House and home in the world outlook of different cultures

» House and home in the world outlook of different cultures

House and home in the world outlook of different cultures

Essay in Cross-cultural studies

Minsk 2008



1. The choice of the place for the future house. 4

2. The choice of the time of the beginning of the construction works. 8

3. The process of house building. 9

4. A typical house its orientation and structure. 11

5. The main zones of the house:

5.1. The zone of entrance. 13

5.2. The zone of cooking. 16

5.3. The zone of sleeping. 17

5.4. The zone of the sacred. 18

6. The difference in the attitude towards some objects:

6.1. A table. 19

6.2. A mirror. 20



House as well as food water and clothes is essential for man`s life. But a human being differs from animals; he wants to have not just a shelter but a place to satisfy all his necessities: to sleep to eat to hide himself from bad weather to raise children to worship God etc. So he wants not just a house but a home. There are a lot of proverbs supporting the importance of home to a person: East or west home is best; There is no place like home; My house is my fortress; and others. Such sayings exist in any language and in any culture. A house is a microlevel model of the Universe so one can find a definite structure in it. Any house has zones with a special predestination sacred objects and there are always certain rules of living in a house. These zones objects and rules differ from one culture to another depending on the world outlook of a certain community which in its turn has its roots in the religion of a nation its traditions and historic heritage. That is why there are so many types of houses and ways of life in the world.

A person`s home as well as his spoken language and festive clothes can tell us what culture he belongs to because consciously or unconsciously one usually keeps to one`s native traditions though it is rather difficult to do so in the modern world especially in the city. Nevertheless it is always very interesting to look deeper into the culture of other peoples` and of course into your own one and to try to compare them in any respect.

I am going to look at the Slavonic Chinese and Madagascarian traditions concerning home. Slavonic because Belarus is a Slavonic country; Chinese because their traditions are very popular in our country as well as in the whole world; Madagascarian to compare these two with something extremely exotic. I must mention that Slavonic traditions are close to those in other European countries as Europe has been Christian since the earliest times; Chinese traditions are also widespread in other Asian countries; and Madagascarian ones are stuck to in many African countries and on the isles of the Indian Ocean. Thus comparing the three types of traditional culture I shall compare the outlook of three large regions of the world. It is rather difficult to find the roots of this difference; they probably lie in the mentality of nations worked up for thousands of years. Slavonic traditions are based on the Christian way of life though one still can see there a strong influence of popular beliefs. The basis for the Chinese way of life is the understanding of the Universe as a mixture of different kinds of energy. As for Malagasies they live in accordance with the belief that spirits rule the world. So any aspect of building a house has its own rules different from those in other cultures and sometimes even opposite to them.

I believe the best way to compare the traditions concerning home is to bring together the three points of view on one particular subject and to look for the difference. So it is necessary to single out the points on which the comparison will be based. In any culture the following points are taken into consideration when building a house: the choice of the time and the place of building the process of building the typical structure of a house the main zones singled out in a house and on the territory around it the main objects used in the house and the rules of people`s behaviour at home. So my task is to find the points of similarity and difference between three cultures in this respect by means of consequent comparison.

1. The choice of the place for the future house.

Slavonic tradition says that the Earth has good and bad places: in good places temples are built in bad ones cemeteries are placed. A house should be built in a good place otherwise the family living in it will never be happy. The ways of finding out whether the place is good are as follows:

1) Places where poultry and cattle like to stay for the rest are considered good;

2) Places where black ants make their ant-hills are also thought very good ones. An ant-hill is carefully removed to the future building site and if the ants do not run away from this place a house is then built there.

The number of places considered to be bad is much greater. In the past people used to pass the history of their town or village through generations and all the places where something bad had ever happened were looked upon as bad ones. Thus houses should not be built:

1) near cemeteries;

2) in the places where a person was killed or a battle happened in the past;

3) in the place where at least one fruit tree was stubbed up not to say about a garden;

4) in the place of a former rye or wheat field;

5) in the places connected with fire e. g. sites of a fire or places ever struck by a lightening;

6) in the places of old abandoned roads and crossroads mills and wells;

7) on marshlands disposal sites or places used for cattle slaughter;

8) in the places of some borders e.g. between gardens;

9) in the places where grass does not grow for some unknown reason;

10) in the places connected with some accident e.g. where a person fell off a horse and broke his leg. [2; 497]

In the absence of these bad indicators the place is considered appropriate even if there are no good indicators either.

