- Continued, part 5 -


The term 'ergology' is now widely used in ethnological museums and relates to the practical work with objects of display. It implies the gain of knowledge originating from the study of the object culture of non-European traditional societies. But nowadays ergology is also used in the ethnographic field research.

The object culture of a social and regional unit (ethnos) is not thereby teleologically classified on the basis of Eurocentrically determined ideas of purpose, but in terms of a theory of technological development similar to that of a phase–concept (e. g. 'fibroconstructive' materials being technologically considered older than ceramic or paper). As with Ogburn's cultural lag theory (1923;195O; see also Mühlmann 1962), the entire range of cultural objects can be ethnographically interpreted in the field as 'autochthonous tradition' and 'accumulation', classifiable into developmental stages according to the material used and their constructional features. At the same time, the description, from the primary level upwards, is based on significant, self–contained functional complexes. These arise from an objective recording of the relevant systems: 1) the natural–spatial topography, 2) the emic value-topography that supersedes the natural topography, and 3) the social hierarchies, and their systems of ritual organization ('ritual behaviour'), where the production and handling of the objects in their certain stages of development take place.

As mentioned above, the term 'structural' is closely related to French 'structuralism' according to Lévi-Strauss. The structural component of the term provides the ethnological basis to describe ideological, social, ritual, and spatial circumstances as primarily value–free structures. But these structures are not a priori related to the intrinsically spiritual, in the case of myths, for instance. On the contrary, they initially remain open. Material facts are not excluded, but are meticulously integrated into the survey. Only at a later stage are the emic values studied and compared with the structuralist system. This provides us with the possibility of realizing the 'infrastructure', the structural generator within an individual ethnic group itself; this is achieved by describing the concrete frameworks of the semantic architectural models which play a part in rites and cults, and by discovering 'isomorphisms' between both, we can then relate these concrete frameworks to the ideological superstructures.

An important point is the diachronic dimension, which becomes part of the new method liberated from linguistics. The morphological criterium is now objective, it thus represents an iconological indicator of analogous conditions, the more so because the fibroconstructive material as well as the territorial aspect potentially are of universal character. We can use the iconological indicator historically and prehistorically in the sense of working hypotheses, as assumptions of structural ergological analogies. Structural ergology and structural ergological anthropology are thus an attempt, to combine structural anthropology as a method with material culture in such ways, that any system (of ideas, social relations, social behaviour), can be interpreted diachronically in view of the considered evolution of object culture. These methodological considerations served as a basis to the author’s field research in Japan, an outline of which shall be given in the following pages.


Using this method, the Japanese politico-ritual institution of the ujigami (historically established meaning: clan deity), which is traceable to early historical times, was ethnohistorically and structuro-historically reconstructed (see Egenter 1980, 1981, 1982a, 1983b, 1994b; Ludwig 1983, Knecht 1982, 1984, Blümmel 1984, Zwi- Werblowsky 1990) <27>. In its more recent form of a cult of the village deity (ujigami), it is rooted in practically all of Japan's 40,000 settlement units.

Following the principle of 'autochthonous tradition' and 'accumulation', primitive cult symbols (Jap. "yorishiro", seats of the gods) made of readily available fibroconstructive materials (reeds, bamboo' etc.), were chosen as representative of an object tradition rooted in Japan’s peasant and village prehistory (Fig. 2, 5). Objects of a more evolved technological character were basically separated from this tradition and attributed to accumulations diffused from historical centres. The cult symbols were ergologically compared and, concerning their relationship to social, cultic, and spatial orders, were then assigned a central part in the annual cult (value-centricity).

The results of this research, carried out in about 100 villages of Central Japan, can be briefly summarized as the 'five values' of the investigated cult signs. The term is chosen for neutrality, to avoid a conventional classification into the categories of religion, because this term and its subterms would mean an integration of the observed into categories of European religious history. In more neutral terms, we shall be talking of 'local ontology' (or local world view).

1. The semantic value (pars pro toto): lies in the practical function of the cult signs. They are territorial signs. Their forms represent hamlets, villages, or urban boroughs. According to their position, they indicate definite points in the traditional demarcation system of streets and pathways.

2. The documentary value: follows from the temporal components of the scheme shown in Fig.4. The relatively stereotyped tradition of the cult signs indicates the pre- and early historical territorial organization. As traditional legal "documents" relating to the founding of the settlement, these legal signs must be renewed annually (since they are made of nondurable materials). This is the only way they can be preserved throughout the ages. The renewal of the sign is the central meaning of the ritual. With its alternating phases consisting of the "destruction of order" (= chaos) and the "re-newal of order" (= cyclic regeneration of the village order), this cycle of the destruction and renewal of cult signs characterizes the local temporal structure (festive calendar), the ritual pattern of behaviour (e.g. ecstasy), and the ideology (polar harmony) of the village.

3. The territorial and power-political value: inasmuch as the territorial legal document determines the territorial order of the settlement at its founding, its tradition results in the creation of a social élite, because it is the founding line – and neither the collateral line of the family nor newcomers to the society – that owns the legal title (documented in the cult) to both the cultivable and uncultivable land. This line can thus develop features of domination over descendants and tenants. Accordingly, the line of the founding family, if still existent, represents the peak of the local political hierarchy. They also dominate the cult of the village deity and their hereditary "prince" often fills the rank of a sacred, local lord of the earth or possesses an autochthonous priestly function ('kannushi' < 'kami-nushi', 'owner of the deity').

