Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two Interesting Cases of Human Territoriality

An Asian vendor defending her spot amidst the ruins. Web download

Some days ago I came across an interesting article about the famous Chang and Eng Bunker conjoined twins, in a National Geographic, June 2006. They were the men who originated the term “Siamese twins”. They were born in Siam (Thailand), in 1811 and settled in North Carolina, USA, in 1839. When they began to date the sisters Adelaide and Sarah Ann Yates, the townspeople disapproved, so they scheduled a separation surgery in Philadelphia. When the fiancées found out the decision, they preferred to avoid the risk. So, they had a double wedding. After fourteen years of living as a foursome , the twins split their property to build separate houses. By 1860, Adelaide was living in another house, not only because of the numerous children they had, but mainly because wives wanted their own place. When wives decided to live apart, Chang-Eng followed a strict regimen of three days at one house, and three at the other brother’s house. Though it seems a bizarre story, I see it as a very ingenious resolution of the defense of each brother’s family territoriality.

Eng and Chang Bunker.

Territoriality is in the interest of multiple disciplines, like environmental psychologists, architects, sociologists, social psychologists, planers, anthropologists… Territoriality has many properties and dimensions. There are different types of territoriality and we cannot think that they operate under the same rules. Main question is if territoriality behavior is inherited since we were born or if it is learnt. American psychology states that it is primarily a result of learning and environmental factors. There is another possibility, that territoriality might have a biological and evolutionary basis. Or maybe both biological (innate) behavior is combined with learnt behavior. I have just shown the concern, and I cannot intervene in such a controversial issue. It is difficult to find an answer for primitive eras, as we do not have written information. Some scholars state that for nomadic tribes, with no herds or agricultural practices, territoriality was based on obtaining food, from trees, herbs or animal meat. They obviously had control on the territories where they could get their food. For the evolutionary theory, territories consisted of areas defended against intruders. But, if we include the necessity of food, we shall have sets of territories that overlap. The pattern would overlap depending on the availability of food, water, shelter. We are back at the starting point. If territories are stable, there is no question any more, we are in front of an ownership figure.
In a general sense, we have three kinds of human territory: tribal, family and personal. There is also a regulation of territoriality that involves scale. Territory could be occupied and controlled by individuals, or communities (small or big ones) with different boundaries. The minimum example is a public seat in a bus –it is not important- but private territories are psychologically central and really important for their occupants. Even if the house is a shack, built of scrap materials, there will be articulated boundaries, a personalization of the environment, any territorial indicator, that will show the right to own this place. It is a challenge against the neighbor. Physical fighting is possible in the need to defend the owned spaces, in animals, children, gangs, prostitutes, neighbors, armies and so on. The list is endless.
Personalization is a manifestation of culture and identity, and it goes from desks, to bedrooms, to public displays. All objects arrangements are part of the exertion of the owner’s dominance. Objects are used to reinforce the sense of ownership and it is extensive to plants, trees, guardrails, fences, whatever shows a boundary-line or a sense of boundary, it does not need to be strictly shown as a barrier. When personal spaces are invaded, defenses for the territory are strengthened and intruders will be surrounded by hostility; if there is no need for a fight, symbols will be enough expression to keep intruders out, since man is a cooperative specie but also a competitive one. Dominance is shared out in varying degrees of ambitiousness, where self includes the individuals and the social collectivity.

A Painted House shot.

Another example I have in mind, is a situation in John Grisham’s novel, “A Painted House”. It is inspired in his childhood in Arkansas. Set in the late summer of 1952, the story is told through the eyes of seven year old Luke Chandler, the youngest in a white family of cotton farmers. Luke’s grandfather and dad, hire two groups of people to help them harvest their cotton crop: the Spruills family, from the hills and some few Mexican migrant workers. All of them have to live somewhere in the Chandler’s farm. This is how conflicts begin.
“Long before we arrived at our house, we saw smoke and then a tent….
“What’s that?” I asked.
“ Looks like a tent of some sort,” Pappy said.
It was situated near the road, at the far end of our front yard, under a pin oak that was a hundred years old, very near the spot where home plate belonged…..
The Spruills had taken control of half our front yard….Two sides of the tent were open, and I could see boxes and blankets lying on the ground under the roof….
Their truck was parked beside it, and another canvas of some sort had been rigged over its bed. It was anchored with baling rope staked to the ground so that the truck couldn’t move without first getting unhitched. Their old trailer had been partially unloaded, its boxes and burlap bags scattered on the grass as if a storm had hit.
Mrs. Spruill was tending a fire, hence the smoke. For some reason, she had chosen a slightly bare spot near the end of the yard. It was the exact spot where Pappy or my father squatted almost every afternoon and caught my fastballs and my curves. I wanted to cry. I would never forgive Mrs. Spruill for this.”
It is important to notice that the Spruills somehow are trying to fix their truck to the ground. The longer description of the tent anchoring is clear about this. And, as if it were not enough, domestic objects and sheets are demarcating a bigger territorial space in the Chandler’s family yard. Even the fire, Mrs Spruill’s spot is the most painful experience for Luke. (Up till page 23…).
On the other hand, the Mexicans are more respectful, but all farmers have the problem of providing them shelter, as far as possible from the house. The Chandlers offer them a clean barn, being it their own possible shelter. And the boy explains “Most of the farmers put them in abandoned tenant houses or barns. There’d been a rumor that Ned Shacklford three miles south had made his live with the chickens”. (p.20-23). Luke is not the only one suffering. An upset grandmother asks Pappy to move the Spruills from the yard. She has a no for response, if they are moved, they’ll be upset and leave, ruining the harvest.
This story has a plus for territoriality purposes. The recognition of cultural behavior in two different cultures, immigrant Mexicans and local migrants in USA.

Altman, Irwin; Chemers, Martin M. Culture and Environment. USA, 1984.
Grisham, John. A Painted House. 2001, USA.
Morris, Desmond. Territorial Behavior.
“Together Forever”. National Geographic Magazine. P. 148. June 2006

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails