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the-south-asian.com                            March 2001

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Page  3  of  5


Reflections

on

Traditional Cultures - their wisdom and challenges

by 

ISABEL ALLENDE

(continued)

isabel_allende_-_recent.jpg (19492 bytes) "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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