Do native peoples today invent their traditions - Essay Example

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Do Native Peoples Today Invent Their Traditions Cultural anthropology is the science of the beliefs, ideas, practices and the history of human settlements, of the peoples of our world. The renowned anthropologist, Roger Keesing describes anthropology as “an exploration, an excavation of the cumulated, embodied symbols, of other peoples, a search for meanings, for hidden connections, for deeper saliences than those presented by the surface evidence of ethnography.” (Keesing, R) A variety of methods are used by anthropologists today, to study in depth, the various cultures of the world…
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Download file to see previous pages Almost always there are valid arguments on both sides of the controversy. This, I believe is also the case in the arguments put forth by Keesing and Trask, in their difference of opinions, about whether native peoples today invent their traditions. However, I do think the arguments put forth by Trask more valid. Cultural anthropologist Roger M Keesing maintains, that the traditional culture accepted by the native people of the pacific is an invented version of their past, and that they do not really know what life was really like before the invasion of the white man. On the other hand, Haunani-Kay Trask, a Hawaiian scholar argues that Keesing relies only on western documentation, while the native people have sources like oral traditions and genealogies that western documentation does not take into account. I believe that this is a valid point because I think that there is a difference in perception between people of different cultures, and many native customs and nuances in dialects, may not be correctly understood by someone who is alien to that culture. There are subtle changes in the pronunciations of certain words in some dialects and these could convey a very different meaning. Trask herself is critical of the westerner’s understanding of native culture and the institutions therein, while Keesing too argues that “interpretation itself is fraught with difficulties, some perhaps ultimately intractable.” (Keesing, R) In the present debate, Keesing’s arguments are based on a collection of essays of Hobsbawm and Ranger, that conclude that cultures and traditions change over time due to a variety of factors. Most anthropologists agree that customs and traditions change over time. However to say that these have been invented to cater to the tourism industry, and the native people do not really know what life was like before western invasion; also is difficult to accept. It is a well documented fact, that in many cultures, knowledge and traditions were handed down orally from father to son spanning generations. For example in India the Vedic texts are said to have been orally passed on for generations. Although it may be argued that it may not have been handed down in its purest form, allowing for some changes as a result of verbal communication, to say that these traditions have been invented by native people in the recent past cannot be accepted. It must also be accepted that documentation of these traditions were mostly carried out by the western invaders, as the local people relied on verbal communication and not on the written word that was alien to their culture. As Trask argues, it is perhaps the native scholar rather than the western one who would be the better judge of whether the present traditions are those that have come down the ages or invented in the recent past. Having the advantage of being a native, the local anthropologist would be in a better position to understand the nuances of words, and their various meanings, as they were once used in bygone times, and the sum total of what has been handed down through the ages. Keesing accepts the fact that it is important to question ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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