Definition of Place -Rapoport

of 14 /14
8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 1/14  USTR LI N BORIGINES ND THE DEFINITION OF PL CE mos Rapoport Senior Lecturer ~ c h o o l of Architecture University of Sydney, Sydney, N.S.W. Australia. Introduction lhe essence of place lies in the quality of ~ i n g somewhere specific, knowing that you are here rather than there . Those architects .ho have been interested in the concept of place - for example Aldo Van Eyck and Charles Moore - stress the separation of inside from outside. Enclosure becomes a very important aspect of place-making which also seems, in some way to be related to the concept of :erritory. For these architects, as for many 2ultures and civilisations throughout history, the establishment of place and the taking ?ossession of it is accomplished by means of ~ u i l d i n g structures and boundaries and personal izing the resulting places in some way. :nere is one culture at least - the Australian ajorigines - in which the building of structures and boundaries is so unimportant that it becomes interesting to discover whether they have any ~ o n c e p t of place at all - and if they do how :hey define it This would throw light on the essence of place and the range of means avail- ajle for defining it as well as the limits of environmental comprehension, cognition and structuring. While other peoples - Tierra del Fuego Indians and Bushmen for example - build no ~ j o r dwellings they do build cult buildings; aborigines do not. Therefore a survey of the ethnographic literature on aborigines with this particular question in mind, should be enlightening. = have previously suggested 1) that socio- 2ultural and symbolic factors deminate the organisation of dwelling space, and have also suggested that this is the case for cities (2). A case study of the Pueblo and Navajo Indians(3) illustrated this point in more detail. The present case study of the Australian aborigines extends the generality of the hypothesis that shelter is only one function of architecture-and :hat other, and more important functions are the symbolic, place defining and socio-cultural - to any environment in which people live whether ~ u i l t or not built. :mnters and Gatherers Aborigines are hunters and gatherers. As such ::hey share certain general characteristics with :hat larger group(4). Such people generally 3-3-1 live in small groups and move about a great deal. As a result they collect little property and tend to be egalitarian. Their movement is not unrestricted however(5) but confined to specific areas. It is the area within which this movement occurs rather than permanent settlements which defines territory. Group members share food as well as other possessions and among aborigines articles have been traced through 134 persons. (6) This sharing creates friendship, and social values are more important than economic ones. A web of different reciprocal bonds is expressed through laws, myths, song and ritual binding people together. (7) This cultural elaboration becomes possible because obtaining food takes remarkably little time. Hunters and gatherers have much leisure time which is used for games and ritual; they are also remarkably well fed contrary to general opinion. (8) Hunters do not store food but regard the environment as a storehouse. While each local group is associated with a geographic range there is considerable visiting among groups which do not maintain exclusive rights to resources but have flexible arrangements. At the same time most groups have a home base or camp. This generalised description of the way in _which hunters and gatherers (including Aborigines) use space can be expressed in terms of a set of concepts derived from animal studies. Home range Core areas Territory The usual limit of regular movements and activities which can be defined as a set of behavioural settings and linking paths. Those areas within the home range which are most used and most commonly inhabited. A particular area which is owned and defended - whether physically or through rules or symbols which identify the area of an individ ual or group from other s.

Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Definition of Place -Rapoport

Page 1: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 1/14


mos Rapoport

Senior Lecturer

~ c h o o l of Architecture

University of Sydney,

Sydney, N.S.W. Australia .


lhe essence of place l i e s in the qual i ty of

~ i n g somewhere specific , knowing that you arehere rather than there . Those archi tec ts

.ho have been interested in the concept of

place - for example Aldo Van Eyck and Charles

Moore - s tress the separation of inside from

outside. Enclosure becomes a very important

aspect of place-making which also seems, in

some way to be related to the concept of

:e rr i tory. For these architects, as for many

2ultures and civi l i sa t ions throughout history,the establishment of place and the taking

?ossession of i t i s accomplished by means of

~ u i l d i n g structures and boundaries and personal

izing the resul t ing places in some way.

:nere is one culture a t least - the Austral ian

ajorigines - in which the building of structuresand boundaries i s so unimportant that i t becomes

in te rest ing to discover whether they have any

~ o n c e p t of place a t a l l - and i f they do how

:hey define it This would throw l ight on the

essence of place and the range of means avai l -

aj le for defining i t as well as the l imits of

environmental comprehension, cognition and

structuring. While other peoples - Tierra delFuego Indians and Bushmen for example - build no

~ j o r dwellings they do build cul t buildings;

aborigines do not. Therefore a survey of theethnographic l i te ra ture on aborigines with this

particular question in mind, should be


= have previously suggested 1) that socio-

2ultural and symbolic factors deminate the

organisation of dwelling space, and have alsosuggested that this is the case for ci t ies (2).A case study of the Pueblo and Navajo Indians(3)

i l lust ra ted this point in more deta i l . Thepresent case study of the Australian aborigines

extends the general i ty of the hypothesis thatshel ter i s only one function of archi tecture-and

:hat other, and more important functions are the

symbolic, place defining and socio-cultural - to

any environment in which people l ive whether

~ u i l t or not bui l t .

:mnters and Gatherers

Aborigines are hunters and gatherers . As such

::hey share cer ta in general character is t ics with

:ha t larger group(4). Such people generally


l ive in small groups and move about a great

deal. As a resul t they col lect l i t t l e

property and tend to be egal i tar ian. Their

movement is not unrestr icted however(5) but

confined to specific areas. I t i s the areawithin which this movement occurs ra ther than

permanent sett lements which defines te rr i tory.

Group members share food as well as otherpossessions and among aborigines a r t i c l e s have

been traced through 134 persons. (6) This

sharing creates fr iendship, and social valuesare more important than economic ones. A web

of dif ferent reciprocal bonds is expressed

through laws, myths, song and r i tua l binding

people together. (7) This cul tural elaborat ion

becomes possible because obtaining food takes

remarkably l i t t l e time. Hunters and gatherers

have much leisure time which is used for gamesand r i tual ; they are also remarkably well fed

contrary to general opinion. (8)

Hunters do not store food but regard theenvironment as a storehouse. While each local

group i s associated with a geographic range

there i s considerable vis i t ing among groups

which do not maintain exclusive r ights toresources but have f lexible arrangements. At

the same time most groups have a home base or


This generalised description of the way in

_which hunters and gatherers (including

Aborigines) use space can be expressed in

terms of a set of concepts derived from

animal studies.

