Google+ Authentic Parenting: Perception Of Traditional Societies (rerun)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Perception Of Traditional Societies (rerun)

I have been writing a lot about traditional society and Western Society lately, so I thought it might be time to set a few things straight - things that for me as a person living in Africa are quite obvious, but that might not be for my readers, who might have never visited an african or other 'Third World' (you know I hate that terminology) country.

  1. Traditional societies might be heading down the path of extinction faster than the polar bear. In fact, there are only very few communities on earth still untouched by 'civilization' (rather intresting term because one might ask if we are indeed as civilized as we tend to believe). Of course there are some communities who have been discovered but who chose to remain authentic, but they are very rare. Even though the African countries I have lived in are still a lot more in tune with nature than any Western country I have visited - they have been corrupted by colonization and the draw of industrialized glitter. They are probably rather far away from traditional and they will never be the same again. One can only hope that they maintain some cultural integrity, but I fear that is idle hope.
  2. In no way can we learn about traditional societies, because learning of them would either mean we 'invade' them for study, or we come across one of them to retract information both options will give tainted results, for they involve bringing them into contact with industrialization. 
  3. Any view of traditional society we might have or come across is tainted by our personal world view. Even after living in Africa for four years, I still hold my Western hegemonic views and - though I would gladly shed them - I will never view Africa, or other societies uncolored by my previous experiences and by my worldview.
  4. There is not one bulk 'Third World', there is not even one bulk 'Africa'. There is no way we can compare Asian countries to African countries and there are huge discrepancies between the different countries in Africa, even in Sub-Saharian Africa. I have thus far visited and or lived in 5 different African countries and all I see is differences. 
  5. Africa is not (only) dying children, hungry people and elephants on Serengeti plains. Africa is not a vessel of poor little people who need savior. 
  6. The more traditional approaches - however close to nature - do not hold all the answers to life and are often very flawed. They often employ superstitious practices and counterintuitive beliefs.

We have a great deal to re-learn and can indeed base some of this rediscovery of mankind on traditional societies, but this does not mean we need to shed all the knowledge 'civilization' has gained. We should look at cultural practices like a fruit salad. Cut up the different fruits (cultures) and cut out the rotten parts, then throw it all in a bowl and stir.



  1. I followed you over here after you left a comment on my blog. What a lovely blog you have! I'm very much enjoying your writing. :)

  2. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal and lived in Kenya - and while I agree with the fundamental points that you make, I think they are too sweeping. We CAN learn about traditional cultures - from members who come out and learn our culture enough to talk with us. It is always difficult to understand truly different paradigms but I think the exercise is essential. We MUST try to understand each other because we share this world together - and there is much to be learned on both sides. Also, culture is not a static thing even in "traditional" cultures. They are constantly trying to solve problems and adopting new solutions. Lastly, it is difficult to chop up a culture and get the benefit from the things they have right, because it is often the whole complex that achieves the result - not just the pieces.

  3. I was Peace Corps volunteer In Senegal and lived in Kenya. While I agree with your fundamental points, I feel you are too sweeping.
    1) I would argue that no culture is a monolith - cultures have always been and will always be changing. Humans are always trying to find new ways to solve problems, even if they learn it from another culture. Look at how the Native Americans adopted horses and made them their own. So now Africans use cars and bread - but they do it in their own unique way. There are differences from village to village, just as there are regional differences in the US.
    2)I disagree strongly with this - yes fundamentally we'll never truly understand, but I would say that even members of a culture can't really articulate their culture unless they have been exposed to another culture and tried to understand themselves. I feel that the exercise in TRYING to understand each other is essential and very productive: It teaches us about ourselves, it teaches us that our way isn't the only way , and it teaches us the rudiments of another way to try. And it works the same for them. Look at Western Buddhism - it's not truly the Eastern version, but it's own thing and has some superior aspects. Very few cultures are inherently insular. Most cultures have at least had trade with other culture and were happy to adopt anything they found useful.
    3) duh - but that doesn't mean we can't learn anything
    4) Yes, but from a broad perspective, there are more similarities between "third world" countries than between, say, Africa and the Europe. It is a useful distinction only at a broad level - it does get over-used and oversimplifies things.
    5) Thank you for making this point. The Africans I knew were resilient, ambitious, creative, and diligent. They do seem to struggle with statehood and resource allocation, however, which precipitates the Western countries swooping in.
    6)Yes, thank you for making this point too - though I would argue that it is difficult to extract just a cultural practice and achieve the same benefit- culture often operates as a whole system and without the supportive parts a practice doesn't work well. For example, breastfeeding is supported in Senegal because sexuality is done differently -seeing breasts is just not as sexualized there -so it's no big deal to whip one out to quiet your child.
    Anyway, I enjoy your posts, just have thought about this stuff a lot and had to add my two (or 20 ;) ) cents.

  4. Hi Ultimaiden, thank you for your input
    EVen though I completely agree with your point 1, all I wanted to state with my point 1 is that such a culture is no longer traditional. There are but few traditional societies left in the world, since as you say, most of them adapt to what comes along. The ones that are still traditional are either very resilient or so remote that they remain largely untouched.
    2) Obviously, we can learn from them, but as you said, we'll never get a full view. This point I wrote to counter the line of though some proclaim that there are x amount of steps you can follow to live primally. Primal or traditional cultures are so complex and they will never reveal itself completely to Westerners. We will never be able to truly understand , even if we were to be immersed in it from a very young age. I have been living in different African countries for 6 years now, and while I do start to get a grasp of some things, I still can't say I 'know' african culture or understand it
    6) again, written to counter the idea that traditional societies hold all the answers. Yes, lots of African countries have a more healthy view on Breastfeeding, and probably even sexuality, but that doesn't mean that it's the land of milk and honey for all things parenting.

    Bare in mind that this blog is about parenting and feminism etc, so this post was written to counter some statements about these concept in traditional society and just to give some nuance to people who only perceive traditional society from what they see in the news and in magazines.

    I wrote this post because people who have never been to Africa speak of it as if everyone still lives in the primal village, which is completely untrue.

  5. mamapoekie,
    Yes, the conventional views of Africa and traditional societies have long been romantic and self-serving(think Noble Savage)and I salute your effort to counter some of that ignorance.
    If I may ask, how are you living in Africa? In a village or a city? One of the nice things about Peace Corps is that we got to live out in the bush fairly integrated into village life. Most of it went over my head but I got to see daily how people lived their lives.

    1. We are currently living fairly remote, when I wrote this post, we were living somewhat closer to a small city. We don't live realle integrated in a village though. It depends on the county we live in.


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