Heritage Conservation

Culture must be alive in the community and not only inside the museum. To support the living culture of Nias the Nias Heritage Foundation is actively involved in heritage conservation across the island. One of the most important forms of local heritage is the unique traditional Nias houses.  They are built without the use nails and have a flexible yet sturdy construction making it almost earthquake proof. It is known as one of the most advanced examples of tribal vernacular architecture in Asia. Another unique type of heritage is the many megalithic sites spread across the island.


A new roof on a traditional house in the North Nias style.

Traditional Nias houses are not only used for shelter, but are places filled with traditions and cultural practices. Because many people still live in traditional houses, they have become important as a means to preserving customs and traditions on Nias. These houses are known as "home of traditions" (Omo Hada) in the Nias language.

konservasi_warisan_museum_pusaka_nias_3bBuilding a Omo Hada house the traditional way is an important manifestation of Nias culture. During the various stages of the construction process there are many ceremonies involving the owners, and the neighbors. Builders from the village are also involved in making sure the process is conducted in the customary way, from planning the construction to the completion and inauguration of the building. In this way the knowledge of how to build Omo Hada houses have been preserved and passed on from generation to generation, keeping the traditional Nias architecture alive.

In 2013 there were some 1112 traditional houses scattered across the island. The majority of them are located in South Nias Regency. Unfortunately they are decreasing in numbers because many people today prefer to live in ‘modern’ Indonesian houses, usually made from concrete with a roof of corrugated iron.  Another reason why people are abandoning their inherited homes are the cost and work involved in maintaining them. Traditional houses are made of wood and have thatched roofs which require regular maintenance. Quality wood is becoming scarce and expensive. Thatched roofs need replacement every three to four years which involves a lot of work and/or cost. If regular maintenance is not done, a traditional house falls into disrepair very quickly. Some poor families simply abandon their old homes because they can not afford the burden of maintaining it.


Traditional houses on Nias damaged during the 2005 earthquake.

On the 28th of March 2005 a catastrophic earthquake hit Nias Island. Buildings and infrastructure across the island was damaged or destroyed.  Many international organisations quickly came to Nias to assist with the recovery. But the rebuilding process became a huge threat to the survival of Nias traditional houses. Initially all the large donors and organisations, such as BRR (Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi) and ABD (Asian Development Bank) were only willing to provide assistance for the construction of new houses. This meant that a family could abandon a perfectly good traditional house in order to receive assistance to build a ‘modern’ house. The policies of the large development organisations were leading to an increase in abandonment and destruction of Nias cultural heritage.

Digital StillCamera

Rehabilitation of megaliths in Olayama Village.

The Nias Heritage Foundation fought a campaign to save the traditional houses and megalithic sites across Nias. The foundation was struggling to convince the development organizations and the local community that traditional Nias houses are suitable as earthquake safe homes and that protecting them is a means of preserving the cultural identity of the Nias people. Eventually the campaign gained momentum and a number of organizations started to support the idea of rescuing traditional houses and megalithic sites. These organisations had confidence in the Nias Heritage Foundations ability to preserve cultural assets on Nias and become partners in the rehabilitation process. Through this partnership the foundations became the facilitator of hundreds of heritage conservation projects across Nias.

After identifying which houses and heritage sites were in most need of help the foundation set out to implement the rehabilitation process. All rehabilitation work were undertaken with full participation of the owners of the traditional houses. The owners were treated like construction contractors, while the Nias Heritage Foundation acted as project managers, providing funding and advise as well as overseeing the quality and progress of the work.  After assessing the costs necessary for each project, funding was agreed between donors, the foundation and house owners. Funds were given to homeowners to cover the expense of building materials and salaries of construction crews. Funds were released gradually as the work progressed. The various stages for release of payments had been agreed upon before the work started. The home owners were required to contribute to the project, either labor or material. They were also encouraged to participate actively in the project in order to build a sense of ownership and pride, so that they would keep maintaining the house after the project had ended.

Because of the rehabilitation project there was a cultural revitalization across Nias as many derelict traditional houses and heritage sites were repaired.  There was also an important generational transfer of knowledge as young people worked side by side with older carpenters.


Museum staff facilitated the rehabilitation of hundreds of traditional houses together with the community.

In total the museum facilitated the rehabilitation of 372 traditional houses and 5 megalithic sites between 2005 to 2013. The rehabilitation projects were funded by 13 different partner organisations.

Kindernothilfe.e.V - Germny 108 2005 -2006
US Embassy - Jakarta 2 2006
Neustadt Schleswigholsteein - Germany 9 2006
The people of Konstanz - Germany 18 2006
The Johanniter - Germany 26 2007
Brigitte Ott - Austria 1 2007
People of Munster - Germany 10 2008
Caritas Italiana 31 2008 - 2010
Muslim Aid & BPPI-Jakarta 2 2009
Turnstone Tsunami Fund - UK 5 2009
Government of South Tirol - Italy 1 2010
Tirto Utomo Foundation-Jakarta 10 1 2010 - 2013
Multi Donor Fund - ILO 149 4 2009
TOTAL 372 5 2005 - 2013

konservasi_warisan_museum_pusaka_nias_7Other Projects

In addition to traditional houses and megalithic sites, the Nias Heritage Foundation is also involved in the protection of other places that have historical or archaeological value. One such site is Tögi Ndrawa cave in Lelewönu Niko'otano village near Gunungsitoli. Archaeological research shows that this cave has been inhabited by early humans on Nias going back 12,000 years and is the oldest inhabited cave on the western coast of Sumatra. The Nias Heritage Foundation has built a footpath to the cave which is used by researchers and visiting tourists.

This project was made possible by funding from the Tirto Utomo Foundation in Jakarta


omo-hada-northern-style-w1Traditional 'Omo Hada' house of the Northern Nias style

omo-hada-northern-style-w2Traditional 'Omo Hada' house of the Northern Nias style

omo-hada-southern-style-w3Traditional 'Omo Hada' house of the South Nias style

omo-hada-southern-style-w5Traditional 'Omo Hada' house of the South Nias style

omo-hada-central-style-wTraditional 'Omo Hada' house of the Central Nias style

nias-tengahTraditional 'Omo Hada' house of the Central Nias style

tetegewo-gomo-houseTraditional 'Omo Hada' house of the Central Nias style

lololakha_facade  Side view of a North Nias traditional house

All drawings by Prof. Alain Viaro


The following organizations were funding the rehabilitation of traditional houses on Nias after the 2005 earthquake.



The most important donor was the Multi Donor Fund and the ILO who jointly funded the rehabilitation of 149 traditional houses and four megalithic sites

Kindernothilfe e. V. Logo

Kinder not Hilfe from Germany funded 108 houses.


Caritas from Italia funded 31 houses.


Die Johanniter from Germany funded  26 houses.


People of Konsanz in Germany funded 18 houses.

5-tirto-utomoTirto Utomo Foundation from Jakarta funded 10 houses and 1 megalithic site.

7-stadt-neustadtPeople of Neustadt in Germany funded 9 houses.


Turnstone Tsunami Fund from Singapore/UK funded 5 houses.



Heritage Conservation Indonesia (BPPI) and Muslim Aid from Indonesia funded 2 houses.


© Yayasan Pusaka Nias 2017. Designed & Edited by Björn Svensson & Shanti Fowler