Home range

Core areas

Terri tory

The usual l imi t of regular

movements and act iv i t ies which

can be defined as a se t of

behavioural set t ings and l inking


Those areas within the home

range which are most used and

most commonly inhabi ted.

A particular area which i s ownedand defended - whether physical ly

or through rules or symbols which

identify the area of an individua l or group from other s .

Page 2: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 2/14

Jur isdic t ion Ownership of a te rr i tory

for a limited time only andby some agreed rules .

PIACi« M .. ,...C; 1 t a ' I Z e ~ . k T 1 N Of' I-\o 'e. j'l(f.e., , ,, e. ,, l.f.I.,...C I -O<:t' '>U.iZI5 DIC.TIO ,, A P ~ I \ l ~ . - e1\4 o(.C ( ' o M ~ C e . W I ~ . 1 i . M & . ~ ,f 2-I. t > e 1 2 1 ~ J : > ~ t>

roT \ ' P I E . C ~ U > ~ ) < ' T . Jmong animals the size of home range and core

areas and their coincidence, and the times and

durat ion of jur isdic t ion depend on the naturalconditions (climate, r a in fa l l , resources) onthe one hand and the animal species on the

other . In the case of hunters also the samephysical factors p lay a role as do the values

and l i f e - s ty le of the group.

The Austral ian AboriginesThe social organisation of aboriginal

Australia i s very complex indeed, as are the

legends, myths and ar t . The contrast of these

with material culture is s tr iking and provides

another example of the general theme thatsymbolic elaborat ion occurs before material

elaborat ion. The application of Western

values based on material culture resul ted in

the evaluation of aborigines as par t icular lyprimit ive and brutish .

There is some controversy in the l i te ra ture

regarding the val idi ty of general is ing for the

whole continent . Worms(9) Birket-Smith(lO)

Meggit t ( l l ) Hiatt(12) Baldwin-Spencer(13)among others discuss this issue. With regard

to the symbolic representat ions of place i t

does seem possible to general ise, to accepttha t in spi te of variat ions in some aspects of

aboriginal .culture, such as ar t (14) , cer ta infeatures are suf f ic ient ly uniform for us tospeak generally of aboriginal Australia . (15)

Aboriginal ShelterI t is generally thought that aborigines only


had windbreaks but this i s an oversimplif ic

ation.(16) In fac t aborigines had aconsiderable variety of dwellings although

simple shelters were most common, a t leas t in

Central Australia . There were stone walled

huts with arched roofs, 2 storey bark huts,

cupola shaped leaf huts up to 15 f t . in

diameter and so on. Descriptions can also be

found of even more elaborate houses such as

permanent huts plastered with clay over sods'

b:ehive shaped log huts 4 feet high, 9 feet •d ~ a m e t e r ; log houses 16 feet long; and a

variety of other dwellings.

The general point , however, is that aborigines

had a much greater variety of dwelling types,

and often much more substant ia l , than is

commonly thought. At the same time theirdwellings were less important than in most

other cul tures .

I f we accept that dwellings have two functions,

1. physical shelter and

2. the provision of symbolic space and

def ini t ion of place,then the Austral ian aboriginal dwelling seeffiSto fu l f i l mostly the she l te r function although

even this i s minimal in spi te of the often

extreme climate. There seems no indicat ion

that dwellings f i l l any symbolic function.Whatever their nature, dwellings do not seeffito have much symbolic meaning or rules on

layout and use, other than the fact that each

shelter or dwelling i s for one family and

outsiders do not enter without invi ta t ion -there are strong feel ings of personal space

and kinship avoidances. The res ident ia l uni t

ideally, comprises a composite family of a m a ~ ,several wives, unmarried daughters anduncircumcised sons. (17)

I t i s t rue that the hypothesis that aboriginal

dwellings are devoid of symbolic meaning has

not been demonstrated direct ly . The circum

s t an t i a l evidence, however, is very strong and

this may be the only evidence we shal l ever

have on the subject . s soon as we look atcamps, for example, we f ind that they arearranged along well understood principles andrules differing in dif ferent t r ibes but quite

defini te . (18) For example, when s e ~ e r a lt r ibes met, huts were grouped by t r ibes, the

s ~ a c i n g between groups of huts being several

t ~ m e s greater than between the huts within thegroup. The arrangement of camps according to

phratries and classes reflected and helped to

implement ceremonial rules regulat ing access of

various classes to each other . All areas of

Australia had specific , complex rules for

posi t ioning huts in the camp and while to the

outsider the camp may give an impression of

disorder there is a structure, such as ai v i s ~ o n into two halves ref lect ing kinship,

( p o s s ~ b l y emphasised by a natural feature such

Page 3: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 3/14

as a creek or hi l l or the prov1s10n of

special bachelors' and spinsters ' camps.(19)

At large gatherings in Central Australia , to

.nich some t r ibes travelled as far as 200miles, the various camps were arranged so as

to indicate roughly the locali ty of the owner -those from the south camping in the south,

those from the north in the north. While

;: amps were as impermanent as huts, the camp wasla id out according to definite ceremonial

rules. (20) Even a t r ibe as primitive as theurna arranged their camp so that huts were in~ n directions and a t cer ta in distances

from each other according to the relat ionships

the occupiers. The Arunda camp had eightgroups of huts corresponding to the eightsubsections into which the t r ibe was divided.

