Per un nuovo immaginario geologico

Premessa. La geologia, da Cro-Magnon a Deleuze, è un modello di pensiero cosmologico, filosofico, socio-culturale. Tuttavia in Occidente sembra impossibile emanciparsi dall’asfittica dialettica Ge/Chthon, dalla mitologia greca in generale, dal pensiero aristotelico-cartesiano. Il mondo è molto più vasto e i saperi geologici di culture diverse dalla nostra sono modelli (o spunti alternativi) per ripensare la Terra. La cosa potrebbe ispirare il pensiero filosofico ed ecologico, potrebbe forse stimolare gli scrittori interessati a fare worldbuilding. In ogni caso, “fare cosmologia terrestre” significa riconnettere la mente al terreno, riguadagnare il corpo al suo ambiente, stabilire una relazione (non solo simbolica) tra materia e racconto. Concettualizzare, idealizzare, fare astrazione attraverso allegorie e auscultazioni filologiche è una forma di rinuncia intellettuale che ci allontana dalla nuova visione della Terra di cui avremo bisogno nei prossimi tempi. Per questo ci sembra utile illustrare alcuni Elementi di Etnogeologia.

Definizione. L’Etnogeologia (Folkgeology) concerne le competenze  geologiche, l’interpretazione delle forme terrestri (landforms) e le concezioni del mondo fisico (ideas about the Earth) presso le società premoderne occidentali e non-occidentali. Anche la Terra secondo i Greci o secondo Plinio o secondo Leonardo è Etnogeologia, ma l’ampiezza delle possibilità culturali “altre” non va trascurata.

Con competenze geologiche si intendono le conoscenze tradizionali (traditional knowledge) sulla distribuzione nel territorio di rocce, minerali e metalli, il modo di utilizzarli e il valore simbolico ad essi connesso; le differenze tipologiche dei suoli e le loro proprietà; la classificazione tassonomica delle varietà ambientali e paesaggistiche a partire dal loro sostrato geologico e dalle loro caratteristiche geomorfologiche.

Esempio 1. The Ochrelines, Australia: Pigments made of ochre, minerals and other substances of the earth have been widely used across Aboriginal Australia from the time of first arrivals to the present. […] Sources of pigments can be summarize as follow: White: kaolin clays most common, also gypsum, burnt selenite, calcite, huntite (Calcium magnesium carbonate); Yellow/brown: limonite; Red: haematite, including a purple of ore-grade quality, laterites, ferrouginous sandstone, iron oxide stained clays, also made from burning/heating yellow ochcre; Black: charcoal, manganese. Pigments were collected wherever exposed, from both small and large quarries; some were mined, and large quantities were traded. […] Painting helps to ground people in both space and time. Through painting rock shelters, sheets of bark, sacred objects, bodies and bones with ochre and clay pigments, in concert with myth and ritual, Aboriginal creativity becomes united with natural creativity, intensifying Aboriginal links and bonds with the larger natural and supernatural world. (Taçon 2004: 39, 34, 39)

Esempio 2. Ethnopedology, Papua New Guinea: The Wola name different kinds of soil according to observed properties (such as colour, texture, moisture, stoniness and so on), and they can combine and modify these endlessly to build up descriptive classes, referring to “some of this and some of that” and so on (for example hundbiy sha araytol onduwp as opposed to hundbiy araytol or hundbiy tongom momonuw araytol haeruw, which broadly translate “very stony bright-brownish clay” as opposed to “stony bright-brown clay” or “stony bright-brown with gleyed-clay” etc.). Regardless of their variety, the Wola make few terminological distinctions between limestones. The exceptions relate to the state of the rock, not its type. They distinguish rotten powdery limestone, found in dump locations (for instance, limestone buried in wet soil) or where pieces of fractured limestone have ground pulverulently together (for instance along a fault line), calling it haen hok. […] The soft and friable calcareous mudstones and siltstones are also haen hok. […] The Wola perceive a connection between the rocks that predominate in any area, notably whether sedimentary or volcanic, and its landscape [… and] appreciate in some measure that the different geologies, although imperfectly understood, exert some control over the landforms that they can see. […] While the Wola may not exploit the rocks of their region to any great extent, its geology has impressed itself in other ways on their culture. They associate some of the countless potholes that occur throughout the limestone for example, with spirit forces, particularly those containing a deep pool of water. (Sillitoe 1996: 272-273, 127, 129, 120-121)

