Culture Shock: The misleading term "culture contact" doesn't begin to express the dramatic effects of changes brought by outside
Culture Shock: The misleading term "culture contact" doesn't begin to. express the dramatic effects of changes brought by outsiders
The shock of "contact" has taken many forms, initially, at least, to indigenous people just the physical presence of outsiders was shocking. Missionaries, slavers, miners, lumbermen, ranchers, agriculturists - all have "visited" indigenous homeland, literally battering and badgering the inhabitants first into interaction and then submission.
For some indigenous groups, the disastrous effects of contact have been felt before any actual physical communication. Outsiders' diseases - smallpox, measles influenza - would spread rapidly from village to village, leaving decimation in their wake, it is this rampant spread of disease and death prior to physical contact with outsiders that has prevented us from determining the exact numbers of indigenous groups in the world.
Weakened and decimated by foreign epidemics, many indigenous groups then experienced the onset of actual contact with outsiders. On cultures already in crisis, the impact were, predictably, disastrous. Some native groups embraced the apparent power of the religion, politics, or economics of the outsiders. When others resisted, they were subjugated, displaced, or killed. Rarely did outsiders treat them as equals. Once contact was made, often groups sought further communication with the encroaching society. They wanted employment and education, a chance to improve their economic lot by becoming, at least for a time, a part of the dominant society.
Recently new hazards have threatened indigenous areas, often without the inhabitants' knowledge. Mining and refining minerals are poisoning lands, rivers, food, and, of course, the people themselves. Frequently such operations have been moved onto native lands because, while Western countries have determined that these activities pose serious health risks and have banned them at home, Western consumers still demand the products. Pesticides, drugs, and radioactive and toxic wastes that are dangerous, severely regulated, or even banned in the United States are deliberately sold or dumped onto the lands of unknowing peoples. (The president of Benin recently signed a contract with a European waste company to dump toxic and low-grade radiate waste on the lands of his tribal opposition.)
Although tourists introduce the most striking contrasts in culture contact, the most seriously threatening contacts continue to be between indigenous peoples and their neighbors in the unceasing conflict over rights to land and resources. The excerpts reprinted here are small samples of the patches that make up the crazy quilt of contact between indigenous peoples and outsiders. Brief as this section is, it gives one food for thought the complexities of such contact are dizzying. And all of these stories are even more sobering when we realize that contact among all peoples is increasing exponentially in this age of global communication.
THE ROAD TO EXTINCTION
The sad fate of the Yabgan and Ona peoples of Tierra del Fuego serves to encapsulates the devastation that contact with Westerners can bring to a native group; they experienced virtually every catastrophe brought by the West to other:, similar indigenous group. Just 100 years after the first European settlement was established on Tierra del Fuego; the last Ona Indian died.
Missionaries attempted to work with the Yahgan but there is little evidence that they helped them survive. After establishing a permanent mission on the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego in 1869, SAMS (Church of England) attempted to bring individuals to the mission to be educated and to work as laborers. Instruction lasted two or three hours per day. The rest of the time the men living at the mission were expected to cut timber, build, fences and houses, construct roads, and tend livestock and gardens. They were not paid wages. Instead they were given food for themselves - not their families - and sold Western clothing which had been donated in Europe. Nor was the health of those at the mission better off than that of the Yahgano population at large. An observer wrote that between 1881 and 1895 every child in the mission village had died, whether in the orphanage or on Yahgan homes. Not one child in dozens born survived its first year…
By 1900 regular steamship traffic allowed the export of wool from Tierra del Fuego and within 20 years frozen mutton was being shipped from the island. By 1904 a road had been built to connect Ushauaia and the north coast of Tierra del Fuego (and all the ranches in between). By 1909 there were three lumber camps employing hundreds of men to cut timber in the forest where the last Ona had been permitted to live without being in permanent contact with whites. As in the nineteenth century, assimilated Yahgan and Ona provided most of the labor for these enterprises. For examples, the road that was built from the south to the north of the island was reported to have required the labor of 100 Indians for a year.
In a matter of 60 years, the Ona and Yahgan had been victims of successive waves of sailors, whalers, sealers, miners, missionaries, sheep herders, soldiers, and lumbermen. Those who did not die as a result of contact with these outsiders had to work for others on what had once been their land. The European incorporated the lands of these once self-sufficient hunters and gathers into the world economy. By 1932, the island supported only one-third as many people as it had before the settlers arrived.