Two neighbouring groups provided communal~ t i n g centres for men and women respect ively,

res tr ic ted to the opposite sex, which can only

je visited i f approached from cer ta in direct -


Camp divisions are s t i l l symbolic in thissense even today. For example, people inmult i - t r ibal camps group according to the

direction from which they come. (2l) Within

the camp, f i res seem to be more important than

huts. Fires are bui l t and kept going on nightswhen temperatures are 1000F and no cooking is

done - i t keeps spir i ts away. (22) Often,

wherever an aboriginal will squat, he willbuild a small f i re even though the main f i r e i s

close by, and this in the heat of the day, with

no cooking to be done. (23)

These character is t ics of the camps provide thef i r s t clue to the use of space by aborigines

and helps clar i fy how socio-cultural and

symbolic environmental functions are fulf i l led.

There does seem to be a se t of places, but they

are not in the dwelling. Some symbolic value

and social and r i tua l rules seem to attach tothe camp and the f i re . The symbolism of placeseems more related to the s i te and directions,i .e . to the land rather than the dwelling. In

fact this will be the problem which willconcern us for the remainder of this paper.

The Land

The physical environment of Australia is quitevaried. Although most of i t is arid, there are

wet areas in the North and reasonably watered

ones in the East and south East. There are

forests, jungles, plains, mountains and deserts .Over much of the country, particularly i t s aridportions, there are common features - red rock

and soil , purple hi l l s , gums with grey-green

fol iage and white or l ight coloured trunks,

scrub, waterholes, parrots and a number of

unique animals and plants.


There are two questions which need to beconsidered.

1. How do the aborigines use thjs land?

2. How do the aborigines see thjs land?

How do the Aborigines Use this Land?We have already discussed the general use of

land by hunters and gatherers. Aborigines

l ive in groups each of which owns a stretchof land and has as i t s basic uni t the indjvid

ual family which, in some t r ibes , has r ightsover a specific locali ty. Although author i t iesdiffer , t r ibes seem to vary from 100-1500

people, averaging 500.(24) In good areas

t r ibal land may be as small as 50 square miles,

in ar id areas - many hundreds of square miles.


For example, the Walbiri have an area of

40,000 square miles. They see themselves as

one people who share a common culture andoccupy a continuous te rr i tory with definiteboundaries; they can draw maps of their ownlocation and adjoining tr ibes.(26) Tribal

borders are respected. Even fr iendly t r ibesdo not have the r ight to enter each other ' sland a t will; outsiders may enter an area

uninvited only in an emergency (e.g. whenstarving) and have to recompense the owners.

Strangers can enter through social sponsorship

while ceremonial messengers and r i tua l novices

with their guardians can t ravel more or less

freely without the need for sponsors. (27)

There are thus quite defini te , recognised

stretches of country and boundaries. These

l a t te r are often indist inct but can be fa i r ly

exact par t icular ly when they coincide with anatural feature such as water, sand r idge, agrove of t rees etc. These boundaries arefixed by mythology and aborigines can draw

maps of their own and adjacent ter r i tor ies

with relevant details and special features

clearly narked. (28)

Different types of terr i tor ial understandings

and types of demarcations exis t and are

related to def ini te si tes . (29) They are

clearest at totemic si tes and other specialsi tes and are less clear between other areas.These cul tural ly defined boundaries do not

imply exclusivity or sanctions against

t respass. The same objective i s achieved byhaving rules for accommodating people across

boundaries. (30) The use of the European term

boundary suggests more precision than is the

case. Normally ident i f icat ion was suf f ic ientdemarcation and the main interes t was in the

symbolic values of a particular place.

Birth and subsequent residence in a local i tyoccupied by a group and totemically associated

with i t was most important. There were

various ceremonies which helped the conversion

of non-members to members. Residence in i t se l f

Page 4: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 4/14

only gave economic - not r i tual - r ights to the

immigrant, (31) i . e . there was a dis t inct ion of

the economic and r i tua l use of land with the

l a t t e r more important.(32) I t appears that

each group had a r i tual and social locus and an

area whose main importance was economic. Both

together formed the ecological l i fe space. (33)

The r i tua l areas had clearer boundaries thanthe foraging areas; the heartland areas were

clear , the other interpenetrated and were moreindeterminate. (34) There was usually a r i tual

t ie between a clan and i t s estate, but also an

emotional bond with the land i t sel f . Theboundaries of areas were demarcated byepisodes in the sacred myths and hence were not

subject to revision. All myths mention

borders, l imi ts beyond which a myth could not

be told, nor song sung, nor ceremonies perform

ed. Since boundaries were set down by super

natural beings they could not be questioned. (35)

Each t r ibe thus knew the boundaries of the

country in which it lived and identified with

it. (36)

I t i s , in fact , possible to dist inguish ten

dis t inc t types of areas among aborigines. (37)

1. Distinctive habitats2. Named places and local i t ies

3. Totem si tes

4. Clan estates and ranges

5. Unused, shared and indeterminate zones

6. Regular camping places, including rock

she l te rs and caves

7. Established ceremonial grounds

8. Networks of paths, fords and crossing

places over natural obstacles

9. Places dist inct from (7.) where

contiguous groups came together10. Miscellany of capi ta l si tes such as

watering places, fish weirs, rawmaterial deposi ts , tool manufacturies,

etc .

Thus there is a detai led and complex seriesof places which can be indicated on mapsshowing the mythological movements of

dreamtime heroes. (38) See Figure 2.

