Great Zimbabwe : well of ancient wisdom : an examination of traditional Karanga mythology, symbolism and ritual towards an interpretation of spatial distribution and contextual meaning of symbolic structures and settlement dynamics of the royal settlement of Central Great Zimbabwe.
Aspinall, Kelle J.
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The intention of this thesis is to examine the possibility of seeing mythology and ritual as sources for understanding spiritual, symbolic and spatial structures in architecture. Mythology and ritual are used as sources of creativity for examining a culture's architecture and as a way to understand the creative and cultural processes informing an architectural record. Central Great Zimbabwe is used as a case study for examining this. Karanga ethnography has not previously been considered as a source for interpreting Great Zimbabwe. However, historical evidence documented in this thesis shows that the Karanga were the creators and occupiers of Great Zimbabwe. The study pursues the need expressed by P. 1. Sinclair to consider the mythology of the region as an informative tool to understanding the symbolic values inherent in the landscape of settlement dynamics and symbolic structures; ...one might expect such aspects of material culture as architectural style and settlement layout, organisation and decorative motifs as well as a choice of subsistence needs to be strongly influenced larger scale expressions ofsymbolic values... exist in the expressions of kingship and power Further illustrations might include the associations of the granite mountains found throughout the plateau margins with the widespread distributions ofstone buildings. The mythology of the region has been little considered from this point ofview (Sinclair, P. 1987: 159). The study sets out to test Sinclair's observation by examining whether the Karanga symbolic values sourced from the mythology and ritual practices of the region may be reflected in the settlement dynamics and spatio-symbolic expression of Central Great Zimbabwe. Parts of the study examine Thomas Huffman's fieldwork, documentation and methodology. As the most prolific documenter on Great Zimbabwe, with the most recent interpretations, Huffman's findings are rec.orded and discussed in detail and his hypothesis for domba (initiation centre) function for the Great Enclosure is tested against the information evident in Karanga mythology and ritual. Since his hypothesis is widely criticised by his colleagues, this criticism is also included in this study as an informative tool to contextualise this field of research and outline the current ethno-archaeologica1 debate concerning the function of the Great Enclosure. This dissertation takes a different approach to that of Huffman and therefore the outcome of this study deviates from that of Huffman's. lIDs study adopts a synchronic approach to history while HufIman's methodology is a structuralist one and takes a more diachronic approach. Since both approaches are necessary in this field of study, the synchronic approach here is seen as a way of contributing new information and interpretation to the field. The intention of the thesis is not to suggest an 'answer' to the 'mystery' of Great Zimbabwe, but to offer possibilities and to recognise that this is merely one approach in a very complex, interactive and dynamic research field. In any qualitative study area, research should lead to still further research and should not be considered to be leading to the 'answer' to a 'problem'. Therefore, this study explores a wide range of disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, religion, history and archaeology in order to broaden and deepen the study. Architecture is neither a science nor an art but sits comfortably between the two domains. It is therefore an interactive discipline and is marked by a divergent flow of creativity. Rather than taking a convergent approach, which is marked by a structuralist need to solve problems, this study approaches research in a divergent way, where the grappling with the 'problem' itself is seen as a process leading to discovery and possibility rather than to an 'answer'. The study therefore does not examine Karanga mythology as a way to answer the 'mystery' of the stone ruins, nor to provide proof or evidence for an archaeological hypothesis. It is rather a study towards examining ways in which mythology and ritual can be used to broaden and deepen an understanding of symbolism and meaning in architecture. A method of inquiry which validates the diversity of views and documentation in this field of study is validated by this dissertation and is seen as a valuable way of approaching the history of architecture in Southern Africa at this particular time, where African society is itself undergoing transformation as it reinterprets its past in a 'de-eolonised' African context. For that reason, interpreting Great Zimbabwe based on local ethnography is seen as a valuable way offurther validating African creativity and local origin. We can no longer afford to view history one-dimensionally. We need to learn to accept different grounds and more than one belief system. Examining Karanga mythology and ritual is considered in this study as a new way of seeing and interpreting historical artifact in order to expose the creative domain of discovery. This approach is relevant to the paradigmatic shifts being made in Southern Africa and globally, where society is discovering new ways of seeing itself and concentrating more on its processes than on its products. Society is becoming more tolerant of other perspectives and we need to consider how we can learn more about our society both past and present within the context of so many changing paradigms. The results of the proposed investigations for this study as outlined above are documented summatively in Part 5, Chapter 9 and generally in the Conclusion at the end of the study.
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