Con interpretazione delle forme terrestri si intende il modo in cui le emergenze geologiche (geological features) sono comprese dalle società tradizionali in base alle conoscenze locali (place-based perspective). Ad esempio, la somiglianza di formazioni rocciose naturali o altre forme del paesaggio con figure umane o animali (apofenia) ha stimolato racconti eziologici che interpretano l’aspetto fisico del territorio come l’esito delle azioni degli antenati mitici o come la loro incorporazione in esso.

Esempio 3. Plateau Indians Genesis, British Columbia: To Indians, those geological transformations were the work of Coyote, culture hero and slayer of fire-snorting monsters. He carved the rivers Snake and Columbia, which served Indians as gateways to buffalo-rich grasslands (eastward) and the trade-promising seacoast (to the west). Along their river valleys, he created shoals, narrows and marshes, with natural pools and spills that rose steplike into higher elevations. […] The true events of mythic times made this land and peopled it with these spirits. Plateau Indian stories told of the rock near present-day town of Nelson, in southeastern British Columbia, which contained the imprints of Grandfather, who helped Coyote perform his earth-transforming deeds; the boulder that another superhuman being made from a young mountain lion’s heart; the thermal spa where Four Brothers boiled meat in a “pot” between the Kootenai and Columbia rivers, thereby creating the streams that flow in opposite directions and wrap their streaming “veins” around the world, which sometimes bubbled up into hot springs for the benefits of human health and pleasure. (Nabokov 2006: 150, 153)

Esempio 4. Becoming a Landscape, Australia: Three types of transformation are prominent in Walbiri and Pitjantjatjara myth: (1) metamorphosis (the body of the ancestor is changed in some material object); (2) imprinting (the ancestor leaves the impression of his body or of some too he used); (3) externalization (the ancestor takes some object out of his body). […] In addition to specific expressions of metamorphosis (for example, that the ancestor become a rocky hill or stone, buliringu), Pitjantjatjara also have a general transformative notion conveyed by the term burgari, which means that an ancestor was changed from a mobile being to a permanent feature of the country. Informants emphasize that this term is not to be precisely equated with the usual terms for dying, ilu or wiya-ri (become nothing), for the ancestor did not “become nothing”; rather, he went into the waterhole and “became the country”. In general, imprinting of a place implies the bodily metamorphosis of an ancestor as well. For example, where an ancestor sat down, a waterhole, his imprints, results. […] Notions of the body and body parts are constantly assimilated to notions of topographical forms. For example, in explaining to me the use of terms for the design-marked stones and boards kept at the sacred sites, one man pointed to the wood of a fire to illustrate the wooden objects (gulbidja), and to stones on the ground to illustrate the stone objects (djalgarara). The ancestors, he explained, burgaringu: they became respectively wood (bunuringu) and stones (buliringu); both types of objects are bundu, the ancestor’s body. (Munn 1984: 58, 65-66)

Con concezioni del mondo fisico si intende il corpus di nozioni, idee, credenze, racconti individuali e mitici che spiegano come è strutturata e funziona la Terra.