During the twentieth century the individuals that survived contact were left on their own to find accommodation with the colonists. In 1973, only 100 years after the first European settlement was established on Tierra del Fuego, the last full-blooded Ona died.
THE FIELDS OF THE LORD
The efforts of missionaries to Cbristinazie an indigenous culture often are in that culture's worst interests - they change a community's political structure and undermine the status of traditional leaders, as well as Westernizing the values of the community's younger generation, its next leaders. This excerpt is from Cultural Survival Quarterly's special issue on religion and indigenous cultures ("Keeping the Faith?" vol. 7, no.3, 1983).
The missionary arrives. He orders the construction of a landing field for the airplane, a church for the religious services, he establishes a school and begins to relocate outlying villages into one large community. Missionaries use the name of the indigenous community to receive governmental consent for these activities without having asked the community itself for permission…
Along with "education," missionaries import regulations such as the appointment of headmen and commissaries, which directly affect the political affairs of the community, stratifying the community and its members. This ... radically splits a people who had been essentially equal - a people whose leaders and intellectuals (shamans, historians, and knowledgeable elders) shared in the daily affairs, subsistence activities, and communication with all members of the community.…
Accompanying the missionary installations and the newly created social inequalities are the creation of rich and poor factions. These differences are reflected in the physical layout of the community, where the church and religious infrastructure occupy much of the area (the church, residence for the priests, school, infirmary, stables, etc.) and the indigenous members find themselves in the periphery with less land to themselves. Traditional leaders lose their power of influence. They are no longer sought out for advice; now people go to the missionary house. Visitors also go directly to the parsonage, leaving the indigenous sector to one side, subordinated to a lower slot.
Perhaps the most subversive form of culture contact is in the areas of pesticide poisonings, toxic waste dumpings, mercury contamination (as a result of gold prospecting), nuclear testing - activities that have been banned in the West, only to be transplanted to the Third World, Back when Cultural Survival Quarterly was still a newsletter, we were reporting on such injustices in our "Poisons and Peripheral People" series.
Pesticide poisonings have increased. World Health Organization officials estimate that one Third World resident is prisoner by pesticides every minute; of these approximately 500,000 poisoning per year, 5,000 are fatal…
In some cases, villagers are unaware of the danger posed by pesticides. In 1977, 44 deaths occurred in South Africa after people handled agricultural chemicals. In most cases people did not wash themselves properly, did not clean food that had been sprayed, or used pesticide containers for drinking or cooking. In Iran, butchers are reported to have sprayed carcasses with insecticides to keep the files away. In 1972, 400 Iraqis died and 5,000 were hospitalized after consuming products made from 8,000 tons of wheat and barley coated with an organic mercury fungicide. Initially the seed was preferred because loaves made from it were pink. In Pakistan, Guatemala, and the US Southwest mercury poisoning occurred after eating similarly treated seed. In Papua New Guinea, an aide at Mt. Hagen Hospital brought an empty Paraquat bottle, clearly marked "poison" in English, to be filled with cough syrup. He did not read English. Throughout the world pesticide containers are sold as water containers and plastic pesticide bags are used as raincoats…
Herbicide use in the Guaporé Valley [Brazil] is not well documented. However, in the early seventies, defoliants sprayed from airplanes killed Indians' mangabeira fruit trees, about a kilometer from the area being converted to pasture. The rancher simply stated, "When pastures are sprayed, the wind always carries a little towards the Indians' villages." If there are cumulative effects later on, no one will be able to trace it to the use of Tordon [a herbicide used to clear forest].
In 1975, Fazenda Amburana received permission from FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, to develop the lands whether Indians lived on them or not. In fact an Indian village was and is still on the land. Regardless, the ranchers began clearing the land, using Tordon 155. A FUNAI agent requested that federal police stop the clearing in 1979. At that time police confiscated cans of Tordon 155, which had been banned in 1977.
Indians are not aware of the dangers. They use contaminated cans for drinking water which they take from contaminated streams where they swim and bathe. Crops are planted beside the same streams. By 1980, the FUNAI agent noted increasing numbers of stillbirths, miscarriages, infant deformities, and adult kidney problems even in environments distant from the areas of Tordon use. Even the supposedly "safe" Tordon 101 (2,4-D) can cause damage.
Our series an poisons continued with the first issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly. This section is on chemical wastes and mining.
