continued - part 3

CULTURE: A NEW APPROACH


Its particular interest in the 'rural-urban' dichotomy and the 'ethno-(pre-)historical method (Vienna school of ethnology) provides an instrument to focus on transitional fields between traditional rural settlement clusters and their transformations in the processes of being superseded by centralistic strata. This type of 'cultural change' can be studied in very different types of culture, geographically as well as historically. There are strong reasons to assume that such processes were very similar in Ancient Egypt, in early Japan as well as along the intensive city foundations of central Europe during the middle Ages and later. The following plate graphically outlines this method.

-24-


MEANING


Social, philosophical, and religious

MEANINGS

of the whole complex

are expressed by the

PURELY ARCHITECTURAL AND SPATIAL ANALYSIS

This allows Architectural Anthropology

to free itself from

established and prejudiced

Eurocentric methods of conventional

disciplines of cultural anthropology.

-25-


WHAT IS SEMANTIC ARCHITECTURE?

- What does it have to do with Japan? -


Japan has a very particular cultural geography:

-26-


SEMANTIC ARCHITECTURE IN JAPAN


The following plate shows a collection of fibroconstructive 'nuclear demarcations' (semantic architecture) as found practiced in modern rural (and often also urban) Japan, at least 10 or 20 years ago. Today the strong industrialisation diffusing into the agrarian hinterland rapidly changes rural traditional life and with this changes such cultic traditions tend to disappear fast. Influenced by European folklore theories of the turn of the century, Japanese folklorists (Yanagida Kunio) meticulously documented this 'ethnological' stratum of Japanese culture.


In our view this enormously rich body of data collected by Japanese folklore studies is without doubts the most important basis for new approaches to cultural theory.


Note that Shinto-cults are not just rural customs of the "farmers festival calendar", they are institutionalized and embedded in age-old Shinto traditions. The following plate is compiled partly from Japanese folklore literature, partly from the author's field work. All examples are drawn in the same scale, which shows - in the differences of size - that this tradition is essentially independent of the human body. There is a wealth of forms. Geometrical forms, primary architectural forms like huts and pillars dominate, but technomorphous forms (boats, instruments etc.), terio- (artificial tree), zoo- (horses, dragons, snakes) and anthropomorphous (giants, dolls) forms can be distinguished. Evidently the latter are formally derived from the primary geometrical forms which are an expression of this kind of building. The differences in form are not an expression of subjective "creativity" as understood in the West, but rather indicate local traditions which were isolated over long periods of time.

-27 -


SEMANTIC ARCHITECTURE OF THE REGION SURVEYED


This plate shows semantic architecture in the region surveyed by the author. Influenced by central Shinto theology, Japanese ethnology (or folklore) classified the corresponding Shinto cults as 'fire festivals' (himatsuri). It was maintained that the cult associations of the farmers build these signs as physical representations of the local deities. Thus the deities were conceived physically present in the local cults. At the end of the ceremonies, the cult signs were burnt, the spirits of the deities "sent to heaven".

One main reason to do this survey into 100 villages of the Omihachiman region near Biwa-lake (Egenter, Semantic and Symbolic Architecture (1980 in German, 1995 English) was to demonstrate that not the fire was the essence of these cults, but the fibroconstructive tradition. This could be clearly documented: semantic architecture is the true nucleus of these cults. Its semantic and symbolic qualities provide the basis for the socio-territorial functions of the cults. And, the built forms themselves provide the high local values: they are age old structural prototypes or models of the 'design' of the local world.

-28-


TIME MACHINE


-29-


NESTBUILDING BEHAVIOUR OF THE HIGHER APES

A short detour regarding the anthropological implications of fibroconstructive behavior


There is another indicator to assume that this 'fibro-constructive' technique of building

has very deep roots

in the human past:

Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans,

our closest physical relatives,

build nests,

a fact that has not found enough consideration

in cultural anthropology.

If we put all the nests of one individual - his lifetime-work - one on top of another,

we would receive a tower

eleven times the height

of the Eiffel-tower in Paris.

