The present study was first delivered to the >World Archaeological Congress< at Southampton, Sept. 1- 7, 1986, under the title >Software for a soft prehistory; structural history and structural ergology applied to a type of universally distributed 'soft industry': sacred territorial demarcation signs made of nondurable materials<. The text was published in the ‘Precirculated Papers’ issued at the event (>Archaeological 'Objectivity' in Interpretation, vol. 2, 1986, Allen & Unwin, Southampton & London). The present version has been considerably revised.

This degree of speculation increases substantially when one realizes how very little we actually know of the spiritual part of such "cultures", their religion, their cults, their aesthetic concepts, their social structure, etc., and further, when one realizes to what extent our scientific world view is prejudiced by scholastic medieval thought - which we generally project onto the objective findings!

A very good impression of the abundance of objects and forms is given by K. Miyazaki's (1985) two–volumed study 'wara' (straw) and his preliminary research report 'wara no bunka' ('straw culture', 1981, see also Sakamoto 1981). In the course of a project financed by the Toyota foundation, Miyazaki has gathered all possible materials with which agrarian village culture had normally been equipped until recently: he presents an enormously rich object–culture of fibrous materials, plaited, bundled, or stitched, a phenomenon that sheds an important light on the autonomy of such settlements. Unfortunately it is only available in Japanese, but it can basically be understood from its numerous illustrations. Note that in Europe this type of "soft industry" is practically ignored by present-day 'technology and ergology' (see Hirschberg/Janata 1980)

It could be maintained that traditional societies often consider their entire material equipment as sacred. This may be accurate in many cases, but different degrees of centricity can clearly be distinguished by the equipment of cults and their close relation to domestic domains (Egenter 1982b,1994b, 1991, 1992f. vol. 7, 1994a). The cults close to the house dominate over the peripheral cults of secondary importance. Likewise in Japanese Shinto: shrine systems related to 'dwelling' (house, village, municipal district; Jap. 'yashikigami', 'ujigami') dominate agrarian systems (ta/ yama no kami). Spatial existence, dwelling at some place, is of highest value–centricity.

See Hastings. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics: 'temple', 'shrine', 'fetish' etc.

The church evaluated such cults from a Eurocentric theological point of view. Its basic outlook was closely linked to the term >belief<. Primitively made cult markers were devalued as >fetish<, >spirit’s huts<, and the like, because of their primitive materiality and classified within a heathen belief system labelled >superstition<. Of course they were devalued also in view of future proselytism. The cultural-anthropological tragedy of this globally enforced proselytizing lasting for centuries consists in the fact that the basic stratum of stockbreeders in the Old Testament, on which Moses built his Jewish state god and cult (Jahwe) in accordance with the Egyptian model, shows the very same type of primitive cult marker (Elohim). This can be considered a primary revelation! (See 'The Eternally Burning Thornbush', vol. 3 of this series) It should be noted in this context that Christian sacredness since Nicaea (325) is based on the Old Testament.

The general term 'fibroconstructive traditions' objectively implies sacred signs and symbols of high emic value and other non-sacred objects having purely practical functions (basket etc.). Fibroconstructive in general characterizes objects of material culture, manufactured mainly by hand, by tying, binding, bundling, plaiting, etc. fibrous materials such as grass, stalks, twigs, branches and the like, to produce compact, or staff-like, usually vertically upright forms. The dominant forms are geometrical, but anthropo-, zoo-, terio-, and technomorphous forms occur too. (see Fig. 2 and 5).

The method (or theory of culture) focused on the human settlement and its origins, implies the assumption that elementary settlement conditions prevailed in prehistory and created particular structural traits, which were then handed down, particularly in value–centred domains, and that these structural traditions developed in autonomous isolated village cultures had a fundamental impact on later developments, or what we consider very advanced historical cultures.

The expression 'The horror of basket–making', implies the idea elaborated dramatically by Patricia Highsmith in her novel of the same title. According to this concept, fibroconstructive products survived into our modern everyday life. Physically they may not be old, but technologically they can be classified as ancient traditions, which might be "millions of years old". Thus they might be more ancient than products dating back to the so–called Stone Age. The third volume of this series will deal with Gottfried Semper’s notion of a prelithic Textile (or Fibrous, or Grass) Age.

The adjective >soft< is related to the term >material culture<. We are suggesting an archaeologically provocative differentiation between >hard< (= durable) and >soft< (nondurable) material culture. That is to say, fibroconstructive traditions are foregrounded. This soft material culture - self-evident in ethnology - might have played an important part in prehistory (nondurable, value–centred material culture), but would have escaped the archaeological method. The term >soft prehistory< implies an archaeological and prehistorical method that searches for fibroconstructive signs and symbols on durable remains, potentially combining them with socio-territorial cults and trying to evaluate them with regard to the settlement tradition and its origins in view of a general cultural theory.

