Comparing worlds

            Several of the cultures we’ve studied during this course have been interesting in their unique place as a culture within a culture - Comparing worlds introduction. The Cheyenne, BaMbuti, Crofters, and Solomon Islands have been forced through geography and the encroaching effects of imperialism and modernity to adapt to this outside culture while struggling to maintain their own cultural identity.

            The Cheyenne, nomadic by nature, were nonetheless forced through increased European exploration and settlement to adapt and if not incorporate these foreign beliefs in their own then to exist with a knowledge of these. Their language, rituals, and basic approach to life helped to define this culture. The BaMbuti exist separately within the forest but also cooperatively with the Bantu and Sudanic, adapting and participating in rites of passage and ritual of the non-forest dwellers. Still they remain outside the Bantu and Sudanic tribal culture not only through their physiological differences but also a deeply seated code of behavior and belief which remains separate. Even as the European world infringes on the forest, they are able to maintain a way of life separate from the outside world while using that world’s resources to compliment and prolong their cultural way of life.

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For the Solomon Islanders the invasive culture was that of the British and even as colonialism altered certain aspects of their quality and economic structure of life, some of their base cultural practices were able to withstand these changes. They were able to maintain a cultural identity in language, art, and their views of the world while being infringed upon by a imperialist infrastructure. The Scottish crofters are no different than the other cultures mentioned in their ability to exist within but separately from the larger society. Their farming and livestock raising became directly effected by the growth and expansion of non-crafting communities. Though dependent on the outside world, they sought to keep themselves separate and therefore maintain a cultural individualism that could otherwise have been absorbed in to the largesse of outside society. They were able to maintain their own version community within this larger system, winning rights and acknowledgement as a separate and distinct culture within the context of the Scottish highlands.

            What all of these cultures share is their ability to exist outside a national construct and to borrow and adapt to the ruling faction of their countries without compromising the basis of their identity. The BaMbuti retain a separateness from the non-forest blacks and the white colonial power, evident in song and approach to the world. They take these others in stride, borrowing and profiting, stealing and acquiring that which is useful while casting aside all that is not. In this way, their cultural identity is a changing factor but at the basis contains a continuity that will allow them always to be identifiable. Turnbull gives an example of this in the beginning of his book when speaking about the BaMbuti’s adaptation of certain “Negro” funeral protocol, “the body had been bathed, scented, wrapped in white cloth, tied up in a mat and place on a rough wooden bier. This was strictly to Negro custom.

In the forest the Pygmies would have been unable to get the soap and scent and cloth for one this, and would not have had the tools to dig and elaborate grave” (Turnbull 43). The BaMbuti adapt superficial rites of burial but in their mourning itself they stayed true to themselves, as Turnbull explains, “Whenever it made no difference to them the Pygmies followed the Negro custom, but the moment they wanted to go their own way they did” (43). Their concessions were not really concessions but a allowance where no set rules or attitude was already maintained and in place. They could accept the burial preparation because in their culture their was not already one in place, but grief is an individual expression and as a culture their handling of death and grief remains their own. That is the key with each of these cultures; that no matter what the political compromises and contradictions or physical displacement, the basis for their cultural identity remained distinct.

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