(A Comparative Study on World Civilization)

Presented on International Conference on Sundanese Culture

Bogor, October 25 – 27, 2010

Prof. Dr. H.M. Ahman Sya

Rector of BSI University, Bandung


A primary characteristic of man is his insistence on changing things as they occur in nature. The things that human beings learn to do form the substance of culture. A method for handling a single concept or artifact is termed a culture trait; a complicated activity involves a number of culture traits grouped into a culture complex. Habitual ways of doing things among even a small group possessing a simple culture involve hundreds of culture traits organized into dozens of culture complexes, and the total integral system of traits and complexes forms a culture. Modern Indonesian daily living in the course of a year involves thou­sands of culture traits arranged into hundreds of culture complexes, the whole of which constitutes what we term the Indonesian Way of Life. Another primary characteristic of man is his proneness to do things differently from other people when he can. The Indonesian Way of Life includes a large number of subcultures in which particular ways of doing some things are adhered to by those who prefer not to follow the course of the majority.

When we view the beginning of man and the initial development of culture, we cannot make many comparisons between different assemblages of subcultures, between culture complexes, and between culture traits. We cannot assume a single small Garden of Eden, in which it all began, nor can we assume that man, everywhere, was totally creative of such culture as he needed in the face of his necessities. That the Paleolithic Age was nearly two million years long, during which time man advanced only partially toward the state of civilization, is ample proof of the inaccuracy of the old adage ”Necessity is the Mother of Inven­tion”; man remained quite needy at the end of the Paleolithic. We cannot settle, once and for all, the issue of who created culture and where did it takes place. The examination of the evidence through archaeological research indicates clearly that Paleolithic man lived almost everywhere, had certain broad attributes in common, and possessed certain basic culture traits and complexes. Archae­ological evidence does suggest differences in living patterns in separate parts of the world, clearly hinting that culture was not uniform everywhere, although the ranges within which variation oc­curred were not very broad.

There are two general concepts that we must take into account in the gradual development of regional world cultures during early human occupation of the earth. The first is independent invention, and the second is the process of diffusion. Historically, modern anthropology first held strongly to the concept of unilinear evolutionary development of culture. Such a view necessarily included the con­cept of independent invention of every needful item as each group evolved through stages from savagery to civilization. The evolutionary concept, in its early limited form, was replaced by the diffusionist concept, which advocated that each culture trait was formulated but once and then copied by all other peoples exhibiting it; the process of borrowing, copying, or taking over from another is the essence of diffusion. Currently, most students of culture believe that some mixture of the two processes, invention and diffusion, is respon­sible for human culture in any particular regional or group form, although there is considerable spread of opinion on the relative significance of the two processes to any culture. A sector of contemporary cultural theory actively pursues studies in diffusion theory, the propagation of innovation waves, and the development of network geometry as reliably explaining many aspects of the historical spread of human occupancy over the earth. Certainly such studies have merit in parts of the earth in which reliable data may be found pertaining to subject issues. There has been less work done on problems of spatial dimensions and time frequencies of inventiveness, and no clear body of theory has yet developed around this side of the discussion. It may well be that when both sides of the whole problem of culture development have been explored, culturalist can significantly contribute to a solution of the relative importance of independent invention as against the significance of diffusion. Certainly there are fascinating prob­lems in both aspects of historical growth of culture on the earth. Lacking adequate data for an effective worldwide treatment of the issues, we do not indulge in the luxury of a few illustrative models of particular cases for the very early section of human history, although parts of our discussion tend toward the conjectural.