How do the Aborigines see this Land?. ~ n y Europeans have spoken of the uniformity

and featurelessness of the Australian land

scape. The aborigines, however, see the

landscape in a tota l ly different way. Every

feature of the landscape is known and has

meaning - they then perceive differences which

Europeans cannot see. These differences maybe in terms of deta i l (39) or in terms of aillagical or invisible landscape, the symbolic

space being even more varied than the perceived

physical space. (40) As one example, every

individual feature of Ayer's Rock is linked to

a s ignif icant myth and the mythological beings

who created i t . Every t ree, every stain,hole and f issure has meaning. (41)





(/oJ 11>.11

~ f £ ~ i < ' - _\

/v.-   ,WA -  I

~ IIf/ \ sci; OLUIi '" \


...: -' ~ , ' - ' \ / '

) /.,l>l,t. I>.JII 1 -4 L 1 N " " " ' ~ 1w fl tT fI)iYIL. iI\V,l:>1 1 , -

~ ~ c x . C ,.,." ' J , ""oll .. ''''tl S ~ I Z O ' A J c : ; . To Tflf6/1 . , # .. , , ~ e . , o , . . 1IlC7Tl<W OF- -n;t'11I/Io ... \ . . o e Ar .,.v_

( e . o . ~ t l l > c . u 11'1 " I > ' E ~ " ~ ' " "nSoPI-IE. ,,,.M'S ' i ' ~ , ~ . ~ l 1 a " " ' L -tlouI\lt>M.,t\ ,- ) .... Ml"l:> £. t ' l A ~ \ . . ' Fo e

<:: J..A1I:rrV. _ l . o(. folZ.. MoVI,,<etJ"T3 oF ..._MI .

f<efl.C7 '6) •

Thus what to a European is an empty land may be

ful l of noticeable differences to the aborigineand hence r ich and complex. Europeans may thus

completely misunderstand the nature of the

landscape because of their point of view.

Messages only become meaningful when received

and recognised. Signals and signs becomeperceptual or conceptual meaning through

symbols. (42) Symbols thus change the biological

and geographical world of signals and signs into

a human world of meanings. In this cognitive

process, the naming of places has always been

important. Naming is more than at taching labels- i t confers meaning and Significance, i t is aprocess of meaningful ordering of the world.

Aborigines as we have already seen and wil l see

la ter can name a great variety of places intheir landscape.

I t i s thus a l ikely hypothesis that aborigines

humanize their landscape, that is take

possession of i t conceptually, through symbols

as we do. But whereas our symbols are materialbuildings, Cities, fences, and monuments,aboriginal symbols are largely non-material.They use, as I will show la ter , natural

features, myths, ceremonies and r i tuals ,

graphic and plas t ic symbols - and even monuments. For example, a l l people have sacred

Page 5: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 5/14

Page 6: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 6/14

land and attachment to i t

i i the concept of the Dreamtimei i i sacred places and totemic s i tes

iv) ceremonies, symbols, signs,


i General Relationship to the Land and

Attachment to i t ,

The land, no matter how arid, is home to the

aborigines. They are aware of i t s problems

but derive sat is fact ion from t dif f icu l t forthe outsider to grasp to appreciate thissense of belonging to the land is to begin to

understand the aborigines. (54) When shownphotographs of buildings, airplanes and carsthey are unimpressed but show great in teres t

in scenery, landscape, people and animals. (55)

This close re la t ion to the land is strengthened

by the fact , already discussed, that hunterst reat the environment as their storehouse.

Aborigines have few tools or objects and re ly

on ins tant tools , that i s they recognisepotentially useful objects in the environment.

f this object matches a mental template

or idea of a tool, for example a spear thrower,

a concrete object resul ts . (56)

Aborigines, l ike a l l primitive people, were not

concerned with dominating their surroundings.

Their view of l i f e stressed the oneness

between man and the res t of nature. Even theirsupernatural beings and immortals were not

beyond human ken but in their midst and

related to the land. (57) All writers on the

subject seem to agree that aborigines were inbalance with nature rather than i t s antagonists.

They co-operated with nature rather than t ryingto subdue i t . There was no sharp l ine between

man and the natural world, i t s animals and

plants. an did not differ in quali ty from

other species but shared with them the samel i f e essence.

A number of w i ter s report tha t to keep warm

the aboriginal adapted to conditions to the

extent of controll ing his blood circula t ion and

metabolism. This enabled him to maintain bodywarmth from a very small f ire; rather than

building a large f i re and Sit t ing far from i t

the aboriginal bu i l t a small one and sat close

to i t . This lack of conceptual boundaries

between the aboriginal and the world wasreinforced by the lack of physical barr ierssuch as clothing, houses or walls. While

western man re l ies on such barr iers to keep out

nature, reduce differences between seasons and

times and defines places by manipulating thesebarriers, aborigines define places by knowina

them and their dist inctions. This knowledge is

perceptual and real as well as associational

mythical and symbolic; these basic at t i tudes

also prevail a l l over the continent in spi te of

local differences.


i i The Concept of Dreamtime

Every publication dealing with aboriginess tresses the central place of Dreamtime. As

for most primit ive people r i tua l is central -sacred and profane are intertwined. Religion

i s an inseparable part of every individual 'sdaily l i fe . Aboriginal rel igion is nothing

less than the theme of existence and as suchi t consti tutes one of the most sophist icated

and unique religious and philosophical systems

known to man . (58) This religion therefore i s

essential for an understanding of any aspect of

the socio-cultural l i f e of aborigines. (59)

Central to religion, and to a l l symbolic

expression of i t , is the Dreamtime.

This concept, exist ing in almost a l l

aboriginal myths, deals with a period when

great heroes and heroines t ravelled over the

land which was f la t and featureless - with nomountains, waterholes or l iving things. Allthese, as well as f i re , laws and so on were

created by the heroes whose paths and campingplaces are described in the myths and form

sacred places. Usually the hero dies turninginto natural features which are also sacred.

These myths show how closely aborigines arebound to their surroundings, since every

feature i s mythically related to their origin.

The group is linked to the land through the

symbolism of myth. Myth i s a symbolic s ta te-

ment about society and man's place in t and

the surrounding universe. (60) I t i s an

expression of unobservable rea l i t ie s in terms

of observable phenomena, (61) in the case of

the aborigines the features of their land. The

f i r s t s tor ies children would hear would explainthe creation of natural features. Theaborigines thus l ived in a world dominated bynatural features and the myths l inking him with

these were a centra l theme in his l i fe . Mostaspects of daily and ceremonial l i f e were

linked to the dreamtime creatures and the localtopography. Physical features of the environ

ment were personified through the dreamtime -

rocks and t rees were l iving evidence of the

dreamtime heroes.

