After food, shelter is the most important need of man. Men construct houses and develop settlements to protect themselves against the vagaries of weather and to enjoy social life. In fact, settlement is man’s important step towards adapting himself to his physical environment.
The problem of rural and urban settlements has increasingly been probed by anthropologists, sociologists, ethnographers, economists and geographers. They, however, examine this issue with different objectives and methodologies. Few people live in isolation.
Most people of the world reside in some form of settlement—a permanent collection of houses, buildings and inhabitants.
Settlements occupy a very small percentage of the earth’s surface but exert a far greater influence on the world’s culture.
Settlements are both the storage centres of the world’s cultural heritage and the point of origin for the dissemination of innovative economic, social and political patterns.
It is because of cultural functions that the study of settlement is most basic to human geography. In fact, settlement in any particular region reflects man’s relationship with his natural environment.
1. Origin of Settlements:
The precise reasons for the formation of settlements are not known. The events are shrouded in mystery, as they occurred before recorded history. There are only reasonable conjectures on where and why permanent settlements began.
Before the domestication of plants and establishment of settlements, the human beings were nomads, wandering in tribes across the landscape in search of food and water. Food was obtained through the gathering of wild berries and roots or the killing of wild animals.
The historians and cultural anthropologists have given several explanations for the development of human settlements.
The main reasons for the establishments have been religious, cultural, military, political and economic. A brief account of these factors has been given below in this section:
The first permanent settlement may have served religious purposes, specifically as places to bury the dead. After all, what could be more permanent than a grave?
The nomadic tribes may have had rituals honoring the dead, perhaps memorial services on the anniversary of a death.
Having established a permanent resting place for the dead, the tribe would have installed priests at the site to perform the appropriate rituals. Subsequently, the place of worship (temple) became a centre of attraction and helped in the development of settlements.
The settlement may also have served as a place to house women and children, permitting the men to wander further in their search for food.
Women worked on home crafts, such as pots, baskets, clothes and other household goods, using materials gathered by men.
The priests, teachers, women and children were vulnerable to attack from the other tribes. To protect them, youths (soldiers) were stationed in the settlement.
The settlements were also the base for political leaders, who needed a strategic location from which to protect the tribe’s land claim.
Because the military and religious leaders lived there, the settlement needed adequate defence. How could the settlement best be protected?
The answer was to build a surrounding wall, strong enough to withstand the attack. Thus, settlements became citadels centers of military power.
The religious, military, and political leaders and the dependents needed food which was supplied by the tribe through hunting or gathering.
As long as the tribe was gathering surplus food for the people in the settlement, someone eventually wondered, why should they not bring a bit extra in case of hard times, such as drought, floods or war.
The settlement thus acquired an economic role to store extra supply of food. The people could bring the commodities they have collected in the settlement.
The settlement could serve as neutral ground for the different people who could stay together and perform socioeconomic activities.
6. Site of Settlements:
The site, growth and development of human settlements are closely influenced by the available soil, water, forest and mineral resources.
Depending on the nature and quality of resources, the settlements may be temporary or permanent and from the rural settlements they may acquire the status of urban settlements.
7. Unstable Settlements:
About 3.5 per cent of the total population is nomadic, having temporary settlement. In fact, the permanent rural and urban settlements are, however, the results of long evolution.
Hunting people, pastoralists, transhumant’s and the shifting cultivators have essentially movable dwellings. For example, nomads almost always pitch their tents within a small perimeter and make very close settlement
The khaimas of Badawins of Saudi Arabia, the camps of Kirghiz of Central Asia, the kraals of African nomads, the temporary structures of jhumias (shifting cultivators) of North-East India and the kothas (houses) and bandis (cattle sheds) of the Gujjars and Bakarwals of Jammu & Kashmir are some of the examples of temporary or unstable settlements.
Similarly, the Mors of Vietnam and the Fans of West Africa (primitive cultivators) build close-set villages which they move, sometimes from season to season.
All the hunters, nomads and itinerant cultivators have very strong social cohesion. Yet, the cohesion sometimes gives way temporarily and the form and site of settlement are changed accordingly.
For example, the Eskimos decide on the site of their dwelling according to the seasonal appearances of game in winter, the igloos form a stable settlement with grouped dwellings, for this is the period of darkness when all important activities stop and when hunting seals near the igloos can provide extra food.
Summer, however, is a time of movement; the tribe disperses in little nomadic family groups consisting of few tents.
Each group follows a traditional course which will take it back to the winter encampment at the end of the season.
This periodic return to the same winter quarter ensures the cohesion of the tribe, for in summer all the moral and religious ties of the little community are relaxed.
The Gujjars and Bakarwals of Jammu & Kashmir who practice transhumance also have a double form of settlement and dwelling.
They settle in the winter season in the valleys of Siwaliks where winters are mild and pastures are available for their flocks.
During winters, thus, they live in close-set villages. In the summer season, they along with their goats, ascend in the dhoks or margs (alpine pastures) of the Middle Himalayas, situated about 200 kilometers away from their winter dwellings.
During the upward and downward journey, they halt at least at 10 to 12 conventional camping grounds to utilize the intervening pastures.
In these summer pastures, they have temporary structures and shades. In order to avoid mutual inconvenience between the various kafilas (groups), the Bakarwals split into small sub-groups which camp independently.
The shifting cultivators, who constantly have to clear new grounds, have to do arduous work to clear the forests and to develop fields for cultivation.
When the soil near the village is exhausted they move to new sites for cultivation and many a times they have to shift their settlements also.
The unstable settlements are, however, confined in the deserts and semi-desert areas, tundra, equatorial forests and mountainous areas.
The total number of nomads and those who shift their dwellings and settlements frequently or seasonally is not very small, being less than 2 per cent of the total population of the world.
8. Stable Rural Settlements:
Any settlement in which most of the people are engaged in agriculture, forestry, mining and fishery is known as a rural settlement.
A rural settlement is often been called an agricultural workshop. It cannot be separated from the land whose use it ensures.
Its type, shape and pattern are generally in accordance with the kind of work, the agricultural techniques and the way the soil is used.
Most of the rural settlements of the world are stable and permanent. The rural areas are dominated by open countryside, extensive land uses, relatively low population densities and simple mode of life. It is often supposed to be opposite to urban. Most of the world’s settlements are rural.