|the-south-asian.com AUGUST 2001|
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SOCIETY & CULTURE
societies - Wisdom and Challenges
SOUTH ASIAN FEATURE
and origin of Modern Art
Bengal's last roar?
Page 3 of 5
Traditional Cultures - their wisdom and challenges
"It is true that we have science and technology that native societies may lack, but it is no less true that they possess profound spiritual resources, natural wisdom, and knowledge of their physical surroundings that we have lost."
THE YOUNG PEOPLE of today, unlike the girl I was, do not need the crystal ball of an eccentric uncle to imagine the world; in this communication age, we have instant connectedness. Movies and television programs about foreign cultures have made even the remotest tribes familiar. Today there are very few places on earth that have not been explored. In 1996, one of the last Amazon tribes still to be exposed to the outside world was spotted from the air. Television and movie cameras recorded the event from helicopters. While the enormous metal birds descended from the sky above Brazil, roaring and stirring up hurricane-force winds, the naked warriors below readied their poisoned darts. A few months later, these same warriors were walking around in tennis shoes, and their blow guns and darts were being sold in the tourist shops of Manaos. I bought some to bring home, and now they hang on my office wall to remind me every day of the existence of peoples threatened with extinction. I am fully aware of the destructive power of cultural penetration, which is the most insidious form of imperialism. What is the solution? It is not a matter of artificially isolating ethnic groups that are not a part of what-with great arrogance- we call civilization. It is a question of moving forward with great caution and respect, so that this encounter will take place on equal terms. It is true that we have science and technology that native societies may lack, but it is no less true that they possess profound spiritual resources, natural wisdom, and knowledge of their physical surroundings that we have lost.
THE MODE OF LIFE of the industrialized countries of the West, this thing we call progress, is wiping out cultures at a terrifying rate. Cultures that have survived for hundreds-sometimes thousands-of years soon will have disappeared. A recent study made by the linguist Ken Hale of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that 3,000 of the 6,000 languages that exist in the world are fated to die because they are no longer spoken by children. The fragile oral traditions that have preserved ancient knowledge are being lost. When the Amazon tribes forget their languages, their shamans' enormous wisdom regarding medicinal plants will be gone; with the death of the traditions of the Australian Aboriginal peoples, a powerful psychic practice still unplumbed by modern science will also die. The new generation turns its back on its ancestors, its traditions, its languages, dazzled by the ephemeral brilliance of progress. Young people abandon their families and set out for the great cities, pursuing an illusion. Most of them end up as marginal beings who never truly benefit from the modern world and yet cannot return to their villages, because they no longer belong their, either. As a people, they do not disappear; they live on, but the very essence of their culture is extinguished, leaving them shadows of what they once were and shadows of those they want to imitate in the developed world.
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