The t ies to these heroes and the land were

kept al ive by ceremonial, r i tua l and ar t . (62)

The whole past history of the t r ibe was bound

up with these ceremonies - and hence thenatural features of the landscape as well as

ceremonial objects. Often the dead were

oriented towards their dreamtime camping

ground. (63) Thus aboriginal symbolic space is

related to the dreamtime and travel features of

heroes rather than compass points . The mythical

landscape is superimposed over the physical

landscape and they coincide at natural features.

Page 7: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 7/14

: i i ) Sacred Places and Totemic Sites(64)

~ i t i n the t r ibe or horde (65) there are r i tua l

groups (clans) associated with natural?henomena or species. The tr ibe shares acultural pattern protected by i t s boundary but

clans are more closely re la ted to special

si tes , identified with their totemic hero and

~ i s wanderings. These sacred centres(dreamings) are more closely defined than the

rood gathering areas, and the sacred clan

cerri tory is very dif ferent from the re la t ively

profane t r iba l area. The main t r iba l l ink is

language (66) while the clan has closer l inksand a common ancestor . Tne t r iba l land i s

avai lable to a l l members who share i t s animals

and plants. The clan te rr i tory is only fullyand freely accessible to ini t ia ted men whora .e ly l e f t i t except for special occasions.

1arr ied women often lived far from their own

clan area but maintained spi r i tua l and

emotional t ies with i t . There is thus moresharing and less exclusivi ty to food producing

areas ( re la t ively profane) than to totemicareas (sacred).

The clan area i s thus composed of a number of

dif ferent totem si tes l inked by paths while the

t r iba l land is a connected whole surrounding

these si tes . (67)

The membership of a clan is expl ic i t lyexpressed by referr ing to i t s totemic

ancestors and implici t ly to i t s totem s i tes . (68)

Clan membership thus has a spat ia l component

and a special place. Even the larger group is

often ident i f ied spat ia l ly - with an area or

camping si te .

Some t r ibes have large numbers of clante rr i tor ies which can be named and mapped (69)

and this has been found in dif ferent parts of

the country suggesting, once again, that there

is some uniformity across Australia . In these

clan areas are a number of sacred si tes and in

each of these a par t icular ly sacred spot - al i f e centre of natural phenomena, species or

objects to which a l l clan members areintimately re la ted. There are also cul tlodges to which men belong. Their churingas

are kept in caves, t rees or underground and

these sacred lodges have no buildings such as

one might find, in say, the Sepik River areaof New Guinea.

There i s thus a clear dis t inct ion between

sacred and profane, even though there are novis ible physical demarcations. For example

when churingas were kept in caves, those

entering to fetch them impressed palm pr intsnear the entrance to establish r i t es of

passage (70) indicat ing an awareness of aboundary between sacred and profane. In factany place where churingas are kept becomessacred, and the churinga i s shown to in i t ia tes

as a r i t e of passage giving rebi r th into fu l l


membership of the clan. Similarly, ceremonial

leaders frequently become such in special caves

whereas other people who entered these caves

would disappear forever. (7l) There are thus anumber of r i t es of passage related to environ

mental features.

Some sacred places are specially related tothe conception of chi ldren. (72) When a womanconceives in a place where tnere are prominent

features - rocks, boulders, ancient t rees -one of the sp i r i t chi ldren of the place enters

her body and the totem of this place becomesthe ch i ld s irrespec t ive of the fa toer s or

mother's totem. This shows the importance of

the place of conception (and camps are some

times related to i t ) and the individual

re ta ins a special relat ionship to the naturalfeature and would worry i f the t ree is to be

cut-down or the rock mined. (73)

Generally, then, the rel igious and socia l unit

is defined through i t s re la t ion to sp i r i tbeings and special si tes . In fact their

te rr i tory is defined by the si tes claimed,

which cannot be entered by others who mayenter the food gathering area. The land i t se l f

represents the most obvious, most enduring and

most vis ible focus of the group. In fact the

complexity of the relat ionship between a l l

social aspects of the group and various s i tes

grows as one goes further into the subject but

enough has been said to show the existence of

a se t of places of dist inct levels of


iv) Ceremonies, Symbols, Signs, MonumentsThis will be discussed la ter .

Hental MapsI t has been pointed out several times thataborigines are able to map their countries ,their sacred si tes and the tracks of the

Dreamtime heroes. In fac t the l ink between

the unseen, but very rea l , mythical world and

the physical world is expressed through mental

maps. Aborigines have such mental.maps which

have been studied, but have not been recorded

sys tema t ica l ly • Some data i s , however,

available .

any of the decorations on the few objects

which aborigines have, seem to be a ser ies

of watercourses along the track of Dreamtime

ancestors . Other landmarks such as sandhillB,

rocky outcrops and sa l t lakes may be shown.

But not a l l the watercourses of the region are

shown, only those throught to have been createdor vis i ted by the particular mythological

character concerned. They are, thus, not mapsin a pract ical sense but mental mythological

maps - mnemonic devices for recall ing sacred

t radi t ions . See f igure 3.

Page 8: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 8/14

~ V,W ,fC/It. . E S i ~ .\JH'''' £,. . S4WVT.,... ............ M ~ . " ' ' ' ' ' ' ~ Q 1 . . \ o \ . L - , ' Z . E = < >

t <MJt&J f'b1i1 ~ ~ I > l' ...< - e$ ' . , . , . , . . , . '

(f'fLcM I WI); ~ e )Aborigines can make the most exact and complex

maps of the journeys of tneir ancestralf igur es and tney themselves reenac t the

journey going in procession from sacred spot

to sacred spot, following the divine route.If we remember the processions in t racing the

boundaries of Roman (and other) ci t ies (74)

we find a similar way of defining place

except that i t was expressed concretely bybuilding walls. In fact aboriginal areas

where sacred objects are stored becamesanctified and animals and people in t were

safe - an early form of the ci ty or house of

refuge (75) but without physical construct ion.

