Learning ones culture
Essay Question at Bottom of page
The Kalingga of the Philippines told tales as a way to inculcate the values of their culture. Proverbs and stories, as forms of enculturation, not only
accentuate the importance of story telling, but also call attention to the importance of the context of daily domestic life, rather than within formal social
institutions, as a potent avenue of “naturalizing” the way of life of a people.
I vividly recall the day I left the domestic setting of my family and the informal activities of “playing” as a child, and entered the school system, a setting
of structured learning. I have little memories of the details of my life in school, (although a sense routine and the drudgery of homework still linger!). Instead,
it is the moments of early childhood, of observing and participating in the unfolding events of life within my family, that I recall most vividly. Upon
reflection, it is these moments, of spontaneous play and serendipitous events, that have provided the aura of my basic worldview, particularly with regard to the
values that have engineered many of my decisions as an adult. What about you? What is the source of your guiding values and perspective on life?
This process of “enculturation,” while including the intentions of formal institutions of socialization, tends to be viewed by anthropologists as culminating in
the “unconscious” accruement of values associated with cultural patterns of childrearing and domestic life. For example, as an adult a sudden whiff of a dish
associated with childhood may instantly, and with surprising intensity, evoke memories of moments in your mom’s kitchen! This phenomena illustrates just how
powerful, and deeply embedded, are the informal modes of learning cultural values.
The author of your text presents various cases studies—Japanese, Aztec, and the Ake of Nigeria—to stimulate a discussion of the wide range of variation in child
rearing practices within basic pattern of similarity. This discussion is accentuated by a focus on the importance of ‘becoming a human being,” or being born into the
social world. Reflect upon, for example, the way in which you were given your name, and the differing social contexts by which you may have garnered additional names
in relation to social and spiritual experiences. Because of this focus on early childhood, anthropologist have borrowed heavily from the discipline of psychology in
order to explicate processes of enculturation resulting in shared cultural knowledge: cognition; theories of the individual and personality; and “abnormality” and
“deviance.” The subfield of psychological anthropology, unlike psychology, is ultimately concerned with the experience of the individual in relation to the broader
cultural context (holism!).
The documentary ”White Man’s Image,” focuses on the “experiment” of using euro-American institutions of socialization (boarding schools) to ”civilize” Native
American children in an attempt to assimilate them into “white man’s world.” This attempt resulted in a (violent) psychological clash of opposed values couched
within the differencing cultural forms of the enculturation process. While my tone here may sound “clinical,” I think we all can’t help but feel an intensity of
concern and compassion evoked by the experiences of these children and their families. Some us may even begin to wonder if we have been through a similar
experience of “civilizing” as a result of our experience in the American school system? Others may also incorporate the intentions of the “friends of the Indians”
as a sincere (within their cultural perspective) reflection of concern and compassion for a “vanishing race.” Are you one of these?
Using the uploaded text and the above commentary as a foundation for your insight, reflect on the ways in which you were raised and how you have encountered formal
institution of socialization (school, organized religion, political systems etc). What is your response to the documentary “White’s Man’s Image”? Have we become
“civilized” as a result of our educational system?
Cultural Anthropology, third edition, Nancy Bonvillain, copyright 2013, 2010, 2006 Pearson Education Inc. Publishing as Pearson Education, One Lake St., Upper Saddle
river, NJ 07458.