In the Chinese culture the choice of a good place is based on other notions though it has a great prominence too. An ideal place is the one where the four heavenly animals are represented and harmonized; they are the Dragon the Tiger the Turtle and the Phoenix. The Dragon is the symbol of happiness. It is represented by the landscape with hills of a medium size; it is said that they are the best for the universal energy Chi to move freely and to do good to the people living in this place. High hills are avoided as they are obstacles for the movement of Chi; flat country is also avoided as in this case the energy flies away from the place. The East is the Dragon`s part of the world that is why medium-size hills should be on the left (eastern) side of the house.

The Tiger is a balancing opposition to the Dragon; its part of the world is the West its type of the landscape is low-hilled.

The Turtle is the symbol of help constancy and longevity. Its part of the world is the North. The Turtle is represented by low hills.

The Phoenix bird symbolizes new possibilities. Its part of the world is the South and the landscape with very low hills though not flat country. [3; 16]

Thus the choice of the best place for the future house is made in accordance with the landscape. The ideal place is the one where the highest hills are on the left (eastern) side of the house lower hills on the right side and behind the house. In front of the house there should be very low hills. If the house is not isolated but is in a town or a village the role of the hills is played by other houses.

There are also some other indicators for the place to be good. It is great if there is a river in front of the house but it should make a turn not to run straight otherwise the positive energy Chi will pass by the house without influencing people. The river should also not run too fast or too slowly because everything should have a measure.

The role of the river can also be played by a road. A crossroads and a confluence of rivers is also a good place if only the house does not face the acute angle as acute angles pikes and any sharp objects directed towards the house accumulate the bad energy Sha Chi which destroys the peace and happiness and needs to be protected from.

In Madagascarian culture the place for a house is chosen in accordance with the beliefs different from those in Slavonic and Chinese traditions. There are two main points to remember about when choosing a proper place: the position of the house in accordance with the landscape and in relation to some other buildings. The rules of placing a house with respect to the landscape are as follows:

1) The house should not be placed on the poor soil otherwise the family will always be poor;

2) It should not be placed in a swampy place because the water there is dead (unlike the water in rivers). This water will cause many troubles to the family up to death;

3) A place near a river is a good one unless it is a place where the river divides into two or more branches as it is said that the family will follow its fate and will be ruined as a result of the negative influence of such a place;

4) A house should not be placed near a lake or a waterfall because these are the places where spirits live. Only wizards ever go to the waterfalls where they communicate with gods. Ordinary people never dare to approach waterfalls;

5) The entrance to a valley is a bad place because the spirits living in the valley will worry people to death. A house should not be placed in the highest part of the valley either because the health the wealth and the happiness of the family will run down the valley and away from the house. If a valley is the only possible place then a special stone is used to protect the family. It is called a male stone and is placed near the house. It is believed to neutralize negative energy as sacrifices are made there to gain the favour of the spirits;

6) A house should not be placed on the top of or opposite a high steep rock or a mountain peak because they are said to have stronger fortune than people can have so the fortune of the family will be destroyed by the strength of the mountain. Moreover sacrifices are often made in the mountains which enforces the negative energy;

7) Neither should a house be built near the place of a recent landslip. The danger is said to be not so much of a possible new landslip but of the gulf into which a person can fall (both physically and spiritually);

8) One more place considered to be bad is the one where birds do not want to build their nests. It is believed that they feel the future misfortune so people should also avoid such places. [1; 106]

This was a list of rules helping to find a good place from the point of view of the landscape. There is also a set of rules to follow in order not to break one of the strongest Madagascarian traditions the respect to the elders. These rules are:

1) A son`s house cannot be built to the North or to the East from the father`s house because these parts of the world are the best ones and if the son breaks this rule it means that he wants to live in a better place than his father and does not respect him. All the neighbours will despise him for that. And the house should be smaller than the father`s (for the same reason);

2) A house should be properly oriented according to the family tomb. People should not live to the North of it because Malagasies sleep and place the dead with the feet towards the South. If they break this rule it seems that the living kick the ancestors` heads with their feet which is unacceptable. A house should not be placed on a lower level than that of the tomb otherwise the dead will affect the living negatively. [1; 108]

2. The choice of the time of the beginning of the construction works.

One of the main Slavonic traditions says the beginning determines the end. That is why the choice of the proper time for a house building is so important (it is no less important for other cultures although the principles of choosing the best time are different up to the opposite). The following circumstances are taken into consideration: the time of the year the phase of the Moon the day of the week the part of the day some other dates important to the future lodgers.

The best time of the year for building is that between Radunitsa (the day of the remembrance of the late ancestors the 9th day after Easter) and Whitsunday (the 49th day after Easter). The Moon should be in the growing phase. The 7th day after the full moon is also appropriate. These phases promise long life to the family. As for the days of the week there are good and bad ones. Monday is a bad day as it is called a difficult day and is inappropriate for any undertakings. Wednesday and Friday are also bad days as these are the days of the fasting.

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