The Defini t ion of PlaceIn general terms i t appears that aborigines

define place through sacred directions,

routes of the dreamtime ancestors and theirstopping places which become sacred si tes .

landscape features and the l ike. Thus an

apparently featureless landscape may becomeful l of meaning and signif icance, legends and

happenings - that is ful l of places. (76) Theharsh environment is personalized through

r i tua l and myth bringing i t s natural featuresinto the realm of the familiar and friendly.Aborigines do not move just in a landscape

but in a humanized realm saturated with

s igni f ica t ions. (77)

In this humanized realm physical featureshave a larger meaning which makes them par t of

the associational as well as the perceptual

world; they exis t in symbolic and sacred

space as well as in physical space. This

agrees with Eliade 's view that sacred space is

more real than profane space which is

amorphous and formless. (78) Ritual orientationenables reference to some fixed points which

are in sacred space. Rather than definingsacred space by building aborigines do i t in

other ways. By making each natural features ignif icant they obtain the coincidence of the

mythical and physical landscape which

dist inguishes places from each other and

establishes a system of special places. As Ipointed out before the mythical and physical

landscapes coincide at special features. Morespecifically, a number of ways in which

aborigines establish places and dist inguishbetween them can now be l i s ted.


1. Space becomes symbolic through myths of

the Dreamtime.

2. Aborigines repeat the wanderings of the

Dreamtime ancestors and reenact various

events at ceremonial grounds.

3. Aborigines use sacred paintings andengravings on rocks or in caves and alsoconstruct temporary or permanent

monuments including the use of bodydecoration.

4. They construct r i tual and ceremonial

si tes la id out in a sacred order.5. Places become sacred by having the sacred

churingas stored in them.

b. Campgrounds in general are la id out in

terms of symbolism and r i tual rules.7. Fires are used to define place.

Some of these have already been discussed - themyths of the Dreamtime. storage of chur ingas,

layout of campgrounds and use of f i res . Theothers wil l now be described.

Reenactment of Wanderings and Other Events

Aborigines reenact the wanderings of ancestor

f igures, stopping a t specif ied places - t rees,rocks, waterholes, special campgrounds. Thepaths are followed and ac ts repeated in aprescribed order. These pilgrimages can be

described in quite considerable deta i l , (79)

and the s i tes and tracks can be mapped. (80)

See Figur e 4. next page.

The reenactments are complex; stereotyped

ceremonies can be clearly described and the

pattern of actor s movement can be drawn. (81)

£.,re .. M t 1 ~ >I So l)ooo 0000 ~ c : : . ' - o t z S ..... , . . . ~S I N , . . e ~ ~ I > : ) 0: 0 ''''''ft-e. ~ i . t A l ' t >

Ak::d) Ce,S / °0 - 0tl 0

: : (I 0 (I 0 Al(iE.tIZ$ '-'1:> O GE..SF ~ £ S ' ; ~ o 0 .. .0

~ ~ e ~ l + t - / W.:lD 'ISl"E.Il1 .::>1"'<'1'E-t> P/m aCAl Of ' lTCrorz.S.MollE ... W W ~ l l t I ~ _ M o A l «

( . M£=<T'r. oGe '-l, D .. N .3 /1 ,1 ..., I ' ¥ ' P2./2.)

~ o m e ot these ceremonieS Lastea tor montns anaa s t r i c t temporal and geographical order wasla id down.

These t r ips are intimately related to various

features of the landscape. Every prominent

and m a ~ y minor landscape features are s ign i f i -

cant and become sacred places. Before

ini t ia t ion, novices are taught the routes of

these dreamtime beings wldch crisscross the

land in a l l directions. Through the

pilgrimages and reenactments of r i t es l inks to

Page 9: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 9/14

  -   ' ~ O l - O ' C M - ~ Q ( SOf' Two W L$,R, <""'C>€.s

_ _ __ __ , .> ME'

_ SVt Uf£.>c 'f '6of'&-E

_____ - - -Two ~ N ~ ~ O O_ _ U J I T l ~ ' D ~

. • • • . . • • . • • • ' .U ......CO-A M\O.,o.j

P \ F ~ e I Z _ ' ......Ii5o'1Z1 ''''''''',''-111-.'I'1'n" -oc-04'C ...... ' ~ .

f u ~ O O<EIZ E l ....... L . ~ S Or

~ - < l + t MA-PS SF-E rsaeNvr £ .o J ~ I 1'rU t 1'S?; P ',.:th.<I/N

~ e A l w - e ~ C . 1 Z - \ E . 7 ( ?F MA1 S I '<r~ ~ ( 7 ~ ~ O O .


the land are set up and the aborigines

temporarily reenter the dreamtime.

Flaces are thus defined by sacred myths which

are made concrete through reenactments. Since

these reenactments are of the creative wander

ings they, in effect , repeat the cosmogonywhich f i t s Eliade 's point that the r i tua l of

constructing sacred space is eff icacious in the

measure in which it preproduces the work of the

gods. (82) The purpose of reenactment is to

show the association between vis ib le object and

invisible power - it makes the unseen world

vis ib le . The events portrayed are alsothought to be in the present as much as a t thebeginning of things. The time scheme is cyclicand reenactments reestablish these cycles.

Accepting the notion that establishing of

places involves making the profane sacred,

reenactment r i tua l s do this through words, dance

symbolic objects and body paintings used.

Intent ion precedes physical aspects , in fact ,

physical means in our terms are not essent ial .

In many cultures much r i tua l symbolism presents

the occult as located in the natural environ

ment and i t s features - aborigines almost stop

with this .


I t has been suggested that in general there are

nine character i s t ics of symbols with regard toreligion, only one of these is the art i factual-

actually fashioned and made. (83) Aborigines

use all nine - including art i factual . In fac tonly buildings are not used in the defini t ion

of place. Their monuments are not buildings

and other construct ions added to the landscape

but par t of that landscape involving a t most arearrangement or reassembly of some of i t s

elements. (84) Other cultures create a newphysical landscape in keeping with creationmyths. Aborigines s t ruc ture their exist ing

physical landscape mentally, mythically and

symbolically without building i t .

