Manuals and Questionnaires for Settlement/Village Studies among Traditional Societies (gatherer/hunters, agrarian)

by Nold Egenter

The following materials were developed for our 'Sacred Topography Survey Program' which was started in 1995 at the private 'Indian Rural Settlement Survey Institute' in Ahmedabad, India (together with Miki and Madhavi Desai, both architects and professors at CEPT, Ahmedabad). The program was conceived in a way that Indian anthropologists, ethnologists and folklorists who were interested in cooperation could work independently on projects in specific regions which they knew or had studied before. The purpose of the program was twofold.

(1) In a primary phase it was organised to check whether fibroconstructive demarcation was of any significance in agrarian villages or tribal settlements. And, if the results of this were positive, that is, if villages or settlements showed fibroconstructive demarcations,

(2) a second phase became important in which first the 'sacred topography' of the settlement was recorded, then, at the given time, the cults and rites (patterns of movements and activities) were surveyed including the fibrous demarcations built during these rites and cults.

For this reason two different types of questionnaires were conceived, one for the primary phase (1) and another for the second phase (2). Working with questionnaires was mainly also to guarantee that the approaches, the terminology used and the materials documented would be comparable.

About 12 projects were running with different intensities through a time of about 2-3 years. Not all projects produced fully convincing results. In some cases the focus was too limited on particularities, in other cases there were difficulties of communication. But one particular project revealed as a real discovery. Based on the extremely valuable informations of Dr. Jnan Jyoti Roy Burman, anthropologist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, it became evident that most villages of the whole coastal region of Maharashtra, are building sacred poles decorated with mango leaves in and around their village sanctuaries during their annual Holi festivals. The whole setting corresponds fairly to what we call 'settlement core complex'. However, this research is still in progress. We will inform in details about it in March 1999.

In a wider anthropological sense the basic idea behind the 'sacred topography survey program' was the demonstration of a hypothetically universal structural condition of human settlement ('settlement core complex'). The primary fibrous 'nuclear demarcation' in the centre of its cyclic rites acts as an archive of the local settlement history created at foundation. Nuclear demarcation provides not only the model of the local worldview (balanced coincidence of opposites) but contains also the codes of local social structure and power (e. g. hierarchy related to founderhouse) The spatial organisation of the settlement too is evidently conceived in accordance with this highly valid model.

The urban ontology has widely lost its capacity to perceive such relational complexes. It projects an analytically evolved cognitive system on local populations, thus cuts their relational system into disciplines where the original data enter into a quite different context. This total 'incompatibility' between urban and rural perception and the supposedly higher value of the urban analytical system forces traditional settlements often brutally to adapt to a completely alien cognitive system. If on the other hand we could understand the 'settlement core complex' as a parallelistically evolved local system, as an autnomous constitution of traditional society, we could avoid harmful impositions from outside and discuss concepts of development adapted to traditional constitutions.

The following manuals and questionnaires are in PDF format. You need an Acrobat Reader 3.0 to open the text-files (Acrobat Reader is shareware, it can be downloaded free of any charges in the Internet).

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