Ethnocentrism

In my family, Christmas Eve dinner has not been served until anchovy pasta accompanied by lupine beans and shrimp has been prepared. It is a tradition that I have grown up with. I can’t imagine celebrating any other way. The anchovy part may sound off putting to some, but to me, just the taste triggers a smell of pine and noel. I immediately associated it with Christmas. Whether it is Christmas or a different holiday, we all have some sort of traditions that we take part in. Traditions are a beautiful practice. They bring people together and allow others an opportunity to understand something in a new perspective.

I want you to stop and think about traditions that define your family. How did it come about? They often tell a story about your heritage. There is nothing I love more than meeting someone with a different cultural background and being introduced into their ways of life. It is also interesting to meet others sharing my Italian heritage and to compare notes on the similarities and differences between our families. The same or not, they bring people together. That alone is something to be celebrated.

To those sharing a similar background as me, common traditions that are practiced are somewhat tame compared to other parts of the world. In many Hindu cultures, the practice of teeth filing is as common as Green Bean Casserole on Thanksgiving. Teeth filing is the process of which both men and women have their teeth filed down prior to their wedding. Teeth are believed to symbolize lust, anger, greed, confusion and jealously. It is believed that by eliminating structures of the bone, they are freeing themselves of invisible evils wishing to taint the upcoming nuptials. It sounds brutal and slightly bizarre to us, however to Hindi culture, it is a sacred ritual.

When a loved one leaves this world behind, it is common practice to attend a wake. It is a chance to view their body as a means of saying goodbye and finding closure in their death. Some cultures would find this extremely disturbing for it is believed that to leave a corpse intact brings the deceased a restless afterlife. On that note, the Dani tribe is a group of indigenous people who inhabit the fertile lands of Baliem Valley in West Papua, New Guinea. Their method of closure involves cutting off their own hands and fingers. When a close loved one passes on, such as a spouse of child, they will remove their fingers and hands and bury them with the body. It is believed that by doing so, they will continue to live in unison even with the barrier of death dividing them from this world and the one that follows. Gruesome, but morbidly romantic if you will.

I’m sure that to many readers, you have probably uttered a noise of disgust if not given a facial expression of horror. That is exactly the negative connotation that ethnocentrism implies. Just because something is foreign to our customs and beliefs does not make is wrong. We may distance ourselves from such observances, but rather than viewing them as something disturbing, they should be seen as something beautiful.

There is a reason people study world religion and culture. It is fascinating! It is not intriguing just based on a morbid curiosity but due to the natural human emotion that it stems from. Ever heard the expression, “We all bleed red?” We all feel the same emotions as well. The way we express them may be different, but each ritual stems from exhibits of bravery, love, grief and devotion.

It can be difficult to pull ourselves out of our own way of thinking and at times even more difficult to grasp the concepts of such rituals, especially when they can appear to be grotesque. However, if you look past the painful mutilations and see the purpose of these practices, you will see that the only thing separating your traditions from other cultures is simply how they are presented. You may not be able to relate to foreign customs, but you can understand the emotion that drives their existence. I challenge everyone to find it within your realm of thinking to discover a culture that initially may seem immoral to you and rather than judge them, find the common denominator between their beliefs and yours. Just because you have been raised to believe that something is wrong does not mean that they have that shared value. It is important to stand strong in your opinions, however, it is just as pertinent to cease the judgment of others based solely on your own culture.

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