Temporary and Permanent MonumentsMany descript ions and i l lus t ra t ions exist of

ceremonies a l l showing the great variety,

richness and complexity of the temporary

monuments used - body decorations, shields,

poles, crosses and the l ike. Various markers

may be erected, rocks emphasized by having

blood poured on them or special bough huts

bui l t in which men spend much time during

ceremonials. (85) During some ceremonials big

f i res are lit as "temporary monuments".

Page 10: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 10/14

The various forms of body decorations areextremely complex involving painting, covering

the body with down stuck with blood and so onas well as the use of extremely complex.

elaborate and t a l l head gear. (86) People so

decorated could be seen as temporary

monuments claiming a place by making it

sacred through l inking i t with myth.

Various types of poles are erected as

temporary monuments . For example the

Nartunja poles which are symbols of natural orsacred natural objects.

f ~ E

CEAl'TV.L- A.. f f R " ' ~ l p , j O ..... tt .o fbL-5<f C-<'II1 'rANJI\ ~( ~ " o M 1 I" N.IJIAJ-SPEAJCEIZ 1' 1 .',4 .81,504, e. ._JAnother example are the massive Jelmalandji

poles used in r i tuals throughout Arnhem land,

Roper River, etc.

,. f'lO<\f/: .cf ' 6 P 1A..... .. . IpJ\

~ r J H t ; M i.-MIP.

.. ~ c .. . . ' ...... , . . . . P I ~ t r O + ~ I Z ... . ftlL. . -9 '1f

Many other kinds are used and i t is interest ingto note that Eliade stresses the generalimpor tance of the creation and carrying of

poles. (87) Other structures are also carr ied,for example, frameworks with crosses. (88)

More permanent monuments are also used. These

include rock paintings, rock pi les such as atPukara described by Gould, among the largestand most complex of which are the rock alignments described by Gould (89) which are of aquite impressive scale. See Figure 8.

Construction of r i tual and ceremonial s i tes

laid out in a Sacred Order.

The ceremonies of various groups are

associated with a par t icular spot. This maybe marked by a prominent natural feature, forexample, a great column of sandstone,(90) but

in most cases rather complex ceremonial

grounds are laid out.

For example, the ground for the in i t ia t ion

circumcision ceremony is placed out of sight of


the main camp so women cannot see i t and i t is

quite complex.

F . <e.9- ~ ~ ow,.N

dtt' .. tJ't> f ' o ~ , , \ " ' c . u M " " ' ~ t " " ' " C O ~ e M o N " " , ' & V r 1 I R ~I ' < U ~ A " I " .( " ' ~ t > " ' I A l - - G f 5 N C E e '1'.>.1'1; 2A

(1'oIZ 0 1 1 1 ~ e ) ( , r , M I ' L . e ~ .. \ill1.,f'l<f71; '''C<''''l'Tc>CE'A-N,A" O ~ #1 JuP ,'11# f J

For the Jir inda ceremony a t Yirrkala the

ground is swept clear and on i t are arranged

mounds of sand (representing rocks) and an

oblong depression representing a waterhole.The whole Bugalub ground represents a sacred

ranga emblem. Other Bugalub grounds are .arranged with the sand mounds and d e p r e s s ~ o n sarranged different ly .

EX f ' ~ e f tfo 2c::>",.<ro $ " ' ' ' ~ D " " e e . e M < : O \ J " ' t w i f \ ~ B )M l A l H " ' ~ t - " ' ~ t 7 . l Z l i O r l 2 ' ~ ~ . s ~ j ) 2 'n<iO R I W ~ , . I {t t l k : > T ~ ' ~ A l . I . k lIN IAlmLSTIZ.ArIIA r <98 $11 ' L ~ ~ , , , , , )

Many other types of r i tua l grounds are also

used. One example follows :

MoLl ' "',TIl C:lteMol *4tt.RJeMC4Ht$

$=10fy.4 II

'PE&dtl ' '- P



Page 11: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 11/14


\. AI-'6-llfME»

\.. ~ . . . G)

· U'u ... ·

.:. l Z £ M ~ l t J ~ o f

\ fot>;;,b1-f-\ k,-,,,oJE-kePt



If r

20 F-r

0 1 4 0 2 0 l J F1I I I I

~ ~ OF 1.14'II.l£.MEAl'S ./.lJGUCt>liOIi- M I r J o ~ ~ 1 ' e . 0 1 1 . A i E . -   ' '-I6N£M..,v, 2 A o ~ I .CW'; ( f r : > ~ ." ..,-... 'I .-s.e PI-tO )Cn R=-<AI' - OF oWon-<lOOZ CC U;>< 1 0 1( A ...6 N e ..... vr-,"'" . >< / 6D f . I-C i-r SEe. ~ . ) c ... r '<40).

. c r ld consist ing of places.

:'.:r discussion of aboriginal place making is

2.': '50 a good i l lust ra t ion of Langer's concept

=f making visible an Ethnic Domain through the

:.;se of symbols. She stresses the importance

ci the congruence of symbols and whatever they

are to mean. (92) By using natural features ,:he physical structure of landscape becomescongruent with mythical structure and h e n c ~

~ u m a n i z e d . I f architecture is the mode d{

creat ing vir tual space, making vis ib le an

ethnic domain and se t t ing up a sphere ofinfluence, (93) then aborigines create place

by giving meaning to si tes in terms of theirculture - their ethnic domain. They do what

architecture does in al l the ways described

but without the architecture.

Sorokin draws an implici t continuum between

groups for whom shared spat ia l domains becomean important symbol vehicle and those where

they are not important - for example learned

societies . (94) Aborigines are very much in

the former category. Authority was based upon

the land and most ar t , song, myth, dance and

so on was linked to the land. This helps

explain the rapid psychological and cul turalbreakdown of t r ibes when their lands and

sacred si tes were taken away. The l ink to

these places was crucial because their t i t l e

to the land went back to their very cr ea t ion.

