culture vs. nature

1310545962000 » Tagged as: culture , Tagged as: nature , Tagged as: pre history , Tagged as: raj somadeva

Culture is departure from nature. It has been the way throughout man’s history. Man, Homo sapiens would have lived with nature till he became Homo symbolicus and then Homo eastheticus.


Every step man took in the name of progress and advancement of his culture was a step further away from nature, yet man has not been able to define his own culture. Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckohn had compiled a list of 164 definitions of “culture”. (Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. quoted in Wikipedia).


When man enjoyed fresh fruits and leaves from the plant life around him he was living with nature. He departed from nature when he began to roast, burn and later boil his food. When man enjoyed the beauty of his surroundings he was with nature. When he began to alter his surroundings as his easthetic senses “developed” he began to interfere with nature. When he enjoyed the music of nature he belonged to nature. With his departure from nature, when he no longer could enjoy the music of nature, he had to create his own music. It was the same with art, though at first he is supposed to have used it as Homo symbolicus.


“Writing, art, music, dance, and other forms of symbol creations and manipulations reveal the very human process of giving meaning to the experience of life.” wrote Cognitive psychologist Ronald T. Kellogg in his ‘Psychology of Writing’.


Ellen Dissanayake, considers that “Art is a normal and necessary behavior of human beings”, introducingHomo eastheticus, in her book of the same title. At the IFRAO Congress 2010, she had described a behavior of art more precisely as “making the ordinary extraordinary.” The ordinary body (skin, hair), natural surroundings (e.g., cave walls, rock outcroppings, boulders, logs, pieces of stone), and common artifacts (e.g., tools, utensils, house walls, canoes) are made special by cultural shaping and elaboration that make these more than ordinary. She had introduced the term “artification,” for this activity.


We could also interpret artification as interference with nature to make unnatural surroundings.


When we talk of our own culture, now we have fresh evidence of our “pre-historic” period, about human settlements dating back nearly 4000 years, 1750 B.C. to be exact. It has been confirmed by C14 dating that the ancient canoe burial site at Haldummula is 3850 years old. The “elite’ house discovered at Ranchamadama has a date of 1359 B.C. This has been revealed in Professor Raj Somadeva’s “Archaeology of the Uda Walave Basin”, released in June 2011.


At Udaranchamadama, near Udawalawe, Somadeva and his team discovered the remains of a foundation of a house with a porch, inner chamber and a backyard with a kitchen. Among the artefacts found here were clay beads and even a kohl stick. He has brought forward the idea that our ancestors could have been the first to use iron implements.


These settlements around the Walave basin could also be the period when the Ravana dynasty ruled Lanka. We cannot rule out Ravana as a mythical figure. Those who deny his existence are confused with the Ravana in the Ramayana and they do not wish to see Ravana the great physician.



How do we measure cultural advancement? The presence of beads and kohl sticks show that the people used to dress themselves up, tended to wear ornaments. Who wore them, the children, the community leaders or elders, the women only or both men and women? This leads to another question, when did the human female begin to adorn herself to attract the male of the species? When did she deviate from the other animals? Among most species, it is the male that has to attract the female. he has to work so had at it, his body and appearance is all designed to attract the female.


If the Udaranchamadama residents had inherited the characteristics of Homo eastheticus, then there should have been other art forms among them, paintings, music, sculpture. Somadeva found a terracotta figurine (in his own words, “probably a manifestation of a stylized bull”). There could have been other figurines. Religious or artistic is a matter we cannot be certain of, but there may not have been a significant difference between easthetic and religious objects. There should also have been paintings, since ancient man in our country too had made drawings on cave walls, which we can still find at places like ‘Tharulengala in Hulannuge. They could not have been of any religious significance, but an easthetic expression of their surroundings, according to Somadeva.


What did the families who lived at Udaranchamadama do in the evenings, did they narrate stories, first their own experiences or what they had heard from their parents and grandparents, and then stories that some of them may have made up. Since it is possible that they had some form of religious worship, there would have been chants and prayers, which would have made them develop music, both to accompany the chanting and also as a separate offering.


Perhaps Somadeva and his team would be able to tell us more about our ancestor, who had lived here over the past 40,000 years, when he explores the remains of a pre-historic settlement at Haldummulla next month, and through his study of our pre-historic cave paintings. He would be able to tell us more about Homo eastheticus and Homo symbolicus, or he may even be able to present to us a more complex human ancestor.

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