See Bastide (1962).

The term >continuum< is of great importance. Basic orientational strata of culture are changeable only to a limited extent, because change implies loss of orientation. Consequently various cultures show similar basic structural traits related to settlement, which can be handed down and preserved over long periods of time.

Naturally both are right if one starts out from Bastide's concrete concept of ‘structure’: the framework of a roof is a real structure but at the same time also a model, thus an ideological construct for the perception of analogous or homologous structural conditions, e.g. the ‘frameworks’ and skeletons of plants and animals.

The intention here is not to allude to the tensions between field research and academic scholarship Oppitz refers to in his introduction. Stationary field research, still much praised in ethnology, is no quality seal. Missionaries, who have had the chance to live among certain indigenous populations for several decades, have, in their extensive descriptions, frequently done more towards distorting than clarifying our notion of these populations. Precisely because they produced a lot more material than the ethnographer on a brief visit who collects material supporting a specific theoretical approach. Here we are not interested in the contrast of 'theory or practice' but in the description of their epistemological preconditions. We propose research in direction of the humanities, research that should critically reflect its own epistemological and historical conditions. To put it in more drastic terms: in ethnology, a research student without some knowledge of scholastic philosophy and ecclesiastical history would no longer stand any chance.

Dualism definitely is a Eurocentric analytical term. It presupposes the independent existence of two different conditions or axioms, ways of thought, world views, cognitive principles etc., which can not be brought into unity, which are utterly incompatible. Examples of such dualisms are 'idea and reality' in the Platonic sense, 'God and Satan', 'good and evil', or 'God and the world', 'metaphysical world and physical world', the 'spiritual and the natural' in theology, 'soul and body' in religion, philosophy and psychology, 'subject and object' in science, etc.. Chinese thought, however, never carried out this "dualistic division of the world" as Oppitz claims. On the contrary, it basically always perceived it in polar categorial units (and in this sense probably developed and preserved the cognitive prehistory of Europe; see ancient Egypt!). Hermann Köster who possessed a deep knowledge of Chinese thought consequently uses the term 'polarity' implying a primordial tension between opposites which are complementary or mutually conditioned, but not incompatibly separated, as the analytical counterpart 'dualism' suggests.

Richard Wilhelm for instance.

It has to be noted, however, that Capra evidently did not realize the denominator common to both systems. Both analytic and polarity (or complementarity) are essentially rooted in the deeper level of the categories. Only from this deeper level the entirely different 'mechanisms' of the two systems can be understood: how they organize cognition in entirely different ways. Analytical thought a priori isolates the categories with judgements and definitions. Polarity, in contrast, basically considers the oppositions and contradictions as irrevocable and takes them for granted, interpreting contradiction as a primordial cognitive principle. Consequently it organizes contradictive categories perceptively or creatively in harmonious (or disharmonious) relations. Thus, the question is not the determining of black OR white, isolated high OR low sounds, but the harmonious pattern between black AND white, the harmonious melody produced by high AND low sounds. The resulting cognitive system is not at all mysterious, but very concrete. It has strongly survived in the social domain, in the arts, and widely also in modern religion, insofar as it - in spite of contradictions - genetically related man and earth to heaven. Obviously modern man is so deeply integrated into the scientific analytical logic, that he can no longer perceive - or only devaluate it in terms like irrational, etc. – the more ancient system running parallel to scientific cognition. It is evident, that this system has its roots in anthropological dimensions. Metaphors, fairy tales, legends, myths, are all structured according to this 'other' system of cognition. If the harmonious (or disharmonious) relation between opposed categories produces the images, then, the world is far richer metaphorically (the boat in the desert), and stirs the soul. This is quite different from describing the camel in zoological, anatomical or physiological contexts.

In this sense, Oppitz deals with: 'nature myths', 'theories of rites', 'intellectual mythology', 'school of psychoanalysis', 'new comparative mythology', and 'analysis of social psychology'.

Evidently the tree with the birds is located in the jaguar’s domain. It represents the categories of the wild domain in its vertical axis: social isolation, natural conditions, lack of human food. The man finds himself with wild birds yet unable to fly. Their feathers, however, play a part in the rites of the human domain. Like the 'wild' fire, they are to be transferred to the cultural domain. The polarities active in the human domain, such as male / female, centrality / periphery are repeated in the peripheral wild domain. The jaguar and the exiled human are both male.

In this sense the author has reconstructed the environmental 'cosmos' in the case of the Ainu of Hokkaio (Japan). The result is doubtless more convincing than the one produced by Ohnuki-Tierney, which derives the ideology in the "world view" of the Ainu from the cosmic interpretation of the respective mythical terms (see Egenter 1991, 1992f. vol. 7).

