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the-south-asian.com                            March 2001

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Page  4  of  5


Reflections

on

Traditional Cultures - their wisdom and challenges

by 

ISABEL ALLENDE

(Continued)

 

isabel_allende_-_recent.jpg (19492 bytes)"In most of the so-called Third World, large families are the rule. Few people would survive otherwise. One's life depends on relationships, on that web of connections composed of relatives, friends, and neighbors...Social security is guaranteed by the family, not by a plan or an institution, as happens in developed countries...In societies other than ours,  the elders have a respectable position in the community: their experience and wisdom are treasured. It also means that in extended families children are the responsibility not solely of their parents but of their many relatives and, in the larger sense, the village"- Isabel Allende

 


TO HELP INDIGENOUS PEOPLES preserve their cultural heritage,

we must first recognize its value. Borges, who has spent

much of his life traveling to this vanishing world, recounts

that he will never forget his first trip to Mexico in the

late 1960s. There, any pretext served as a reason for a

fiesta. People had time to gather together in markets during

the day and in the plaza at night, singing, making music,

celebrating. Children ran around freely, playing and

shouting, with no one watching over them, because there was

no danger. Old people sat talking in groups, while

adolescents strolled around arm in arm. He tells how when he

returned to the United States, he saw the terrifying

loneliness of his culture from a new perspective. When he

got onto a bus, he noticed the silence, the space among the

riders, their systematic way of avoiding eye contact and,

with greater reason, physical contact. In any public place

we see the same thing; every person seems isolated inside a

magnetic field. We are alone in a crowd. Between 1960 and

1990, the number of adults living alone tripled in the

United States, and when the state and institutions fail, as

so often happens, the weak are the first to suffer the

terrible consequences. Every year an alarming number of

solitary elderly people die without anyone even being aware

of it. Their deaths are discovered when the neighbors

complain about the smell! I wonder how many American

children have never even seen their grandparents. We have

lost a lot with progress.

 

 

IN MOST OF the so-called Third World, large families are the

rule. Few people would survive otherwise. One's life depends

on relationships, on that web of connections composed of

relatives, friends, and neighbors. Every society must

develop mechanisms for protecting that part of the

population tat needs the greatest help, from children and

the aged to women, the ill and disadvantaged, and the most

desperately poor. In many parts of the world that protection

is provided by people, not the state. Social security is

guaranteed by the family, not by a plan or an institution,

as happens in developed countries, where we must pay for the

care of children, our elderly, the weak and ailing, and

where we also pay for emotional assistance, even

companionship. In societies other than ours, that means the

elders have a respectable position in the community: their

experience and wisdom are treasured. It also means that in

extended families children are the responsibility not solely

of their parents but of their many relatives and, in the

larger sense, the village. Borges says that in Africa he

photographed a woman who nursed her baby, then passed him to

another woman, who also gave him her breast and in turn

passed him to a third mother, who fed him and rocked him

until he fell asleep. Children carry their younger brothers

and sisters on their backs. There is so much touching!

Before coming to the Untied States, I had never heard the

term 'terrible twos' used to refer to a child of that age,

and I didn't know that adolescence was a long period of

martyrdom. In growing up, my children passed through stage

after stage without any dramatic crisis, and when a crisis

did arise it was diffused in the context of a large family

in which each individual had his or her own problems and

there were many people to help.

 

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