Viewing the length of the Paleolithic Age, how­ever, suggests quite clearly that the development of culture started slowly, that it grew by very small accretions, and that the numbers of new develop­ments were very small in any one region or during any single time interval. Comparatively, the Neo­lithic was an era of increase in fundamental ad­vances, whereas the rate of change has increased with fantastic rapidity in the millennium ending with the twentieth century. All reconstructions of the life of early Paleolithic man conclude that he made only slight additions to culture in any one place during any one time interval, but that in many different specific ecological environments he was acquiring rudiments of knowledge about earthly conditions and human practices. This meager knowledge promoted only a slow increase in his numbers but gave ability to survive in a primordial series of environments. To a degree at least this basic knowledge was shared by all of earliest man. The regional patterns of knowledge began to vary only as he learned particular things about particular regional environments, began to make particular discoveries, and completed a few elementary inventions or sub inventions suitable to the particular surroundings.


Magic, Religion, and Culture Systems


Earliest man could not have intelligently argued the issues implicit in the modern discussion of Science versus Religion. Neither could he have debated the view that too much religion in a society becomes an opiate. He certainly knew that he did not understand all the happenings of Nature and that some of these occurrences disturbed him terribly. In this lack of comprehension, fear of the unknown, and quest for assurance lie the human origins of all religious beliefs, practices, and activi­ties and all formulations of religious systems as such. The attribution of power in this sense to both physical objects and natural phenomena, and belief in spiritual beings and things of another world, in magic, ritual, mysticism, and formal ceremonialism, form a complex continuum designed to deal with the supernatural. They also develop an account of the relationship between man and his world, pro­vide a concept of, and explanation for, the universe, and establish mechanisms for assuaging forces that lie outside the control of man both as an individual and in groups. The forms, practices, and creeds developed by man in this broad range of situations vary from the simplest animistic beliefs and prac­tices to the most complex theological and philo­sophical constructs. Animism describes the beliefs (that good spirits and demons inhabit natural objects) normally held by early (and a few con­temporary) simple societies; the organized religions are constructs of sophisticated and civilized man during historic time; and the recent development of secularism expresses the thought of the World of Science that everything can be rationally under­stood and explained without recourse to mystical appeasement of the supernatural.

Regardless of the specific design of the religious system, the gregariousness of man reinforces the felt need for a faith and produces a social grouping of mankind into units larger than the natural family. This social grouping by religious systems is one of the basic structural patterns of human life on earth that continues in force. Religious social grouping becomes a regional phenomenon; the basic attitudes involved become strong elements in the formation of culture systems; thus religious patterns become dominant elements in the differentiation of cultures all over the earth. The very denial of religion by Communist doctrine yields a culture system with territorial bounds as significant as the affirmation of a particular religion within a regional territory. In early eras of mutually separable cultures, there was often little intermix­ing of peoples and culture systems. Today, of course, with the intricate interlinkage of all parts of the earth, the movement of people about the earth, and the diffusion of conceptual schemes, it is often difficult to visualize the cultural bonding in religious beliefs. However, this is a recent de­velopment quite atypical of most of the earth during human occupancies. Our concern here is for the formative role of religion in the development of culture in early time.

Among all human groups there have been those persons best able or most interested in interpreting supernatural phenomena for the rest of the group. The shaman, the soothsayer, the fortuneteller, the priest, the minister, the evangelist, the lay preacher, and the religious reformer, all belong to the cult, fraternity, or order that specializes in establishing contact with the supernatural. These agents practice the arts of appeasement and interpretation, devel­oping and maintaining the beliefs and rituals or the ceremonies and creeds by which the group may receive comfort, understanding, and interpretation. In all societies, these individuals normally have been the formulators, the documenters, and the interpreters of the belief proper to the group in question. Initially their function was formulation, whereas later it became preservation and main­tenance of the proper beliefs and doctrines. As such, they oversee the social formulation of culture sys­tems and serve as bulwarks of precedent against un­toward change.

Although the initial demand for a system of dealing with the supernatural might seem to have specific limits, every such system developed influences extending throughout the culture, for who could be certain as to what human act, or what failure in human action, annoyed the gods? The development of the religious system, therefore, extended not only to interpretation of supernatural phenomena, but also to the regulation of the daily life of all members of a group, toward the end that the group lived in some conceived and orderly behavioral system designed and governed by the most active minds of the group. In these terms religious forces became highly significant in the sloping of early culture systems; the role of religions in culture systems remains strong today throughout most of the world of man.


