Ethnic Crafts: Transmission Media of Cultural Norms and Values
Reprinted from: Honar Nameh, University of Art, Tehran, No. 3, Summer 1995 (A brief of the article)
This article describes the transmission of cultural norms and ideological and ritual values in primitive societies of ancient times and those existing today, assessing the status of ethnic crafts in this transmission. The following subjects are developed:
1- Culture is conceived as a set of signs and symbols by means of which the members of past and present illiterate primitive societies of the world have established material and spiritual relationships within and without the society.
2- Writing was not used in primitive societies, cultural communication between the people taking place by oral imitation. In those societies, yet unspoiled by the advent of machines, tools and utensils were hand-made, and the present-day appellation of "sanaye-e dasti" (literally "manual industries") therefore seems to hardly befit their products.
3- In this type of societies, crafts, just as myths and fables, bore an ensemble of cultural and religious-ritual codes and connotations, assuming such important social functions as visualizing the ethnic culture and sublimating religious and ritual precepts in the mind of the members of the society, preserving concord and unity among the people, encouraging them to retain social constraints and rituals, and transmitting cultural, economic and religious messages.
4- The adornment of tools and utensils was inspired by the prevalent intellectual and spiritual outlook of the people. Each pattern or motif represented on such items was a symbol, a sign in the expression of the divine universe, or of social behavior.
5- Ethnic crafts, in the sense of hand-made or hand-woven goods crafted within the material culture and the literature of the ethnic group, in the sense of myths, tales, fables... originating in the spiritual culture, were closely linked, with either one also expressing the other's particularity.
6- Following the developments, which modified the social and cultural structure of primitive societies and gradually brought forth new institutions with various social groups of their own, each of these societies was divided in two large parts. One part continued living, while retaining the system of ethnic values and reproducing the mores and rituals of past generations, whereas the other, severing all links with old traditional values and adopting modern culture, turned to a new lifestyle. The knowledge, the literature, the oral arts and the ancient crafts of an ethnic group, to which now refer as "folklore", "handicrafts", or "traditional arts", owe their survival to the traditional part of the society.
7- Finally, although present-day handicrafts and the patterns, which adorn them, have retained their ancient quality, nevertheless their ancient symbolic meanings, concepts and functions are lacking, having been replaced by new, different meanings and functions.