The Story of Finding Food: Adaptation of Sampan as Living and Working Space in Riau Islands, Indonesia

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This article presents the story of finding food carried out by an indigenous community in the Riau Islands, Indonesia, an under-represented way of living within the vernacular traditions. Known as Orang Suku Laut (OSL) or the sea nomads, they use sampans (boats) to move, hunt and gather food, eat and rest, raise a family, and so on. They follow what the sea provides to meet their basic needs. It demonstrates how food becomes an important material that arguably defines their appropriation of sampan as their everyday domestic space. This study emphasizes the crucial roles of sampans for the sea nomads, providing an indigenous perspective of appropriating everyday instruments. The study employes a qualitative method involving field observations of a semi-nomadic group of OSLs in the Tajur Biru area, Riau Islands, Indonesia. The field study was conducted in 2019 and followed up with a series of long-distance interviews periodically between 2020-2021. Visual documentation and the narratives from the OSLs related to their food-finding practices and the utilization of the sampans were analyzed based on prevailing layers of sampans graphically represented, particularly to emphasize the fluid and dynamic arrangements of their sampans. The study found the unique adaptation of the sampans by the OSLs based on food-finding activities, suggesting a dynamic spatial domestic arrangement happening within their sampans. Through their food-based practices, the fluid role of sampans is expanded, from a mere vehicle to working and living as domestic arrangements for the community, reflecting a tight relationship between people and Nature as its origin. The findings contribute to the discussion of vernacular architecture, particularly related to sea as a specific site, which could be scarce and easily forgotten these days.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-50
Number of pages12
JournalISVS E-journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • everyday space
  • finding food
  • Orang Suku Laut (OSL)
  • sampan
  • vernacular living


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