The Sunday News
IN the last article we looked at the arrangement of materials in space and argued that the arrangement in space was more fundamental than the nature of materials.
Further, the arrangement of materials in space is one fundamental commonality between various societies and communities. We could attempt some classification or categorisation of communities on the basis of how materials are arranged in space.
Stonehenge in England may find itself in the same class or category as built environment in Bantu Africa. The possibilities of the meaning of a circle have already been rendered. We continue to investigate the circle and see what we may benefit from that in terms of interpreting Stonehenge in overall terms. From previous articles it is possible that the arrangement of orthostats is both symbolic and functional.
The functional, we observed, led to the circular arrangement of stones with the uprights leaving spaces between them for observation of cosmic bodies that move in circular orbits when they shine between identified pairs of uprights.
At the same time the materials themselves, the stones that are upright in this case, may be symbolic expressions in terms of their design, form, hardness, and orientation to the ground (female Mother Earth). At the same time, the stones are expressions of materiality, the use of material or physical materials to express intangible meanings. At Stonehenge researchers unearthed a phallic object (two testes and a penis) sculpted out of white chalk.
At Great Zimbabwe the same symbolic sexual objects were built using dressed granite stones. The structural stones phallic objects are referred to as the Conical Town in the case of Great Zimbabwe. Some people fail to see the two stone testes which are located anatomically accurately in relation to the penis built of stones. The “Conical Tower” (umshini wami) has since replicated at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare.
There are instances when it may not be possible to identify the repeated unit. In other instances, it is pretty easy to see what unit has been repeated. Repetition is found in terrestrial nature and the cosmos. When we blink, the eyelids are repeating their movement to cover the eyeballs. Moving, left-right is repetition. Wake-sleep is repetition, so is winter-summer. The examples are just too numerous to count. Repetition is associated with movement which may be linear or circular, regular or irregular.
Getting back to Stonehenge we see repetition which is regular within a circular arrangement. It is not difficult to identify a single unit that is repeated. Quite clearly it is two upright stone pillars with a lintel placed on their top ends. This is what constitutes the outer circular stone circle. It is pertinent to note that it is the sarsens on the outside that have the lintels that are joined to make a continuous circle at the top. The question we may pose is what does the identified nit in isolation represent? And then what is the representation when the units are constituted into a circle?
Is there something like it in Wales and other parts of England? Yes indeed, in Wales there are graves that were made that way. See the picture of one that a colleague in Wales, one Mrs Non Pierce, sent to me a few months ago. Her parents lived very close to where the bluestones were quarried near Pembrokeshire in western Wales.
Dr Mike Parker Pearson who, with a team of researchers, did archaeological research spanning quite a long time wrote, “Stonehenge was built as a place for ancestors.” My question is who was Stonehenge built for? I will argue that yes, the ancestors were buried there but the place was not theirs. Instead, it was for their living progeny.
This is a fundamental question indeed. At the centre of religion or spirituality there is man who is utilitarian in approach and seeks to derive for himself maximum benefits from both.
The spirits of the ancestors are there and are propitiated for the benefit of man. What man is short of achieving, he appeals to the omnipotent God and spirits to help him. In more recent time technology has assumed the role of God.
Man holds rituals characterised by offerings, sacrifices, libations and prayers at the burial sites where ancestors’ bones lie. Bones are linked to the immortal spirits. If there is anything that the ancestral spirits benefit from the monument it is their memory and the offerings and sacrifices. The critical benefits accrue to man. If the ancestral spirits had nothing to offer to the living, Stonehenge might not have been built. There is in some very small measure, mutual benefit.
One with discerning eyes will see the same arrangement among the Ndebele in Zimbabwe. Their graves have two stone uprights — the headstone which is higher and the footstone which is shorter. The result is a slanting arrangement from the head to the feet. In between the two stones there are stones, intaba, which are so placed that they are resting on the soil which is a mound. In essence the structures are comparable and the meaning they convey is the same. A corpse is its head more than its feet and the idea is conveyed in terms of different heights — both in Matabeleland and in Wales, albeit a long time ago in the latter.
Where tombs occur, living spirituality is resident alongside offerings, sacrifices and libations. As argued before, it is not the graves that are critical but the spirits that hover around their divorced partners-the material bodies that once upon a time were integral components of a human body. Power is associated with the spirits and repeating the symbol of a tomb enhances spiritual potency.
What difference would be there if the lintels were not there on top of the uprights and joining the upright and thus creating a continuous stone circle? One possibility is that the joined lintels express unity. It may be unity at the politico-social level but also at the spiritual level.
A structure as gigantic as Stonehenge would have required a centralised political authority to acquire requisite resources to feed the workers and provide labour to transport the stones all the way from Wales. It is possible that there were political changes that resulted in the creation of a more powerful polity. At the same time there would have been some technological advances to quarry the stones, transport them and put them in place in the dug holes. Lifting up the lintels was no meat task in the absence of improved technology.
At the spiritual level there were probably new worldviews that sought to express the grandeur of the powerful rulers that emerged and united the numerous tribes which hitherto had lived as separate lineages. Change was wrought on the political social, cultural, technological and spiritual fronts. Essentially, a more complex society developed resulting in the emergence of a complex, diversified, hierarchical, united, and powerful society.