Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, September 28, 2009

Roofleaves as the Olinkas´God

Drawings of African huts. Internet download
Round African huts. Internet download.
Parallelly to the works of Rapoport, the works of the ethnologist and architectural anthropologist Nold Egenter were based on the posture that the architecture is characterized fundamentally to be a meta-language. Their procedure spreads to an universalism of the architecture, what the man builds in a wide sense, is not primarily related with the aesthetics, but with the man. Universally, the architecture would mean all that has been built by the man and possibly for its predecessors.
A reconstruction like this, as an anthropological continuum brings much more complex considerations that mere aesthetic judgements.
The biggest difference with the posture of Rapoport, is that the anthropological architecture is not based on aesthetics or culture, but in the man, whose constructive behavior in the habitat doesn't come from standardized necessities inside a productive process, but rather it is immersed in theoretical reasonings inside the field of the architecture from the beginnings.
“ -as always- not only perceives, but integrates the spatial structure defined by buildings and reproduces this structures in other contexts, thinks with it, works with it. If we manage to show that this type of spatial structure, generated by buildings, influences man along an anthropological continuum and lives in our language, in our thoughts, keeps the arts living and even supports originally metaphysical ideas, then in new ways we could reconstruct cultural history on the basis of the “object architecture”.... architectural anthropology thus constructs a new macrotheoretical approach”. (Egenter, 1992).
This way, the initial perception of the material would be united to a spiritual approach. If the architecture is a human general phenomenon that extends synchronously on individual cultures, then diachronically, it includes all the cultures. In consequence, the investigation in the architecture of several cultures can be carried out through analogies.
Egenter corroborates its foundations starting from the roots of sub-human conditions. The primitive stadium was represented by the use of fibrous organic materials that could only be worked with the hand. The original cabin would have been built by observation of the constructive behavior of the simians, when carrying out its nests. The theory passes the corroboration test in the scientific environment, since the construction-nests are practiced by the orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra and the gorillas and chimpanzees of Africa, and it has been verified that it is an acquired ability. When urging a baby simian raised up in captivity, to build a nest, these animals show appropriate motor movements, but they cannot manipulate the material firmly. In general it is the mother who teaches them this task, and the learning process can last three years.
The first shack would be a vegetable bundle, with a dome form that would raise its branches to the sky. The space is defined like a precondition of the religion, and it would be developed jointly with the architecture. This time the transcendental order is symbolic, the symbolism comes from the sky -that would be the dome-, the extended canopy on the man. Therefore, the current recognizable shape of a dome doesn't imply a roof, neither the limits of a space, but rather it would imply a sign of a sacred place.

I’d like here to remind one of the letters from the book “The Color Purple”, by Alice Walker. Though the story is fictitious, Walker provides us a very interesting example of huts, roofs and religion. To explain this, I’m setting aside the most important issues for sociologists and anthropologists, that is the African women struggles in the tribes, the habits, the consequences for cultural behaviour.
In page 156, Nettie has just arrived to Africa and meets with the people of the Olinka tribe. …”Coming out of little round huts with something that I thought was straw on top of them but it was really a kind of leaf that grows everywhere. They pick it and dry it and lay it so it overlaps to make the roof rainproof”.
The tribe people then is ready for the roofleaf ceremony and they recite the story that it is based upon. A long time ago, the chief took more and more of the common lands to make abundant crops. He also began to cultivate the land where the roofleaves grow. “But then there came a great storm during the rainy season that destroyed all the roofs on all the huts in the village, and the people discovered to their dismay that there was no longer any roofleaf to be found”. The storm destroyed the huts and most people died. It took five years to the leaves to grow back again.
“On the day when all the huts had roofs again from the rootleaf, the villagers celebrated by singing and dancing and telling the story of the rootleaf. The rootleaf became the thing they worship”. (excerpt p. 160. The word used here is rootleaf instead of roofleaf).
This story is a clear example of the adoration of a roof element, that is part of the Architecture but also part of Nature. The leaf became the God of the Olinkas. Religion, Nature and Architecture have been developed together, conforming one single space.

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