Eating Christmas in the Kalahari
The perception of foreign cultures can be quite strange at times. Richard Borshay Lee, a social anthropologist who has lived and studied the culture of the Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in South Central Africa, published an essay titled "Eating Christmas in Kalahari." In this essay, Lee foretells a perfect illustration of ignorance of cross-culture when individuals from various cultures live in a culturally unknown environment.
In this story, Mr. Lee narrated deeply how he almost quit his three-year study in the Desert because of his experiences. What he planned to do was to engage in an ox festivity at Christmas. Mr. Lee knew that he would have to offer a gift as the tribal people believed he was a miser and that he had been with them for a long time and has never provided his food for sharing. Since it Christmas and both parties believed in the festival, he felt the need to share. Lastly, his views don't align with that of the Bushmen, and we observed the influence of socializing forces.
Although Mr. Lee had operated and was interested in every aspect of the lives of the Bushmen, he was still regarded as a stranger. When Mr. Lee decided to join the ox Christmas party, he thought that having an ox to consume at the event would be a good act. The killing of an ox is a tradition amongst the Bushmen. The Bushmen, after sighting the ox Mr. Lee brought to the festival, began to complain and label the ox aged and lean. Lee was further told to kill and distribute the animal and expect no dancing in return. Whereas to Mr. Lee, the animal seemed huge, fat, and suitable for the festival of Christmas, and the Bushmen's reaction left him quite insulted. His thoughts and the way he viewed the response of the Bushmen is probably based on his culture, where citizens would respect the kindness of other individuals irrespective of the situation. Yet, with the Bushmen, offering an ox was something they usually did every day, and certainly isn't extraordinary.
Mr. Lee continues to blame himself for all the stuff for which he's packed his mind with. He felt he went through a lot to offer that animal, and all he could get in return was an insult. Frankly, I believe Lee is envied by the Bushmen, which is why they are kind of mean to him. The story says he's the only supplier of tobacco around, and you will have to go as far as over a thousand miles to meet another supplier. For this reason, I think they dislike having to depend on him because of the resources that he offers. I also assume the Bushmen are thankful to Lee for providing tobacco and medication, but they'd instead handle things their way.
Mr. Lee finally understood the native's point of view after having consulted cultural experts. In the Bushmen's culture, items like gifts and kindness are valued. It's not quickly shown, however, and often done secretly. They have a cultural perception that celebrating any person for a great job would create problems. They assume praising someone for a great job would ultimately enlarge his confidence to the extent that he can murder someone. The survival of the Bushmen tribe is based on their knowledge of the world around them, and the way people in society think and act. This, I believe, is a definite idea provided men did not ignore it. The Bushmen were trying to send him an "arrogance" lesson. They wouldn't tolerate a guy who would brag about his hunt as they believed his ego would cause him to murder someone one day. A member of the Bushmen named Tomazo told Lee their reaction towards his gift was to "control his heart and make him soft."
Understanding the Bushmen means acknowledging and embracing individuals from diverse cultures. The Bushmen living in the Kalahari have been trained very differently from anyone who has grown up in today's society. We always offer a thank you either in words or deeds after receiving gifts in our community today. This appreciation gives us a sense of pride, realizing the recipient enjoyed our present. There are various lines of instruction in diverse cultures. The Bushmen think very severely of people displaying pride. The children of the Bushmen were taught to taunt and speak ill of anyone when performing activities like hunting and productive sports to eradicate arrogant traits in them. And they were doing Mr. Lee an excellent service as per their cultural values by informing him that his ox was lean and aged. This is contrasting to our conviction today that things like harassment and mockery are entirely wrong. In our world, though, we often see pride as a detrimental trait, but it isn't always opposed.
Socialization or Culture relativity has a strong influence on Mr. Lee's essay. The thought of being mocked arose only from his shortcomings and from the way he was trained in his environment. While he was with the Bushmen, his status was lesser than in his own country, which further added to his negative emotions. His cultural beliefs were quite distinct from that of the Bushmen, but in due course, he began to appreciate and embrace their practiced behaviors as a cultural group. He understood that while it was a festival familiar to members in his community, it could benefit a member of the Bushmen community as well. This essay goes a long way to display the way culture and society differentiate humanity and how we should behave ourselves socially.
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