I will define culture in this article and describe how people develop their cultures. And finally, I will shed light on what it means to the people who established it.
Please note here that establishing a culture does not require a conscious effort. It occurs over a period of time like a child acquires their native language.
The difference between establishing a culture and acquiring a language is that the child is emersed in an existing language. Initially, there was no form of culture, but due to environmental demands, culture developed.
For example, people did not cook in iron pots because there were no iron ores to make pots. But they instead cooked in earthenware. The earth material was available in their environment.
The type of food people ate and the clothes they wore (see the image shown above) depended on what was available. For example, yams are not part of British people’s food because yams are not available in Britain.
The European education system, healthcare, and delivery methods, marriage rites, the act of governance, etc., differed from how African communities practiced them. But these techniques found their way into and were adopted by these countries because of prevailing circumstances. Environmental conditions play a significant role in culture-building.
From the discussion above, Culture can be defined as the sum of all the things that distinguish one community from another, like language, the belief system, music, clothing, food preparation, etc.
Culture is described in detail here. It is acquired over time and orchestrated by what is available in the community. Sometimes, a part of the culture can develop from external influences.
Archaeologists believed that agricultural activities started with early humans noticing that a discarded seed or fruit sprouted and grew into a tree producing the same seeds or fruits they ate previously.
They then consciously repeated the process and achieved the same results. Farming has started! Of course, this breakthrough will attract attention, bringing more people into and forming a community.
Many naturally-available things can bring people together to develop communities. For example, in sandy desert areas, you don’t have water; fruits and seeds may not be available to attract people.
Streams and rivers will provide fish, besides providing water. It is easy to see in such emerging culture, how sounds, gestures, and signs, can lead to language development. I think language plays a pivotal role in community building and development.
Communication became easy with the availability of a common language; men could arrange hunting parties. They made laws to govern the people. Other social activities sprang up: people saw the need to spend time with neighbors and listened to stories about hunting, their farm produce, or new farming methods.
While a group of people in one region was busy building a community and unconsciously developing their culture, similar activities were occurring in many other areas. The common factor here was the prevailing environment that provided community building and culture development opportunities.
The Importance of Culture
Someone’s culture is like the I.D. Card or Passport. It tells who you are and what makes you human. Striping any person of his culture leaves an indelible injury on the psyche of the person.
When the Jewish people were persecuted during world war II, they could return to their homeland because their culture was left intact.
Compare that to what happened to Africans forced into North America as enslaved people or the treatment given to American Indian children by the Catholic Church in Canada. In both cases, their captors stripped them of their identities as human beings.
Using their native names, dress styles, and speaking their native languages were forbidden.
When the captors decided to send the descendants of these enslaved people back to Africa, they had no identity to identify the tribes they belonged. Even the indigenous Africans saw them as aliens.
You can see that the captors intentionally meted out irreparable damage to those Africans.
The American Indian children were lucky (‘lucky,’ really?) – when they were abducted, they were relocated close to their homes. Besides, this incident happened within one generation, making re-assimilation possible after they were rescued.
Inherent Problems With Cultures
It is rare for a child to regard the food the mother feeds him as bad. Also, no child can criticize the mother’s breast milk. It is the same with cultures. Why? It is the identifying characteristics of who you are. It is only a tiny few can even try to criticize their cultures.
Please read the following from two cultures to understand my point: In Igboland, it has been a part of their culture to circumcise both male and female children since time began. Nobody from that culture ever had a problem with that practice.
But recently, some foreigners pointed out the ‘irreparable’ harm female circumcision did to girls. You can imagine the uproar, particularly from the mothers who asserted that they did not see or experience any problems with the practice.
The women instead pointed at the benefits, like controlling sexual excessiveness and avoiding damaging issues associated with sexual activities at a young age. But the fathers lamented for ignorantly supporting a practice that ‘harmed’ their daughters.
Personally, my first questions were whether there were pains or deformities associated with the procedure. No, there were none. The next set of questions was about what the benefits and drawbacks were. I did not see any drawbacks because circumcised women equally enjoy sex.