Today the highest values are expressed by the word 'kamui', which is generally translated as 'deity', 'gods', 'god'. But evidently this term is borrowed from the Japanese 'kami', meaning ‘god', deity', as well as 'above', 'chief', and 'head', if it is taken in its phonologically identical expressions (evidently later differentiated by Chinese signs!). From this it may be concluded that the Ainu, before they had contact with the Japanese, did not yet have any metaphysical concept for their 'sacred' system of signs, except the very concrete 'inau' (signs of highest values'). It should be noted that they evidently also borrowed the designation for their altar situated behind the house, 'nusa'; in Japanese, also 'nusa'. This kind of terminological borrowing and alluding to the ‘higher’ valued Shinto thought continues even today, e.g. in the works of Kayano Shigeru.

This assumption might be of topical interest, in view of the migration of 'native peoples'. If it should become evident that the natives clearly had their own territorial legislation, that this legislation, however, was completely devaluated by Western 'humanities'; their ritual constitutions being classified as primitive religion and judged from a European scholastic perspective! The legal defence of Eurocentric national territorial interests will get into difficulties, if it grows evident that all that which was formerly considered primitive rites and cults are, in fact, the 'ancestors' of our modern constitutions. The exciting documentary made by Stefan Güel (Switzerland) probably is the most topical illustration: in cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church (the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope) several new hi-tech observatories are to be built on Mount Graham in Arizona, the holy mountain of the Apaches. This plan met with fierce opposition: one country and two different holinesses, an ancient struggle indeed!

Everyone prepared to vote or invest his money in this modern world gone 'wild' on a global scale, usually deals with those structural 'pyramids' that should give him an idea of what is going on behind the facades.

The Indo–Germanic root *bheu- is the basis of numerous terms with an immense semantic field relating to the existential in German, such as 'wachsen' (to grow), 'gedeihen' (to flourish), ‘entstehen’ (to come into being), ‘werden’ (to become), ‘sein’ (to be), ‘wohnen’ (to dwell), ‘physis’ (the physical). The root further developed a wide semantic field far exceeding the meaning of 'building' in the narrow sense. Additionally, many terms and related etymological fields radiating into the spatial, social, and cultic can be approached in new and fertile ways from the primordial triangle of a 'fibroconstructive place–making'. This will be dealt with in greater detail in the annexe to vol. 8 (Collection of hypotheses related to Architectural Anthropology: Etymology).

Unfortunately the architecture’s conventional practical orientation and the art historian’s stubborn fixation on subjective aesthetics have hereto prevented a scientific research of architecture and building. Thus linguistics, and particularly etymology, never gained a clear notion of the significance of building for language.

26 The author's studies in Japan (Egenter 1980, 1994b plates 1-7, p. 13-19) prove once more from quite a different perspective how naive it is to restrict oneself to linguistics. Considering the toposemantic system as morphologically wide, including signs that vary from the geometrically abstract to zoological (animals, snakes), teriomorphous (artificial trees, Egenter 1981), and anthropomorphous forms (human figures, dwarfs, giants; Egenter 1995a), or even technomorphous forms (boats, carts; Egenter 1980, 1994b), then, the translation of a myth in which plants, trees, animals (particularly snakes! Egenter 1980, 1994b), or humans are mentioned, even by their personal names, would have to be questioned as to whether not an artificial tree, an artificial animal, or an artificial human figure (1982, 1994b, 1995a) is referred to. But this, of course, is beyond the reach of a purely linguistic myth research.

Many might be astonished that an ethnographical approach is linked to Japan. Japan neither is a society 'without script' nor populated by a 'natural people'. Such simplistic classifications of 'high' and 'low' obstruct the view of the important facts. Namely, that in many non-European 'high' cultures there exist, alongside the urban centres, very traditional and highly conservative societies in often isolated and hardly known hinterlands. This exactly is the case in Japan, essentially because of its insular nature, its 200 years of political seclusion, and its very low level of Christianization. Ethnology on the other hand, has wasted much time dreaming of the far–off exotic island where everything would reflect the origins, simultaneously struggling with the conflicts created by its projection of faceted Eurocentric cultural concepts on foreign and its own system. The new programme of structural history dissolves these absurd differentiations between 'nature' and culture, between 'tradition' and history, between 'nonscriptory' and scriptory, or, more recent, between the 'Third World' and the First World. Preferably, it installs itself where ethnic tradition, history, and prehistory are united within one cultural domain. This is what makes Japan the ideal field for research, the ‘Galapagos islands of culture'. It should also be noted that another hotchpotch, labelled ‘culture’, has become obsolete. Structural history depicts culture from its basis, revealing its evolutionary conditions from the origins of settlement. This is shown in comparatively continuous conservative and central structures found in a mutual dialogue with peripheral conditions, natural circumstances, and endemic accumulations, which imply acculturation.

To notes part 2
Back to main text, part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
To figures 1, 2
To Bibliography
Back to homepage