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the-south-asian.com                            March 2001

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Page  5  of  5


Reflections

on

Traditional Cultures - their wisdom and challenges

by 

ISABEL ALLENDE

(Cntd)

 

isabel_allende_-_recent.jpg (19492 bytes)"I come from a large family in which interpersonal connections are very strong. I grew up following a strict code of honor, within a system of traditions that today is considered antiquated. It was expected that each member of the family would be responsible for others; that no one would move up without helping those left behind; that no one would run the risk of doing anything that would stain the honor of our name. We had the responsibility to look out for anyone who shared our blood, even if the relationship was a distant one." - Isabel Allende

 

IT WOULD BE NAIVE to suggest that at the threshold of the

year 2000, when the pace of life is every day faster and

more intense, we should go back to the tribal traditions and

large families as the solution to individual isolation and

the cruelties of our social system. Most members of

indigenous and endangered cultures live for generations in

the same spot; we are constantly on the move. It is

estimated that Americans move - often out of state - an average

of every five years. We lack the 'sense of place' that

characterizes indigenous peoples, and this is not something

we can acquire artificially, by simply willing it. But now

that it is lost to us, we should at least admire it and try

to preserve it in other societies.

 

ALTHOUGH THERE ARE many positive aspects of these cultures,

we should not ignore the problems. As a woman, I am

horrified at the treatment my sisters receive in some

tribes: they suffer genital mutilation; their fingers are

amputated in mourning rituals for dead relatives; they are

sold as slaves; they are beaten in male-initiation rites;

they are forbidden to marry again if widowed, to be

educated, to possess goods, even to move about freely. There

are more women who have never gone farther than a hundred

meters in any direction from their huts, others who spend

their lives shrouded from head to foot in a mantle with only

a hole at the level of their eyes. Everywhere in the world,

women are the poorest of the poor.

 

I COME FROM A LARGE FAMILY in which interpersonal

connections are very strong. I grew up following a strict

code of honor, within a system of traditions that today is

considered antiquated. It was expected that each member of

the family would be responsible for others; that no one

would move up without helping those left behind; that no one

would run the risk of doing anything that would stain the

honor of our name. We had the responsibility to look out for

anyone who shared our blood, even if the relationship was a

distant one. Now that I live in the United States, I can see

that this is not always an advantage. To develop my

personality fully, I had to abandon my 'tribe' and my

'village'. In my case, the terms are exaggerated, but they

illustrate my point. During the time that I was watched over

and directed by my relatives, always fulfilling my duties as

a daughter, mother, wife, sister, even as the eldest

grandchild of my grandfather, I could not really break loose

and fly. Despite my rebellion against the patriarchal system

into which I was born, I would never have cut myself off

from my family voluntarily. It took a military coup that

unleashed brutal repression to cause me to leave my country.

Alone, without roots and in a foreign land, I tested my

creativity for the first time and found within me a strength

I did not know I possessed. My calling as a writer was born

of exile. By offering this personal example, I want to

illustrate that the system of community, which has managed

to preserve the indigenous and endangered cultures

has the drawback

of limiting personal aspirations and freedoms.

 

UNFORTUNATELY, all too frequently indigenous peoples and

endangered groups, because they are marginalized by modern

society and because they lack political or economic power,

are prey to the greed and negligence of governments and

corporations who consider them irrelevant. As a consequence,

these people are subjected to the worst abuses of human

rights; their villages and temples are destroyed; their

lands are invaded; their freedom is taken from them; they

are subjected to every humiliation and form of violence;

they are obliged to abandon their customs, their languages,

and often their religious beliefs and to become refugees and

beggars. Day after day, these people are losing the battle

to preserve their identities. Day after day, the human race

is losing another portion of the diversity that has been the

source of its strength and resiliency.

 

IF I HAD MY UNCLE'S crystal ball and could see into the

future, I would wish for the next millennium to be an era of

peace. Bending over the crystalline sphere, I would hope for

a world in which there is a true community of peoples,

nations, and tribes, where human rights apply to all. I

would hope for a future when we will beautify the earth,

this magnificent blue marble dancing through the astral

space in which it is our fate to live. The richness of the

human race lies in its diversity. Progress is not based on

uniformity; rather, the opposite is true: the preservation

of diverse cultures brings progress. Life is pluralism,

distinctness, transformation. Only death is the same for

all.

______________________

 

 

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