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Two Cultural Customs Too Beautiful to Ignore

Joanna is an online writer who enjoys researching historical and scientific topics.

Culture? What is it about?

English anthropologist Edward Taylor defined culture as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society." Culture is an abstract shown in conduct and the outcomes of behavior, but it is neither the behavior nor the tangible outcomes. 1 In short, culture can be defined as a "way of being."2

Every society's culture has several notions about its social order and how it functions. These are the two customs that give me strange yet warm vibes as I read them.

1 Johnson, M. H. (1960). Sociology: a systematic introduction. Allied.



Everybody’s born to win. Or do we? Take a line from the famous movie "3 Idiots."

In The Winner Effect, written by Ian Robertson, he wrote that a recipe to make a winner is achievement motivation. As for choosing a leader, we want a leader who wants to win not just for "me" but also for "we."3

The drive to win can be traced back to our ancestral old days-to rise above to survive. But can it be safe to conclude that in today's world, there are people who do not enjoy winning like everyone else? But can we learn from other humans who are not like us—in this case, those who have a different view on winning?

Daniel L. Everett spent thirty years studying the Pirahã, people of Amazonas, Brazil. One of the many things he's learned from his research among Amazonian peoples is that the Pirahã have a different perspective on winning. He noticed something interesting when he organised a field day to teach the Pirahã about Western games-a tug-of-war, a foot race, and a sack race, among other things. One person got out in advance of everyone else in the foot race. He then stopped, waiting for the others to catch up so that they could all cross the finish line at the same time. To them, winning was not only novel but also unpleasant. The sack race didn’t prove the other way around. As for the tug-of-war, Everett reported it as a joke for the Pirahã keeping the slack out of the rope and talking. Anyway, the Pirahã loved it all. They laughed all day long and told Everett about having a good time. In his own words, Everett concludes, "You can have a great time and have everyone win. That's not a bad lesson-that's a fine lesson. "4

3Robertson, I. (2013) The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure. Bloomsbury

4 Everette, D. I., (2007). Humans will learn to learn from diversity. J. Brockman (Ed.), What are you optimistic about (pp. 250-254.). Pocket Book.

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I am bad at goodbyes. When I was ten, I refused to send my cousin off as she left after visiting us for a month. I could not bear the pain of saying goodbye. It felt as if the ones who were left behind had to carry the void that separated two souls. The heavy void lingers for days until a point it just doesn’t. In his essay Going Away, Vernon Lee writes,

Looking back after all these years, it is fair to assume that both the goer and those who stay bear the void that lingers with them after a departure.

There is an emptiness after visitors leave. The space that was once crowded with belongings and laughter now echoes with memorable memories played at the back of one's head. For a brief moment, every toing and froing becomes a sitting of reminiscing about how much fun they had. the other hand, there is an emptiness lingering in someone's heart as they part from a place of hospitality. The once warm friendship that has embraced them for some time now has budded a vine that seems to choke the goers' necks, making them hard to breathe. It is as if the distance between those who are left behind and the goers is held by an elastic band. The further the pilgrims travel, the more they are stretched by the places and people they have left behind. They may even question their going, perhaps even consider staying behind.

In the mountains of Papua New Guinea, the Baining people have labelled the feeling as awumbuk. In her book, The Book of Human Emotions, Tiffany W. Smith wrote that awumbuk is the void experienced by those who are left behind. The goers somehow shed a kind of heaviness when they leave, so they can travel lightly. This irritating mist lingers for three days, causing distraction and inertia and hampering the family's performance in caring for their home and crops. To overcome the null left by the parting, as soon as the goer leaves, the Baining will fill a bowl with water and leave it overnight to observe the irritating mist. The next morning, the family will rise early and ceremonially fling the water into the trees, whereupon ordinary life resumes.6

I like to believe that the acidic water thrown into the tree dissolves the elastic band that links the goers and those left behind.

5 Lee, V. (2008). Hortus Vitae Essays on the Gardening of Life. Echo Library.


Smith, T. W. (2016) The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty -- 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel. Little, Brown.

Returning to the original topic, what can we learn from those who are not like us? To put things in perspective, being ignorant of their existence just because we believe our method is the best way is a hindrance, not a bliss.

Understandings, skills, and philosophies shaped by communities with extensive histories of engagement with their natural environs are known as local and indigenous knowledge. It equips rural and indigenous peoples with the knowledge they require to make vital everyday decisions. Local and indigenous knowledge is knowledge for its own sake; it is taught to each generation.

We can conclude that culture is an abstract concept that in itself has its own value depending on how it is used. Let's consider Harry M. Johnson conclusion on total culture,

7Johnson, M. H. (1960). Sociology: a systematic introduction. Allied.


© 2022 Joanna Maxine Jack

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