The shift of Benzedrine dye manufactures abroad endangers the health of workers throughout the world. In the Third World, worker health regulations are lax…
A dyestuff industry in Bombay dumps untreated chemical sewage directly into a river, contaminating the drinking and bath water for downstream residents. The firm is 47 percent Italian owned; but in Italy both Benzedrine dye manufacture and dumping of this type is against the law.
As many tribal and ethnic groups move away from the use of natural dyes to cheaper, synthetic ones in producing their own clothing, they begin to expose themselves to even greater risks than workers in textile plants where operation are mechanized…
By 1975, waste from one Canadian chemical company polluted the English and Wabigoon Rivers with mercury. Some 1,300 Indians on two remote reserves near Kenora have been affected. The government has warned them to fish and had brought in supplies from other areas, but the mercury has also contaminated other animals and plants that are important in the Indians' diet. The mercury will remain in the area for years to come .…
Quechua Indians in Bolivia, who mine the country's number I export, tin, generally do not live more than seven years after going to the mines. For their efforts they earn $1 per day and the lowest life expectancy (42 years) in the Western Hemisphere. Their children have the highest infant mortality rate in this hemisphere.
Culture in this half of the century frequently occurs through tourism. Cultural Survival Quarterly has published several issues on tourism, the first, in 1982, entitled "The Tourist Trap: Who's Getting Caught?" (vol. 6, no. 3). these two excerpts, the first from a theoretical essay and the second from an article on Native American, illustrate how tourism often masks a culture in order to make it "palatable" to Westerners.
Much more typical is the situation of tourists in a Senegal resort who are offered the opportunity to "fish in the native style" and cheerfully lend a hand helping the natives haul in the nets. What the visitors don't know is that the authentic local fishermen have been ordered away from this part of the coast; in fact, the people they help are employed by the hotel to give the requisite degree of native flavor.
The pre-tourism lifestyle of local residents is usually modest. When visitors descend, however, they require numerous amenities to re-create aspects of their homelife. This leads to rising expectation and new lifestyles among the locals. Ironically, it may also lead to a decline in tourism as visitors find that the locale no longer offers unique attractions.
In order to maintain or increase the flow of tourist monies, a contrived and artificial "folk culture" is frequently staged. It may even be invented as locals respond to the expectations of visitors. Townspeople will invent a "traditional blessing of the fleet" to attract visitors; an "old town" will be newly built (complex with hired locals dressed in the costumes of some archaic and often mythical "olden times"); new "folk crafts" will be designed and taught to the natives by outsiders. The American Southwest Indians, for example, discovered that travelers frequently bought their more crudely made pottery because those "looked more handmade and authentic" than the more perfectly fashioned items. They began to manufacture such pots deliberately; few kept the old standards.
In our second issue on tourism. "Breaking Out of the Tourist Trap: Part One" (vol. 14, no. 1, 1990), Margaret Byrne Swain examined the working of ethnic tourism in China's southwest region. Even though such tourism brings China's ethnic group into the country's economy can these groups maintain their uniqueness when the state "markets" their culture? The author finds some hope in this scenario - if the indigenous groups can control their "commoditization."
These ethnic groups are incorporated into tourism through the commoditization of ethnicity - the production and exchange of ethnic goods and behaviors for consumption by others, a process found worldwide. I use this term, rather than "cultural commoditization," because ethnicity can be defined with a political power dimension critical to my analysis. As ethnic goods and behaviors are transformed into commodities for tourist consumption, the interplay of cultural and political factors in the economy affects just how sustainable this tourism development can be. Some argue that tourism perpetuates inequalities between an indigenous group and its dominating nation and also between rich and poor countries (Lea 1988:11). In stable natural and political environments, ethnic tourism can promote economic development for an indigenous group if the group owns the process in terms of its own cultural continuity and power (Swain 1989). In China, power dynamics among the ethnic group, the socialist state, and multinational tourist capitalism create a complete picture. The role of the state is critical in defining China's ethnic tourism industry through its regulation of tourism investment, production, and consumption.…
All of China's ethnic minority groups have a history of conflict and negotiation with the Chinese state.…
The state is the arbitrator of relations among producers, marketers, and consumers in China's ethnic tourism. It is the state which defines the commodity and who and what constitutes an ethnic group. There are definite an ethnic group, There are definite economic advantages to promoting ethnicity for commoditization. It stimulates the national economy and attracts foreign capital. Official Chinese ideology both protects national minority groups and promotes their ultimate assimilation. From this perspective, ethnic tourism is intended to be used economically as a temporary cultural phenomenon, not as a vehicle for ethnic group sustainability. The Chinese state is also a primary factor in affected the flow of consumers, as the dramatic change from a booming to a virtually dead domestic and foreign tourism market in the wake of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre illustrates. Although an indigenous group can make its own tourism plans, it is the state which channels funds and allows foreign investors access. Flourishing informal tourism activity such as the Sani women peddlers exists at the wish of the state and the availability of consumers.
