O M I H A C H I M A N -

An Ethno-historical Model

Paper written for the International Symposium
'Traditional Dwellings and Settlements
in a comparative Perspective'
7. -10. 4. 1988,
Center for Environmental Design Research,
Univ. of California, Berkeley

By Nold Egenter

This paper was first published in: 'Traditional Dwellings and Settlements', Working Paper Series, vol. IV, 1-15. :45-68, 1989, University of California, Berkeley

How do we have to imagine the foundation of a town? What are the political and legal procedures? We are not speaking of a creation within virgin lands here. A town is meant which is implanted into an environment fairly densely populated with agrarian settlements. What are the social interactions between the founders of the town and the institutions of the concerned agrarian settlements?

The following paper provides a fairly new concept regarding the subject 'town foundation': paradoxically it is based on what we call religion today. Cultic procedures can be read as a treaty between a newly founded town and the agrarian villages then dislocated to the periphery of the new implantation.

The factual stage is the town Omihachiman at the Eastern shore of lake Biwa in Central Japan. The Shinto festival still performed there annually according to cyclically stereotype rules can clearly be 'read' as a protoype of a written treaty. It works with ritually fixed topological demarcations. The cult associations of the agrarian villages fabricate a fibroconstructive territorial marker in their village and carry it to the town, set it up in front of the more evolved demarcation system, the main sanctuary of the town (others are built in situ).

What is most fascinating about this festival is the fact that it can be 'topo-semantically' read. We find ourselves at the intersection of two constitutional systems. The evolved one operates with written legal texts and evolved architecture (shrine of the town-deity). The other and evidently primary one works with fibroconstructive signs used topologically to indicate social and territorio-political relations.

Evidently the medieval town founders had established the treaty in the earlier traditional agrarian style. They integrated the farmers, needed their cooperation. It was a peaceful town formation. In this sense the following text is not merely a limited 'case study'. It can be taken as a model for the cross-cultural question: how were towns founded?

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