“Just because something is traditional, is no reason to do it, of course.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book
Culture is a very tricky thing as it’s a tie between common sense and totally going out of a circle if not out of the box. What could be a blessing for one could be considered evil by another, what’s normal for one could get another one locked up for absurd behavior. Culture, in general, is defined as, “The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” Again this combined chain of practices differs from place to place, from one understanding level and depth to another, belief and resistance as well as acceptance. While our surrounding, our upbringing holds a special place in holding us hostage to a certain kind of an understanding, it doesn’t mean we, out of mere curiosity, don’t go out wandering and finding whatever is outside our routine to be a total drive and intolerable. And then, on the other hand, there are some cultures that we relate to even more than our own to the point we strive to fit in those cultures, to adapt.
While going through some unusual cultures I found these four out of the many so out of the box and colored outside the lines, well, of course, social lines. Chewa’s festival of the dead, that’s what it’s called. “During the burial ceremony of a tribe member, it is customary for the body of the deceased to be washed. To wash the corpse, the body is taken to a sacred place where the cleansing is done by slitting the throat and pouring water through the insides of the dead. The water is squeezed out of the body until it comes out clean. The water is collected and used to prepare a meal for the whole community.” Now, it not only is normal but respectful to the society. Those people may find our burial routine so degrading perhaps and detached, detached from the values we hold for that deceased person and from our feelings and sympathy we have.
While I’m at it, that is “respect”, how not only culture is defined by as many ways as there are social circles, but also through purposes. “In the Fulani community of Benin, men who are ready to start a family are not as lucky, especially if the bride side picks Sharo as the requirement for the marriage to sail through. Sharo involves flogging. The groom is beaten by the older members of the community so as to earn a wife and respect. If the man is not strong enough to bear the pain, the wedding is called off.” Same word “Respect” within different circles serving different purposes. All think it’s for a good cause out of mere respect and recognizing ways of the young to be taking over as the beholders pass on.
As an Ethiopian, another African, we are mentioned for our hospitality more often. Hospitality comes out of respect for our guests, yet, that hospitality again differs from one door to another. Our ancestors, when welcoming a guest to their homes, would wash the guest’s feet, prepare a feast, make a decent bed and have kids entertain the guest. That may have changed through generation as some line have been jeopardized. This is to say our way differ from generation to generation let alone from continent to continent. Let’s see the “Blood-Water Beverage”. “The Samburu and the Maasai communities are regarded as the most hospitable in Tanzania and Kenya. They would always welcome a visitor. These communities usually treat their guests with roasted meat. However, one may also, at times, be required to drink fresh blood either mixed in milk or oozing from a live animal.” Now, here, we won’t serve our guest some blood because it’s considered a waste, and we do that out of respect. Same cause different ways.
Last but not least, there is the wedding ceremony, again which has changed its course along the age band path. Through our parents’ days, back in the days, a girl was to be given to a man while still a virgin, and then the next day of their wedding, the best men would go to the bride’s parents’ home with a handkerchief having a stain of blood on it confirming that the girl was a virgin and then they celebrate it. That is again a way of showing respect to the parents, the bride and the groom. That is how it’s done here, that for us is the normal way. Yet, there is the Banyankole tribe of Uganda. “In the Banyankole tribe, a minority tribe living in Uganda, marriage means quite a burden to the bride’s aunt. When a couple wants to get married, the aunt has to have sex with the groom as a “potency test” and furthermore, she has to test the bride’s virginity.” And that is what’s normal and better yet, the “Right” way to do it.
We can explore many cultures we might feel lured into and others so repelling, not out of disrespect but simply because we have different ways of expressing our terms, and for that, culture is a very tricky thing you can’t say this is right and this is wrong, from outside a circle you haven’t grown into. While celebrating the diverse traditions, we also draw lines in which ones we belong to, which ones we can adapt and which ones we wish to avoid. One cause, diverse expressions.