For indigenous groups in China, ethnic tourism reinforces their separateness from the majority while integrating them into the state economy. Whether tourism promotes cultural continuity of touristized ethnic groups of ethnic group assimilation depends on the state's allocation of control in the process of ethnicity commoditization. If the ethnic group, through individual actors, has no control over tourism activity - as seems the case on Hainan Island - then it is likely that their participation is exploitative and devalues their culture. If the ethnic group can take control - as the Sani have through their own actions and programs - then ethnic tourism can well give the group economic power to reinforce its identify as it adapts to new definitions and cultural values for ethnic markers. They type of "indigenous tourism" development validates the power of the autonomy or self-government that the groups - in theory - have from the states.
A LESSON IN MANNERS
Cynthia M. Dagnal-Myron is a writer who lives with her husband, a Native American artist, in Hopi Country. Here she shares some of her frustration at being cornered by tourists in the Indian Market, as well as her anger at visitors' bad manner regarding religious practices.
Our two-year-old cannot sit still all stay in the sun and the crush of gawking art "enthusiasts." And if one more gaggle of blue-haired grannies in Madras Bermudas comes grinning up to her and asks me, "Is this little doll for sale?" they're going to have to call the riot police. Some day, I'm going to walk up to a white woman with a baby in her grocery cart and cry, "What a darling little white child! Is he a fullblood? May I take his picture? Could you stand over by the Wonder Bread, please - my Hopi friends will just die when they see this!"…
It's no less annoying when the wild questions come from farther away, though. Recently, a film crew for a German public television station visited one of our schools and, upon discovering a real live medicine woman in its midst, inquired whether she might "do one of her ceremonies for us" to be shown all over western Europe.
I doubt your priest has ever been asked, "And please if you don't mind, could you just do ... what is it? Your ... little Mass thing for us in a few minutes here? Could you wear perhaps your little costume and ... well, whatever you wear."
THE "NEW MIGRATION'
Although migration has always been a part of the human experience - a way to hold on to or improve certain parts of life - the industrial age brought about migration imposed by outsiders, when people migrate in search of jobs. This "new migration," in which people go from lesser developed to more developed countries or regions, has introduced its own form of culture shock for those who migrate - and those who are left behind. Here is what happened in many Garifuna Indian villages in Belize; Guantemala:, and Honduras.
By 1975 the only Carib village in Guatemala had changed in many ways. Many houses were boarded up and had fallen into disrepair. Both men and women were leaving the community to find jobs as soon as they could pay their fare to Guatemala City or to New York. Many expressed hopes that they might not have to live there again. Small children were left with grandmothers, sometimes even before they had come to know their own mothers well. Now, as they approach their late teens, they grow increasingly restless, and begin to talk about when they too will leave. Until their great opportunity arrives, they spend their time in idleness, and often become involved in petty crimes such as marijuana traffic, theft, and prostitution. The elderly complain that the young no longer help with domestic chores, do not know how to fish or garden, or even prepare native foods. Disputes among siblings over the small properties left by recently deceased parents are increasingly common, each heir claiming that it was his or her remittances which had permitted the construction of the house or the purchase of consumer goods left behind.
Gradually, many towns become old peoples' homes, but with youngsters - usually grandchildren - hanging about on the sidelines - uneasy, undisciplined, and increasingly illundisciplined, and increasingly ill-prepared either to live at home or in the outside world. Some parents now prefer to raise their children in New York, where schools and public health facilities are superior. Although filial loyalty is still strong, the increased presence in New York of wives and children has meant a decline in the remittances sent back to Central America. Unless a child remains at home with its grandparents, people tend to let the months slip by without mailing a check.
Here is an example of the effects of labor migration in Peru - with some positive notes in migrants' efforts to keep their culture alive in the city.