Influenced by the 'man the tool-maker' idea, most anthropologists were fixed on the 'hand-tool-product' relationship

but, in the case of nestbuilding behavior of the great apes,

the relation is '

hand-product':


THE HAND WAS THE FIRST TOOL!


-30-


YOUNG ORANG UTAN BUILDING HIS NEST ON TOP OF A PALM TREE


16 meters above the ground a young oranutan builds his nest in the top of a betelpalm. With his feet he holds the stronger materials of the bottom, while with his strong arms he is interweaving twigs to a stable form. It takes him about 5 minutes to build his nest which keeps him protected for one night (acc. to Galdikas-Brindamour/Brindamour 1975).

-31-


SKETCHES OF APES-NESTS DRAWN BY OBSERVERS IN THE FIELD


The following plate shows a grown-up chimpanzee female building her nest in the top of a palmtree (acc. to Goodall 1962)


Crosspieces are clearly interwoven, forking branches secured (acc. to Goodall 1962). The young of all greater apes spend about 4 years to learn these building techniques. Only after this period they are capable to build their own nests. Note that their mother functions as their teacher!



-32 -


This plate shows how gorillas use rooted bamboo stalks to construct their nests (acc. to Bolwig 1959). This type of 'ground nests' with rooted materials is very important. Contrary to the tree nest, which is constructed in the arboreal domain of locomotion, the ground nest is built in the terrestrial domain where bipedic locomotion developed. It also allows increasing access to different materials.


Schematic representation of six different types of chimpanzee nests (acc. to Izawa/Itani 1966)


-33-


NOTE: THE NESTBUILDING BEHAVIOR OF THE GREAT APES IS OF FUNDAMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE FOR ARCHITECURAL ANTHROPOLOGY. ON THE SUBHUMAN LEVEL IT DOCUMENTS A FIBROCONSTRUCTIVE INDUSTRY WHICH IS QUANTITATIVELY AND QUALITATIVELY IMPORTANT IN ETHNOLOGY, BUT WAS NEGLECTED MAINLY BECAUSE IN HISTORY IT WAS 'RURAL' , THUS IRRELEVANT. FURTHER, EXCEPT FOR SOME RARE CASES (E.G. EGYPT) ITS EXISTENCE ESCAPED THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL METHOD BECAUSE OF ITS NON-DURABLE CHARACTER.


ARCHITECTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY POSTULATES A NEW PERIODISATION OF PREHISTORY INCLUDING A NEW PERIOD OF 'PRE-LITHIC FIBROCONSTRUCTIVE INDUSTRIES' AND THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL CONTINUITY OF FIBROCONSTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR. THIS CONTINUITY IS SYSTEMATICALLY RECONSTRUCTED, USING A WIDER ANTHROPOLOGICAL DEFINITION OF MATERIAL CULTURE (SEE 'SOFT PREHISTORY'!).


NESTBUILDING BEHAVIOR IS DESCRIBED MORE IN DETAILS IN SEVERAL ARTICLES OF THE AUTHOR (EARLIEST IN A VIENNA DESIGN JOURNAL 'UMRISS' 1983/2)


Note: this short excursion was to indicate that the fibroconstructive industries discussed in the following might be of a very high age.


-34-


Back to ethnography,
back to 'semantic architecture':


METHODOLOGY

- How does this type of research go on in the field? -


AN EXAMPLE

The texts and drawings on the following pages show a representative example of research in a relatively limited domain: a settlement which consists of four hamlets.

THE METHOD

For very different phenomena, the method is always basically similar. Maps and plans play a dominant role. They are used to record the spatial network of built objects, sacred topography and ritual movements of the settlement's inhabitants, resp. its cultic associations. Architectural plans, sketches, drawings provide an objective representation of material, constructive and formal aspects of the considered object culture. These precise data support others like local terminology and local indications of symbolic meanings. Further, they will provide an objective basis for comparison with other analogously structured research. Research of this type must be extremely accurate and reliable, because it serves inductively as the basis of hypotheses supporting theories on art, architecture, religion, philosophy, genetic questions regarding semiotics and symbolism etc.

