CULTURE

I have just finished reading a book entitled “The Wayfinders” by Wade Davis. He has traveled extensively and lived among many native tribes throughout the world. He currently makes his home in northern British Columbia. One paragraph may best describe the essence of his writings:

There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, no Social Darwinian ladder to success. The Victorian notion of the ‘savage’ and the ‘civilized’, with European industrial society sitting proudly at the apex of a pyramid of advancement that widens at the base to the so-called ‘primitives’ of the world, has been thoroughly discredited – indeed, scientifically ridiculed for the racial and colonial conceit that it was.

Davis goes on to say  “Were societies to be ranked on the basis of technological prowess, the Western scientific experiment, radiant and brilliant, would no doubt come out on top. But if the criteria of excellence shifted, for example to the capacity to thrive in a truly sustainable manner, with a true reverence and appreciation for the earth, the Western paradigm would fail.”

Marilyn and I have been immersed in African culture in ways few volunteers get to experience. We are surrounded by musicians, artists, artisans, cultural dance groups, traditional ceremonies, cooking, and beliefs foreign to anything we ever experienced in Canada. Our mandate to preserve and promote Zambian culture through excellence in the arts has truly been a wondrous adventure.

Sadly, many people continue to ask “What’s wrong with Africa?” – an indication those asking such a question believe ‘I know their way but my way is better.’ This kind of thinking has led to the domination and oppression by church and state and, in some cases, a total annihilation of languages, beliefs, and even entire native populations. These are not just occurrences of the distant past but took place in the generation of our grandparents and continue today.

“My way is better” has fostered ethnocide and genocide and “reduced our planet to a commodity, a raw resource to be consumed at our whim” (Davis pg 119) . Only now are we discovering that the drive for material wealth at the expense of our planet is unsustainable. When Marilyn and I lived in Greece, we watched over a period of months as a whole mountain was slowly reduced to a pile of rubble as the marble slabs were carted away to make kitchen counter tops or flooring. As a child, I was raised to see forests as nothing more than trees destined to be logged. Contrast that with the child raised to revere the coastal forests as the realm of the divine or to experience a mountain as the abode of a protective spirit.

In Livingstone as in many other urban centres around the world there are hungry people who beg on the streets. Last week I wrote in my blog about my visit to remote villages where there was no hunger, little need for money, and contentment with life. Unlike much of the western world, there is little need for antidepressants, sharing resources reduces the level of crime, and living in harmony with the land is paramount.

I have often wondered what it would be like to truly live without the trappings of life experienced in the western world but I know I will never do so. The Wayfinders lends a different perspective and, at the very least, challenges one to examine the value of the wisdom and knowledge to be gained from the so-called ‘primitive’ lifestyles. There is perhaps nothing wrong with Africa except maybe it was visited by the white man.

Switching Topics:

Last Wednesday while we were hosting our regular music night, I received a text message which said “are you watching the lunar eclipse”. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware there was one. That’s probably because it wasn’t visible in Canada and Roger’s Yahoo had no news tag line about it. As it turns out, it was spectacular apparently being one of the longest eclipses in many years. All our guests stood watching it while listening to live African music. I took a few shots with my camera.

I came across a very funny clip from an episode of Cheers which many of you might remember. Cliff and Norm were having drinks when Cliff told Norm about the Buffalo Theory. It goes something like this

“Well you see, Norm, it,s like this…….A herd of  Buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of  the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive intake of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and the weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. And that, Norm, is why you always fell smarter after a few beers.”

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