Esempio 5. The Earth According to the Diné, USA: The Diné (Navajo people) invoke a direct connection between their cultural identity and the physical attributes of Diné bikéyah, their homeland on the Colorado Plateau. All landforms here have stories and histories associated with them, and the distinc­tive tsézhiin ‘íí ‘áhí of the Navajo volcanic field are certainly no exception. […] It is important to note that such stories should be retold only with great respect and only during the winter months. The indigenous Diné knowledge system also includes empiri­cal knowledge of nature accrued through millennia of living in direct contact with their environment. That knowledge pertain­ing directly to the Earth is Diné ethnogeology, or tsé na’alkaah (“rock study”). A central principle of Diné ethnogeology holds that Earth materials and features result from continuous interactions of processes that operate in paired environmental systems referred to as Nohosdzáán (Earth) and Yadiłhil (Sky). Dynamic processes operating in the Earth can be equated to endogenic or solid-Earth processes such as magmatism and orogeny, and those operating in the Sky can be equated to exogenic or fluid-Earth processes such as the water cycle and weathering. This model of endogenic-exogenic interaction is similar to that of process geomorphology, although traditional Diné see these processes as manifestations of living systems. A second duality is that between destructive or “male-like” processes, and constructive or “female-like” pro­cesses. These models can be combined to describe the origin and evo­lution of the Navajo volcanic landforms in a way that is logical and familiar to traditional Diné people: violent (male-like) interaction between magma (Earth) and meteoric water (Sky) formed the diatremes, and subsequent interaction between Colorado Plateau uplift (Earth-driven; female-like) and weathering and erosion (Sky-driven; male-like) exposed and sculpted the diatremes and dikes into their present shapes. Diné ethnogeology and other place-based, culturally-integrated scien­tific concepts are now being used to enhance science education in Navajo Nation colleges and schools. (Semken 2003: 136-137)

Il legame che le società tradizionali stabiliscono tra corpo e paesaggio è cruciale. Numerosi studi etnologici hanno mostrato che l’anatomia degli animali cacciati e macellati veniva usata come modello cognitivo per interpretare aspetti diversi della realtà. Il paesaggio come organismo ha stimolato e allo stesso tempo è il frutto di una specie di anatomia dello spazio, un comportamento esplorativo empirico che ha permesso di sviluppare competenze etnogeologiche ed ecologiche sofisticate.

Queste competenze di tipo olistico e qualitativo intervenivano a vari livelli dell’esistenza: conoscenza della geomorfologia del territorio ancestrale per la ricerca delle risorse alimentari e dei materiali utili; conoscenza delle forme-tipo del paesaggio per adottare comportamenti esplorativi efficaci in territori ignoti; radicamento identitario del gruppo nel territorio ancestrale stabilendo connessioni tra landmarks e memoria collettiva; organizzazione dei sistemi di parentela in base a parametri territoriali; ecc.

Conclusioni. Un immaginario geologico intrappolato nell’antropomorfismo dialettico occidentale (Gaia e Ctonia, superficie e profondità, terra superna e terra infernale, biosfera e tanatosfera…) è un utensile spuntato. Non solo. A conti fatti è un ostacolo cognitivo per il nuovo immaginario cosmografico con cui potremo (forse) reagire all’evento-Antropocene. Immaginario etnogeologico ed etnogeologia dell’immaginario sono invece una chiave indispensabile per cambiare da subito la percezione dello spazio in cui viviamo.


Munn, N.D. 1984, The Transformation of Subject into Objects in Walbiri and Pitjantjatjara Myth, in M. Charlesworth – H. Morphy – D. Bell – K. Maddock, Religion in Aboriginal Australia. An Anthology, London-New York, University of Queensland Press, pp. 57-82.

Nabokov P. 2006, Where the Lightning Strikes. The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places, New York, Viking.

Semken S. 2003, Black Rocks Protruding Up: The Navajo Volcanic Field, New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook, 54th Field Conference, Geology of the Zuni Plateau, pp. 133-138.

Sillitoe P. 1996, A Place Against Time. Land and Environment in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, Amsterdam, Harwood Academic Press.

Taçon P. in Boivin N. – Owoc M.A. 2004, Soils, Stones and Symbols. Cultural Perceptions of the Mineral World, London, UCL Press.


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