I t thus seems clear that the Australian

aborigines were most defin i te ly able to

establish a sense of place which was independ- \

ent of any buildings or permanent settlements \which they might have constructed. This \suggests tha t in the larger sense the

establishment of place is a cognitive process


achieved through s y m ~ o l i c means. The use of

physical barr ie rs -fs oniyorie'way of achieving

this although, apparently, an essent ia l one in

our culture and context. At the same time the

applicat ion of these findings may throw l ight

on the nature of environmental schemata,

cognition, orientation and symbolism. By

comparing the ways in which aborigines define

place and structure the environment with the

ways in which other peoples do i t , we maygain addit ional insight into these most

important mental processes.


1 Rapoport, Amos House Form and Culture

Englewood-Cliffs NJ Prentice Hall 1969





Rapoport, Amos "Some Aspects of the

Organisation of Urban Space Student

Publication School of Design N C StateUniversity (Raleigh N C vol 18, 1969

Rapoport. Amos The Pueblo and the HoganA cross-cultural comparison of two

responses to an environment Paul Oliver(ed) Shelter and Society LondonBarrie & Rockcliff ]969

Lee,R.B. and I De Vore (ed) Man the Hunter

Chicago Aldine 1968

Carr-Saunders ci ted in V.C. Wynne-EdwardsAnimal dispersion in relat ion to socialbehaviour Edinburgh and London, Oliver

and Boyd 1962 pp2l;187

Page 12: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 12/14

6. Falkenberg, Johannes Kin and Totem (group

relations of Austral ian aborigines in the

Port Keata distr ict) Oslo Oslo University

Press 1962 p.9

7. Mountford, Charles P. Ayers Rock SydneyAngus and Robertson 1965 p 17

8. See Lee R.B. and I De Vore Problems inthe study of hunters and ~ a t h e r e r s in Lee

De Vore op c i t p 11-12 and elsewhere in

that book

9. Worms, A.E. Religion in W.E.H. Stanner

and H Sheils (ed) Austral ian Aboriginal

Studies Melbourne, Oxford University Press

1963 p 174

10. Birket-Smith, Kaj Primitive Man and hisWays New York Mentor Books 1963 p 41,50

11. Meggitt, M.J. Marriage classes and

demography in Central Australia in Leeand De Vore op c i t

12. Hiatt , L.R. Ibid P 100

13. Baldwin-Spencer and F.J . Gillen The Native

Tribes of Central Australia f i r s t

published 1894) New York Dover, 1968

14. Austral ian Aboriginal Art (The Louis A.Allen Collection) Exhibition a t Robert H

Lowie Museum of Anthropology, University

of California , Berkeley, January 17 -August 25, 1969 (Text by Albert B.Elsasser

and Vivian Paul)

15. This is also the conclusion of the Berndts.

See R.M. and C.H. Berndt The World of the

Firs t Australians Sydney Ure Smith 1964

p 23-24

lb. I was guil ty of jus t this oversimplific

at ion in House Form and Culture

17. Meggitt, M.J.Desert People ( A study of the

Walbiri aborigines of Central Austral ia)Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1965(Second impression)

18. Thomas op c i t p 74-75

19. Meggitt op c i t p 75-76

2U Birket-Smith op c i t p 35

21. Gould, Richard A Yiwara (Foragers of the

Austral ian Desert) New York Charles

Scribners Sons 1969 p 173; L.R. Hiat tpersonal communication

22. Gould op c i t P 26


23. Bochner, Dr. Stephen, University of New

South Wales, personal communication

24. Berndt, World of the First Austral ians

op c i t p 35

25. Stanner and Sheils op c i t p 174

26. Meggitt ppl; 30-32

27. Ibid P 44-46

28. Berndt op c i t p 34-35

29. Meggitt op c i t p 67 -73

30. Hiatt , Pi l l ing, Lee in Lee and De Vore

op c i t p 157

31. Meggitt op c i t p 243

32. Hiatt , L.R. Local Organisation moong the

Austral ian Abor igines Oceania vol 32 no 4June 1962 p 267-286; Ownership and Use of

Land Among the Austral ian Aborigines in

Lee and De Vore op c i t P 99-102

33. Stanner, W.E.H. Aboriginal Terri tor i a lOrganisation: Estate, range, domain and

regime Oceania vol 36 no 1 September

1965 p 1-16

34. Ibid P 11. I t i s interesting that amonganimals also home ranges for food gather

ing may be exclusive or overlapping.

cf Wynne-Edwards op c i t p 100

35. Strehlow, T.G.H. Culture, Socialstructure and environment in Aboriginal

Central Austral ia in R.M. and C.H. Berndt

(ed) Aboriginal Man in Australia SydneyAngus and Robertson 1965

36. Baldwin-Spencer op c i t p 7-8

37. Stanner op c i t p 13

38. Meggitt, M J . Gadj ar i among the Walbiri

Aborigines Oceania vol 36 no 3 March 1966pp 178;196

39. Rapoport, Amos and Ron Hawkes The

perception of urban complexity AlP Journalvol 36 no 2 March 1970 p 107

40. Rapoport, Amos The study of spat ia l

qual i ty Journal of Aesthetic education

vol 4 no 4 October 1970 p 81-95

41. Hountford op c i t pp 13;25;30 ff

42. Frank, Lawrence K The World as commun

ication network in G Kepes (ed) Sign

Image, Symbol New York George Brazil ler

1966 pp 1; 4-5; 8.

Page 13: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 13/14

Page 14: Definition of Place -Rapoport

8/13/2019 Definition of Place -Rapoport 14/14

85. Baldwin-Spencer op ci t p 191

86. For example see Berndt Aboriginal Man

Baldwin-Spencer op ci t in factany i l lus t rated book on the aborigines.

87. Eliade op c i t p 3

88. Baldwin-Spencer op ci t Figure 57 p 307;Meggitt Desert People op ci t p 76

89 Gould op c i t p 137 f f

90. Baldwin-Spencer p 118-119

91. Eliade op ci t p 37

92. Langer Suzanne Feeling and FormNew York Charles Scribner Sons 1953 p 7

93. Ibid P 91

94. Sorokin P.A. Society Culture andPersonality New York Harper 1947 p 147

95. Berndt First Australians op cit p 427