Labor migration has introduced a package of contradictions to the cultural identity of highland peasants. On the one hand, the new urbanites acquire city culture - with scarcely a backward glance. They join unions, strike, hustle, and dance the salsa. They become permanent residents by turning their bamboo squatters' huts into brick and concrete houses of substantial proportions.…
At the same time, however, in Lima and all other large cities in Peru, migrants of all backgrounds constantly organize "provincial" representing their home communities. In Lima there are more than 5,000 such clubs dedicated to glorifying the "homeland," celebrating its festivals, encouraging its development through cash donations, gifts, and lobbying [Doughy 1972; Lobo 1982:266-76; Osterling 1980:157-84]. Like "alumni associations," caravans of migrant club members and others return to their native villages for feast days and to exhort their friends to improve their lifestyle and develop the land. Yet, by exalting their own successes in the city, they further encourage migration to Lima.
This excerpt gives a view of what it is like for Amuesha Indian girls from the community of Miraglores in Peru when they are sent by their parents to Lima to work in middle-class homes. Their parents do not send them willingly; the Amuesha have been squeezed economically by the presence of jungle colonizers, and outsiders' racial prejudices regarding the Amuesba's "inferiority" have prompted these Indians to actively seek ways to change their identities.
Servant girls usually live in, for all practical purposes, captivity. In one case, the patron allowed the girl to leave the house only on one weekly trip to the market. She was punished if she returned late. When the girls wanted to return late. When the girl wanted to return to her father's house, she had no way of informing him because the patron controlled all correspondence.
When Amuesha girls leave home to work as servants in the city, they lose contract with their own culture and its values. In Lima their world is limited; the family of the patron serves as their only model for social values. From this new family, Amuesha servant girls learn that their own culture is backward and savage…
Today [in Miraflores] there is not one unmarried woman older than 12 living in the community, and there are 29 young men between the ages of 18 and 30 who are looking for wives. If this situation continues (there is no indication that it will not) there will be no new generation of Amuesha in Miraflores. They will not be able to reproduce themselves either biologically or culturally.
LIVING LIKE A REFUGEE
The cultural "fallout" that indigenous groups can experience when they are thrust into a refugee camp is compounded by their homelessness. the kawthoolei Woman's Organization (KWO) is an outgrowth of the Karen national liberation struggle in Burma, first promoted by the Karen National Union (KNU). The war referred to here is the ongoing struggle for democracy that is still taking place in Burma.
The war situation has, according to several KNU officials, led thousands of Karen girls to compromise their "traditional moral character." Forced to flee with other villagers across the Thai border to escape the atrocities committed routinely by Burmese Army soldiers, they have been tempted into the Thai service industry in towns such as Mae Sot as an alternative to life in the Spartan refugee camps. Naw Paw Nay, the leader of the Wangkha KWO committee, said it was difficult to prevent the girls from choosing this path: "They want to earn money to buy all the material goods they see in Thailand, but in the refugee camps they can't earn anything." The problem is apparently increasing, because when the girls return dressed in Thai finery to visit their village across the border, their friends see how easy it is to make money and follow them back to Thailand.
The lack of money or the means to earn it, in the Karen refugees camps along the Thai border is a major obstacle to KWO's activities. For example, part of KWO's social duties - which also include hospitality to visitors and marriage counseling - are to arrange for traditional Karen costumes to be woven and worn. In Wangkha refugee camp, however, which has a population of more than 2,000, few of the refugees are to be seen wearing traditional Karen clothing. Naw Paw Nay, who was seeking refuge in the camp together with several hundred other KWO members during the 1989 Burmese Army offensive against the Karen stronghold of Kawmoora, said it was impossible for them to raise money even to buy the thread to weave the garments. Aid to the nine refugee camps along the Thai border, with a total populations of more than 20,000 consists only of rice and a few other basic food necessities, provided mainly by a consortium of Christian agencies. The aid is channeled to the camps through the Karen Refugee Committee, based at Mae Sot.
The Sabrawis of Western Sabara, a land currently being contended for by both the Kingdom of Morocco and the Sabrawi nationalist Polisario Front, are an example of how a culture can thrive despite the homelessness and hopelessness of a refugee environment.