4. The metaphysical-aesthetic value: the "metaphysical" meaning of the cult object rests in its local past as well as in its structure and physical form and is in the end of an aesthetic nature. "Transcendence” can be understood as an asymmetrical proportion (Latin: pro–Portio), proportion in the sense of "projecting part". In several categories, the projecting part constitutes the counterpart to the main part, which is stable and permanent. As a proportioned object it creates generalizations and enters into a dialogue with man and his environment. Philosophically speaking, the cult signs represent a complex form of "coincidentia oppositorum", which can be termed "a polar bundle of categories". This corresponds to, and functions similarly to, the Chinese symbol of the Yin and Yang but is much less abstract. This metaphysical-aesthetic value can be genetically deduced from the "hand - work relation" with rooted stalks. It is therefore not a planned invention but the result of long periods of experience and gradual discovery. <28>

5. The epistemological value: the "polar bundle of categories" can be applied to any natural or artificial form–relation. From a harmonious point of view, the categorial aspects of the model are reproduced in homologous relationships and thus integrated into the local "metaphysical" system (cf. Egenter 1980, 1981, 1994a, b). The point of this transfer of polar categories from one object to another, lies in the uniform orientation thus envisaged. Accordingly, the cult signs are polar categorial models of the social, ritual, and spatial structure of the settlement. The plans of the village, the shrine precinct, the court district, the ground plans of the houses, as well as the vertical structure of buildings and cult objects, both artificial and natural, are laid out in a polar sense. The categorial value of certain areas shapes ritual behaviour (e.g. dynamic behaviour in zones of dynamic significance). <29>


The evaluation of ethnographical field research in the framework of Japanese cultural history led us to the formulation of a specific multifunctional or pluridisciplinary term: 'the core complex related to the origins of settlement'. That is to say, in our field research we have been working on a factually built sign system. It is basically characterized by its complex functions of creating 'archives’. Its materially ephemeral qualities renders cyclic renewal a basic condition. This condition of renewal creates the temporal structure of the rite, in which the local social hierarchy manifests in terms of territorial politics. Ideally, the present representative of the founding house in the settlement is a priest, the 'owner of the deity', and, at the same time, a kind of 'king', the largest and most powerful landowner in the settlement. In a sense of territorial politics, the sign represents and documents the history of the village, as well as its values and its social hierarchy, to which the settlement owes its existence. The stereotypical renewal of a specific form preserves further the aesthetically based 'metaphysics' of the settlement, the objective core model of a harmoniously programmed world view. Since the model in its structural dialogue with the environment represents the structure of the settlement, the wider topography, the environmentally perceptible 'cosmos' in its totality, it represents the highest value of the local ontology.

The existential basis of agrarian society (land, territory) and its social structure, or the rights according to which this society disposed of its land, was closely related to these signs. In the ritual and cultic tradition, they formed the 'historical archives', or the 'constitution' of the agrarian village society. Before the existence of superior institutions of administration and power, these signs once represented the central core of the system of values of agrarian settlements, which, at the time, were relatively autonomous, both in the economic and the political sense.

Evidently the complex view of structural history reveals a phenomenon to us, which ethnology could not describe, because it proceeds in a priori separated subdisciplines. In ethnology of religion, religious 'belief' is detached from the rite and the latter is explained on the basis of the former. In addition, what appears materially is ergologically irrelevant, it is described in the context of a Euro-scholastic spirituality, and is thus an indicator of 'primitive' belief; the whole eventually being devalued as primitive religion! The social structure is handled in a similar manner. It is cut off from its functional complex, and dealt with in abstract social relations. What is most important to this agrarian society, the security of its territorial existence, is not represented by the abstract systems of parental relations.We best not mention the ethnology of art. With its fixation on elitist ‘high culture’ museum aesthetics, it is frightened by the ‘cheapness’ of the materials used and averts its eyes, thus completely missing the point, i.e. this autonomously created, elementary substantiation of primordial aesthetics. The spatial organization of the settlement is conventionally perceived within historically accessible prototypes; generally it is interpreted as a 'degenerated master-goods', the creative impulses from the settlement tradition and its completely different ideal of 'originality' are ignored. If we had to speak of 'philosophy', European idealism, used to its own demigods, would immediately rule out dealing with such a shabby construction. Pluridisciplinarily, we are falling between two stools.

Without doubt, we have come across a purely traditional institution, in the sense of pragmatic law, as well as in a spiritual sense. It functions without script. It could also be said that these sacred seats of the gods are the script in a metalinguistic sense of ritual behaviour. What usually is separately recorded by various disciplines as 'social', 'law', ‘politics', 'religion', ‘rite’, ‘art’, etc, is to be found here - tightly packed - as core complex of an autonomous village culture. The whole very closely resembles what we term constitution, not just in a modern sense but also in the territorial and moral–ethical sense. It therefore has to be assumed that in prehistorical Japan every village had its own constitution. With the import of the Chinese types of imperial constitutions founded on cosmological patterns (cosmic egg), these local constitutions were annulled; this is precisely the essential theme at the basis of Japanese 'myths', as they are recorded - linguistically and textually - in Japanese imperial annals and chronicals.

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