anthropology

On cultural homogeneity and globalization

A group of people are playing flutes, dancing with nearby families and friends. As the melodious harmony emanates from the musicians’ instruments, the sun dips below the horizon line.

Marching band practice? Nope.

Perhaps this is a scene somewhere far away. An indigenous ceremony, maybe, where members of a tribe are traditionally celebrating a festival with dance and music—a homage to their rich heritage.

For a number of years, indigenous cultures from around the world have fascinated me, from their nature-centered lifestyles to their beautiful mediums of art. Unfortunately, the world observed a retreat from indigenous ways of life during the colonial empires of the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Yet, in the twenty-first century, we stand at the crossroads of a movement bringing back the cultural identities that were lost to time.

Media sources today have begun to revel in the complex innovations of indigenous tribes around the world. One writer for PhysicsWorld, Paul Brown, describes about the impending drought Peru’s fastest-growing urban hub, Lima, faces in the next decade. The city simply won’t have enough water to distribute to its people. Yet, it appears that the natives of Peru had employed an extraordinary solution to this very problem, one they too had faced thousands of years ago. By creating a network of streams that diverted excess rainwater down the mountainside, they were able to time their water to arrive during the dry season, when it was needed the most. What’s more, this very solution may able to protect Lima from its fate [1]. Indigenous technology has excelled even where the brightest scientific minds of today have stumbled. Furthermore, it’s quite possible that these tribes had developed several more innovations lost to time. Only with further research will we be able to recover the knowledge that has been lost. As media sources draw more attention to these cultures, it may spur further investigation to uncover new innovations.

Not only is the world reinvigorating its interest in these cultures, but today we are experiencing the diffusion of ideas across seemingly-disparate belief systems. An author at Al Jazeera, Stephen Starr, wrote an article about a sport most Texans seem to love: rodeo shows. A centuries-old art has been the hallmark of fame of the American West, a testament to the courageous cowboys that explored the deserts of our country. Yet, this traditionally-white sport exclusive to cowboys has recently picked up steam in Brazil. In an interview with Starr, Jason Belzer says that “it’s a lot easier [for international audiences] to have an interest in Professional Bull Riding than, for example, American football” [3]. It’s fascinating that elements of cultures become incorporated by others thousands of miles away; cultural diffusion like this can inspire artists to paint, sports fans to attend, and musicians to perform that which has arrived from a world away.

Yet, in this era of globalization, it’s equally as important to protect one’s purity and identity from external pressures. If one isn’t careful, a single identity, a single belief, a single culture, a single world, all can be swept away in a single moment. To prevent this from happening to a Nepalese society, cultural anthropologist Michael Oppitz produced a documentary depicting the indigenous life of a Nepalese population, “Shamans of the Blind Country” [2]. Describing how future generations may not have the privilege of visiting the ‘shamans of the blind country’ anymore, Oppitz hoped the documentary would serve as a middle-man, enabling those of the outside world to connect to a rural Himalayan village for generations to come. This film gained mass popularity, appearing in world-renowned film festivals such as the world,  as the eyes of the world yearned to simply observe the mere simplicity of the Himalayan culture. Maintaining a unique culture and its authentic beliefs is perhaps the greatest challenge faced by these societies today. Although it may be difficult to protect a society from any external influence without contributing to said influence, the next best thing may be to take a glimpse of purity and offer that glimpse to the children of the future.

For this reason, I am fascinated by the field of anthropology. One can capture the essence of a people, their ideas, their languages, and etch it into a medium the whole world can observe, forever.

  1. Brown, Paul. “Ancient Water-Saving Can Help Modern Peru.” Physics World, 5 July 2019, https://physicsworld.com/a/ancient-water-saving-can-help-modern-peru/.
  2. Qin, Xu. “Seeing through the Eyes of a Blind Magar.” SHINE, 5 July 2019, https://www.shine.cn/feature/art-culture/1907057944/.
  3. Starr, Stephen. “Million-Dollar Rodeo: Corporatizing United States Western Culture.” Al Jazeera, 27 June 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/million-dollar-rodeo-corporatizing-united-states-western-culture-190621212442876.html.
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