Indigenous Architecture and Relational Senses of Personhood: A Cultural Reading of Changing Dwelling Styles among Forest-Dwelling Foragers

By Nurit Bird-David.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Given anthropological theories of how houses reflect and regenerate symbolic schemes, I propose to address in this presentation this question: what, if anything, can be learnt from the materially simple dwellings of indigenous forest peoples, who to date still partially maintain hunting and gathering traditions? While these dwellings may give outsiders the impression of “temporary shelters” and “huts”, they have constituted for their dwellers a “permanent” way of dwelling, which presumably embodies and regenerates their specific cultural values, including specific senses of self and community. Drawing on an anthropological study of a forest-dwelling tribal people in the Nilgiri-Wynaad of South India (Nayaka, 1978-2004), I explore these senses, paying attention to cultural constructions of inside/outside, public/private, and separate/shared domains of life.

Keywords: Forest Dwellers, Hunters and Gatherers, Nayaka, Huts, Building and Cultural Values, Relational Personhood

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp.203-210. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.351MB).

Prof. Nurit Bird-David

Professor, Social Anthropology, Sociology and Anthropology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel

I am a cultural Anthropologist with BA in Economics and Mathematics (the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel), and PhD in Social Anthropology (Cambridge University, UK). My work draws on long-term fieldwork since the 1970s among a group of Nayaka, a foraging people who live on the remote forested slopes of the Nilgiri Hills in South India, and on research in the 1990s into a regional development project in the dry Machakos district of East Kenya. An author of many articles, my interests included cultural economics, cultural conceptions of the environment, senses of personhood and community, and their embodiment in such diverse domains as visual art and medicine. I am currently interested in their embodiment in local building traditions, both among indigenous forest people, and -- beginning a new research -- among middle-class home- renovators and builders in Israel.

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