Territoriality, Space Relations, and the Regional World


The feeling of an individual for a home territory is related to the broader concept of biologic territoriality, something now understood to be widely distributed throughout the vertebrate world of animals and birds. It would appear that man inherited a sense of territoriality from his animal background which did not disappear in his biologic evolution from primordial man. Territoriality among birds and animals takes many forms and variations and, in man, its development shows varying degrees of completeness both in space and through time. Territoriality in some form is one of the strongest expressions of human personality, and one to which man has applied all sorts of embellishments in the creation of his patterns of culture.

In earliest man, the sense of territoriality proba­bly took a form somewhat related to that of many animals. A unit area was marked out as a private preserve for purposes of food acquisition, as the home range of the young, and with perimeters within which defense of the territory was carried out. The gregariousness of man, and the tendency to social grouping, probably made the basic terri­torial unit one occupied by a population of con­venient size. As for other animal forms, the area within the territorial unit probably depended rather directly on the ecologic productivity of the general region. The near-animal status of earliest man undoubtedly established a direct ecological relationship between the territory and the population, and thus one can say that earliest man was quite directly dependent on his environment.

The first human increments to culture could have had one of several results, although, at this distance in time, it is impossible to determine their precise nature. These possible results can be suggested:

1. Concentrating an interest in particular parts of the territorial range, recognizing some parts as more val­uable than others.

2. Increasing the range of man’s mobility as a food ac­quirer, thus extending the area of the territorial unit.

3. Increasing the efficiency of food acquisition, thus contracting the area of the territorial unit.

4. Increasing the ease of defense of the perimeters, thus solidifying a group’s hold on the territorial unit.

5. Increasing the population that could subsist on the territorial unit, thus reinforcing its occupancy of the territory, creating pressure for expanding that terri­tory, or both.


Regardless of which result came first, any incre­ment in culture could well have altered the defini­tion of what constitutes a group’s unit of territori­ality. All later increments could have had some impact upon the concept of the territorial unit.

We must recognize that environmental change took place, during the Pleistocene, as man was first refining notions of human territoriality. Shifts in glacial activity, in climatic aridity, in vegetative cover, in animal populations, in form of the litto­rals, and in surface-water supplies would not have allowed him to develop fixed ideas of territoriality, or attitudes toward geographic space or lowlands or uplands such as characterize many of the bird and animal forms. Regardless of the relationships of primordial man to whatever environments may have been his first home region, man developed the ability to adjust his concepts to many kinds of environments in many sizes, areas, shapes, and schemes of conformality. In part this can be ascribed to biologic evolution of the human species, but increasingly it must be ascribed to increments of culture. If man became biologically adaptable to varied physical environments, the development of rudiments of culture began to lessen man’s direct ecological dependence upon his environment.

Whatever early man’s intrinsic ability to live in different kinds of environments, the habits of territoriality remained with him. Having divided up earth space to begin with, in a sort of biologic instinct for territoriality man has been redefining his concept of territoriality with every significant change in culture. This has meant a continued shift in patterns of human regionalism throughout hu­man history.

The human attitudes toward space in general have both varied and changed. Some groups of humans came to prefer large amounts of geographic space per unit of population, whereas others seem­ingly have preferred smaller units and a greater degree of social contact. In the same way there has developed a wide range of attitude toward landscape in general; some peoples have sought the littorals, whereas others have sought the high mountains, the open plains, or the deep forests of lowlands.

We cannot be certain, at any time with any people considered a living group, how old is its preference for a particular kind of geographic space; we can only say, for a short span of human time, that certain groups have lived for specific periods in particular environments. Many human groups within historic time have had to occupy space that might be termed second, third, or fourth choice, since they have been deprived of territorial and spatial occupancies of a more preferred choice.