After 16 years of war, one might expect to see the all-too-familiar tragic camp scenes. Instead, the Sahrawis have turned the harsh desert of their exile into an enabling environment. In the midst of another drought in the African continent, the Sahara is blooming. In a daily struggle against their bleak surroundings, Sahrawis have planted garden in their refugee camps as well as inside Western Sahara. Some of the food needs for the camps' 165,000 residents grow out of these small oases of hope. The vegetable gardens are one of many self-supporting programs initiated by Sahrawi exiles.…
Fifteen years ago, conditions in Sahrawi camps were similar to those in northern Iraq, coastal Bangladesh, and the southern Sudan. Today, while refugees and displaced persons in much of the Third World are suffering from starvation and disease, most Sahrawi exiles are healthy. In the hanada there are no listless faces, no blank gazes. The Sahrawid have implemented a self-supporting, comprehensive health-care system, the main thrust of which is preventive medicine.…
The World Bank and other non-governmental organizations only recently have begun to make development projects people-centered; the Sahrawis, on the other hand, have focused on building human capacities throughout their 16 years in exile. With a minimal supply f books, paper, and visual aids, the Sahrawis have created pubic schools (from the nursery through secondary levels), vocational training programs, and adult education classes. For the Sahrawis, developing human resources is a way of clearing the roadblocks for the journey home.…
While may African countries remain tied to foreign aid, the Sahrawis have opted for self-sufficiency. Emphasizing grassroots participation, indigenous training, and the informal sector, the Sahrawis have created an enabling economic environment out of their otherwise harsh surroundings. In November 1975, within the first months of exile, the Sahrawis decided that they could not entrust their fate no outside donors. They organized themselves, even without supplies, using whatever resources were available. Because they channeled energies at the local level, everyone became involved in the daily life of their communities. People felt empowered rather than overwhelmed. Sixteen years later, the Sahrawis are meeting the most basic needs of food, clothing, and housing through local production. By encouraging individuals to show the way, the Sahrawi development strategy has produced a vibrant labor force…
During the afternoon hours of intense heat, Sahrawi men gather to play desert chess (dama) while the women take up another traditional game, es-sig. The afternoon is also the time for tea; in the desert, one does not live on water alone. As the proverb goes, the first glass it as bitter as life, the second as soft as love, and the third as sweet as death.
CASH AND CUSTOM
Kava is the Pacific's indigenous drug, and it has spawned a growing number of kava bars in the country of Vanuatu. In the capital, Part Vila, alone, more than 60 nakamals (Kava bars) are doing business.
In Vanuatu's rural, outer islands, people in the main continue to drink kava in a more traditional, ritualized manner; in town, however, there has been a brisk transformation of kava from sacred substance to recreational drug. Ironically, during the same years that this commodification of kava and the drug's shift from gift to market economy were under way, kava also flowered as a conspicuous emblem of Vanuatu's tradition and identity. In local political discourse and ceremony, kava drinking has come to stand for the value and endurance of island kastom - the distinctive traditions that politicians like to evoke in order to foster sentiments of national unity and identity. People in Vanuatu today are debating kava's contrary functions: traditional sacred substance on the one hand, and cash crop and contemporary political icon on the other.
Western culture's long arm reaches some unlikely place, as this excerpt illustrates. Video and audio technology can be seen as the corrupter, or - since its influence on all cultures is not only inevitable but also beneficial - it can be used for art and education within communities.
My first exposure to that quintessential hero of American pop culture, Rambo, came in 1988 while I was in Buala village on the island of Santa Isabel, Solomon Islands. Although I had missed out on the first epic Rambo movie, fortune would allow me to catch up on this latest film phenomenon, by seeing the second Rambo film. Rambo, at a village video open to anyone willing to pay the 60 cents admission price (about 25 cents US). The video showings run almost nightly on a VCR powered by a gasoline generator in a small house built out of corrugated iron and thatch, Insides, several rows of benches and the earthen floor accommodate an audience of 25 to 30 people. So it was that in 1988, while I was in Buala researching local recollections of World War II, my wife, four-year-old son, and I decided to see firsthand this new addition to village life. Here, after all, was a kind of latter-day cultural invasion not unlike that brought on by the military forces that flooded the Solomons during World War II with new kinds of people, technologies, and images on a scale unknown before or since.…
There is an obvious and important connection between [the] duties [of the Council of Chiefs]. "Reviving and promoting traditions" will require that young people take an interest in local culture. In particular, if the knowledge of local history and ancestry - the basis for collective identification with the land - is to be reproduced, storytelling, feasts, and ritual celebrations will have to contend with newer pursuits. Thus, for example, at a village church-day feast I attended not long ago, the custom dancers performing in the village plaza who are normally the center of attention on such occasions were competing with "fundraising" cardgame activities under way in an adjacent house. People crowed in to play and watch betting games, all to the accompaniment of recorded rock music and some been drinking. On the other hand, the electronic gadgets that bring a taste for rock music and Rambo may also be put to use in the service of custom, as in the now popular tape-recording and videotaping of custom stories and performances.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.