-35-


A VILLAGE AND ITS FOUR HAMLETS


This is the plan of a village surveyed for a monography published in 1982. The village was selected because it shows representative aspects of a larger study into 100 villages of the same region. It shows a main core complex with two distinct sub-complexes:

We will try to outline this system in the following:

-36-


THE PERMANENT SACRED TOPOGRAPHY OF THE SETTLEMENT


This is the plan of the village shrine as one would see it through the year. It contains the four shrines of four different settlement-protector deities (ujigami) within the shrine precinct (jinja). The layout is composed of three parts, the sacred wood in the north and the precinct with shrines and access surfaces. In the south, in the rice fields, the access gate to the whole arrangement. The shrines of the four hamlets are set up in the north of the precinct along an east-western line (I-b-c-d). One shrine (b) is larger, it represents one hamlet (3) and the whole village. Each shrine has its gate (torii). This is found close to the shrine in the case of the smaller shrines (i,c,d), out in the fields (n) in the case of the larger shrine. This permanent arrangement is what a normal visitor during more than 350 days of the year would see. Together with the sacred places mentioned before, we call this arrangement of access, precinct, shrines and inacessible woods the 'permanent sacred topography of the settlement'. Note that all sacred places are marked by durable sacred objects, in this case by buildings in wood construction.

-37-


TEMPORARY (PRIMARY) SACRED TOPOGRAPHY


During one or two (or sometimes more) days, the "normal reality" described above looks quite different. A cultural dimension pops up which is of quite different character, materially, constructively and formally. Very strange sculptures, signs, or symbols appear in this landscape, a kind of primordial 'land-art' is set up.

Obviously constructed, these strange phenomena belong to the same class as the Shinto shrines: they are buildings. But materially and technologically they are evidently pre-buddhistisc traditional relics (Buddhism brought developed wood construction to Japan). We call this arrangement: 'temporary (or primary) sacred topography'.

Positions (a) and (b) are marked with two fixed column types of different form and meaning (male/ female). Position (e) is marked with a rooflike structure. All markers are found basically before their corresponding wooden shrines, more or less in the central axis. A clear correlation between a particular hamlets' protector deity shrine (ujigami) and a similar but materially "primitive" building is thus established.

Not only spatially, but socially too, we find a distinct order. Each hamlet's main cult association consisting of the representants of ancient houses (uji-ko, children of the settlement protector deity) is responsible for each sign in regard to construction, ritual handling and, finally, the ritual burning of these three markers. Construction and destruction of these three markers forms the main contents of the first day of this village festival.

On the second day four secondary cult groups, the young men's associations, bring mobile types of markers to the front of the shrine precinct and set them up at position (f) in the holy ricefield (shinden). They had constructed these signs beforehands in the corresponding hamlets. Note that this type is not fixed to the ground. Its fixations can easily be removed, the sign transported to another place where it is set up again. In fact the function of this type of signs is 'polytopo-semantic'.

During this second day one of the four cultgroups (men's association, decided yearly in rotation) brings the materials to position (d) in front of the entrance to the whole shrine complex. A slightly larger hutlike type (fixed to the ground, monotopic) is built there.

In the evening, at the beginning of the climax of the "fire-festival", the young men's associations take the high pillars set up formerly in the rice field down, transport them exstatically (ritual drunkenness), now as "lantern ships" (chochinfune) or "burning dragons" (ryu) around the inner shrine precinct and set them up at position (c) in a row. At a certain moment the whole set of temporary markers is set afire. The dry materials burn wildly, the material forms change into nightly light-forms. After a short time all ends in ashes. Darkness takes over again.


WHY ALL THIS CONSIDERABLE EFFORTS, JUST FOR ONE OR TWO DAYS?

This will be shown in the following paragraphs and plates
.


Note: because such rites happen only on one or two days per year, except the villagers, very few people - maybe some few folklore or ethno-specialists - know about them. Through long times these rites might have been the local secret of many villagers.


-38-


Continue to next part
Back to Homepage