quake that the administration had stopped providing money for the house’s maintenance years ago.

After the quake, the already poor condition of the house deteriorated even further. The back of the house can no longer be used and several steps and planks are broken.

A large round megalithic stone in front of the great house fell in the quake and cracked.

A traditional house in Hilinawal” Mazing” village in Teluk Dalam was seriously damaged in the quake.

The house, which was listed by the World Monument Fund in 2000, 2002 and 2004, suffered serious damage to its walls and floor in the quake.

“But long before the quake, the house already had some damage,” said Kris Pitoyo, an architect from North Sumatra Heritage (NSH).

A week after the quake, Kris was sent by the non-governmental organization to check on the condition of the house.

“We have long planned to help the owners of the house, the Bu’ul”l” family, repair the house,” he said.

The house, which stands 30 meters tall, has been acknowledged as having a very sophisticated and complicated design by architects from around the world, including the Geneva-based Prof. Alain M. Viaro, who holds the blueprint of the house’s design.

“Viaro said Bu’ul”l”’s house is the most beautiful traditional house throughout Nias,” Father Johannes said.

“The house should be repaired by a professional institution, better from outside the country,” he added.

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