It is clear that as man has occupied the earth, he has lived under many different conditions in many different kinds of environments. When hu­man groups could do so, they have often chosen particular types of territoriality, particular kinds of landscapes, and have displayed particular atti­tudes toward the habitable world. In the long run of human history, human groups separated them­selves into an enormous number of distinct living groups on the several bases comprising the criteria for the occupance of the habitable world. That these territories in early time were often discrete units isolated from other territorial units was a factor in developing divergent trends in human patterns of culture. With each different kind of occupied environment there was a different kind of life to be led.


Cultural Development


Cultural development is a novel concept, originating from the concepts of social action in its broadest acceptation, which encompasses all walks of human life and extends to all dimensions of human endeavor. This concept emerged concurrently with the modern movement of intellectual revival. It then blossomed fully with the evolution of the perception that the international community has vis-à-vis the mission of culture in life as well as its role in building up the contemporary societies. Today, cultural development has become not only one of the study pillars of progress but also one of the basic constituents of the cultural and social policies adopted only by the States which have set development as a cardinal goal, ranking high among the other national goals that they are endeavoring to achieve.

Cultural development is as much the act of developing society culturally as that of developing culture socially and economically in such a way as to make in at efficient tool for developing the mechanisms of growth and fostering the efforts expended to promote the living standards, elevate humans, upgrade their skills and ameliorate their standing in society.

It is a fact, therefore, that cultural development is a broad-based concept that comes, in reality, within the scope of a global development based on the following three foundations:

  1. Establishing justice in its political, economic and social senses;
    1. Honoring humans through preserving their full rights, giving them a sound education and providing them with integrated care;
    2. Harnessing the scientific methods of thinking and planning for the realization of progress, development and prosperity in all domains.

As such, development is actually a process made up of integrated, interrelated and dynamics components. This is only natural since the various ingredients of the process of global societal building are intertwined.

Cultural development becomes, in this context, one of the firm pillars of sustainable, global development, without which it cannot possibly take place or play its role. Nor can it yield its bounties unless culture itself is fruitful and productive.

Thus, cultural development does not come from the void or materialize spontaneously. Rather, cultural development is the culmination of the interaction of a number of integrated factors. When there is a sufficient quantity of such factors as well as a satisfactory degree of complementarities among them, this will give birth to the catalyzing elements which are conductive to a cultural development consistent with all the other aspects of development.

Cultural development starts with the development of the foundations of culture, a process which goes through such stages as the promotion of culture, its modernization and, eventually, its crystallization so that it may become a constructive culture that seeks, first and foremost, to build man and society, on the basis of a rigorous definition of the concept of culture and a broad charting of the landmarks of its lebensraum.

Given that culture represents the sum total of human activities in the intricate, vast fields of intellectual, literary and artistic creativity, and that cultural action is, on the whole, closely linked with the societal climate and the general economic conditions, the rise of the cultural development likely to bring about the cultural progress and intellectual flourishing aspired, and also guarantee, by the same token, the advance of society, is contingent upon the presence of the required objective factors in society and the needed strong will in individuals and groups, both at the official and grassroots levels. When these conditions are fulfilled altogether, energies will be released, gifts will be fostered, and creativity, inventiveness and intellectual production will thus be goaded in order to promote the quality of living to the delight of humans, and thereby take part efficiently in the intellectual, cultural, social and civilization development of society.




  1. Ahman Sya (2004). Masyarakat Kampung Naga Tasikmalaya, Tasikmalaya:            CV. Gadjah Poleng
  2. Mandelbaum, Maurice (ed)., 1998. Philosophic Problems. New York: The MacMillan Company.
  3. Huntington, Elsworth (1951). Principles of Human Geography. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  4. Mizuno (1996). Rural Industrialization in Indonesia. Tokyo: Institute of Developing Economics.
  5. Spencer, J.E. & Williams Thomas, Jr. (1996). Cultural Geography. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.


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