But as detailed in Time Out: A Second Look At Nature, there are many benefits. There are no doubts that a girl is not emotionally, physically, and financially ready for sexual activities.
And when you add the possibility of contracting diseases or pregnancy to the mix, it makes sense to do everything to dissuade them from the lure of sex.
As stated earlier, the objection to circumcision was started by some foreigners who believed that birth control drugs would solve the problem of pregnancy and allow unfettered access to sex. Is that true?
Sometimes the drug can fail to result in pregnancy. Then? Abortion will be the answer. But there is the inherent danger of death in abortion. Many times the drug works as designed. But how? There are two outcomes:
If pregnancy has taken place, the drug will destroy the fetus. But when there was no pregnancy the drugs like “morning after” will tell the brain and body of a non-pregnant woman that pregnancy is in progress.
You know the results of this message: the body will prepare to host a nonexistent baby and naturally prevent any other pregnancy. You know what happens to the body of a pregnant woman ‘that is not pregnant.’
That circumcision can dampen the desire for sex is left to the medical community for a verdict. But from experience, circumcised women enjoy sex. And mothers and fathers believe it does.
There are many natural ways families try to control that urge for early childhood sex desire.
One is a constant warning and reminder to girls and boys after puberty of the devastating consequences of underage pregnancies, like bringing shame to the family and the possibility of disease and death.
Then a ‘boy’ who impregnated a ‘girl’ was forced to marry her, which placed an undue burden on the parents of the boy.
The declaration that having sex, ‘a natural desire’ with no other but your wife or husband, was a “sin” against God must have been started from this effort to curb teen sexual activities.
Another consideration is justice and the delivery in civilized or advanced countries. You don’t need to be present in a court of law to experience the justice system or how it is meted out. Turn on your TV set and watch a case in a court of law.
An accused is allowed to have a lawyer who took a sworn oath to protect the client. Can this sworn duty avoid any attempt to twist the law in favor of the client? An accused does not have to be present in the court if the council is present.
In some cases, you are allowed to take the ‘5th’ to avoid self-incrimination. Indigenes of such countries do not see or have a problem with such laws. They established the law. But people from other countries would cringe at such a law since it gives an impression of collusion – making a way for the accused to escape justice.
This type of justice delivery has been exported all over the world, unfortunately.
Using the two examples above – female circumcision and the justice delivery methods – we can conclude that no culture is perfect. But who can remedy the anomaly?
The main obstacle to change or to right a wrong in culture is, in most cases, unawareness of the problem by the indigenes of the culture. But when they see a problem there are many ways to bring about corrections.
There are many stories about people who journeyed to distant cultures and saw how certain things were done better than how they did it back home. He took the knowledge to his people and improved their methods.
People have copied better ways to improve agricultural activities that produced bumper harvests, better residential buildings, and even roads or more acceptable methods of worshiping, resulting in their discarding their previous methods.
Such methods to improve and modernize their community are generally welcomed. But if such changes are forced on the people there will be conflict and outright rejection.
There are many instances where the use of force instead of education and persuasion to bring about changes to a culture resulted in disastrous outcomes.
I remember when the President of the US decided to modernize the Middle East by granting women the liberty to live their lives as in the West, ignoring their religious practices and norms. The interference, in part, resulted in the nine-eleven massacre in the US.
In Nigeria, mothers and fathers acquiesced to modern thinking about female circumcision because their own indigenous medical professionals explained to them the dangers and problems involved.
Because culture is a distinguishing characteristic of the people, they hold it close to their hearts. Therefore, any changes to it are best handled by the people themselves, employing education.
The takeaway in this discussion is the realization that Culture is an integral part of the life of a community. It is an important form of identity. Every community belongs to one.
Developing a culture is an unconscious exercise, that takes place over many years, a similar process to acquiring a language. The type of culture is determined by the environment where the culture is developed.
The type of food a community eats or the clothes they wear or their musical instruments, etc. is determined by what is available in the environment. You can see why meddling with it, particularly from ‘outside’ will always spell trouble because the people see their way of life as their own. They have no other.
I discussed above how changes can be effected in a culture without strife. Many examples exist where a forceful change was seen as interference and always resisted.
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