Remotely Global Part II

3/16/11

Thoughts and questions considered throughout the second half of Remotely Global (I thought this format would work well for continuing our discussion in our time together tomorrow):

Chapter 4: Persons

* The Kabre identity is completely wrapped up in relationships, exchange, and ritual. Rituals make known death, life, the connection between tradition and modernity, the nature of community, and recognize the steps made toward “becoming” a man or a woman. Reading about the significance of ceremonies and rituals in Kabre culture, and how they construct individuals in a unified society, I wonder about our own American ceremonies. How are we shaped by ceremony and ritual from childhood in America? I think of birthday parties, play dates arranged by our parents, graduations, first days of school, steps toward “independence,” marriages and funerals. What do events like these say about the way we see ourselves and why? How do we grow up to think of ourselves in a global context?

* Kabre parents believe that they must “adapt to their children, rather than the other way around” (77). I really like this idea. They believe that the child is born with relationships to a hidden world already intact–it is the parents’ job to figure out this history and what a child needs. By understanding these relationships, parents can lure the baby from the world of the “stranger” into their world. Perhaps we should treat our children with more of a sense of discovery–finding the abilities they are born with and encouraging them rather than trying so hard to shape children into what we see to be “successful.”

* I am fascinated by the fact that Kabre children are not gender differentiated at birth, and the way that they go about defining their sex and gender roles. Though physical gender is taken note of at birth, children grow up participating in activities assigned to both sexes (i.e. fetching water [generally a female activity] and eating dogmeat [a male food.]) Over time, their sex roles become more and more distinct with initiations, or rites of passage. Do we have similar “genderized”rites of passage in American culture? It seems to me that we define gender immediately at birth–seen in name-giving and the traditional dressing of babies in pink or blue.

* For the Kabre, males have far more initiations than females do. This is primarily because they hold a greater “responsibility” in their society than females and are generally seen as superior. However, women are greatly respected for their ability to produce life and cook food. Men are not possible without women, just as women are not possible without men (who gather food to “fill them.”) I found myself asking the same question Piot asks over and over; Which sex actually has the upper hand in this society? And further: Are women more powerful than a Western perspective looking in on this culture would initially believe? Are gender roles ever defied? How would homosexuals or bisexuals be treated in a society where children begin as androgynous? Would it be acceptable for a child who is physically born female to identify as male?

* Despite the clear tradition and history that permeates Kabre culture, modernity global connection are just as apparent. Piot points out that too many Westerns see the Kabre as “backward” and “traditional,” when really they are influenced heavily by pop culture and modern practices all over the world. The traditional and the modern are completely intertwined. This is seen everywhere from the haircuts of teenagers, to the tin roofs now incorporated into rituals that demonstrate strong relationships. Modern markets make the continuation of traditional ceremonies possible by providing now necessary currency. Dolls from the West become a part of traditional head dresses, and, as Piot claims, “the local is always global” (84). This is a concept we too often fail to take into account when evaluating other cultures. Just as Western culture has influenced the modernity of Africa, so too has Africa influenced the modernity of America.  How do we develop our personal world view in this country?

* I am interested in the idea that as a Kabre male approaches manhood, he learns to speak without expressing all of the emotions he feels. He learns to respect his elders, and exercise restraint. Looking at American male teenagers, this is applicable here too. I think especially of my 15 year old brother–a teenager who answers questions with grunts but makes sure to open doors for his grandparents. Are there universal understandings of what it means to be a man in the world? I.e. the protection of females, being careful not to show too much emotion, physical labor? What are a few reasons why these conceptions of what it means to be a man develop? Is it evolutionary? What happens when we challenge and defy them?

* “Remembering your ties” is a core value for the Kabre people–seen particularly in their constant travel between the North and the South. They feel an obligation to their histories, ancestors, and “houses.” With history, tradition, and ancestry, they feel a sort of sense of place. How does this play out in the U.S.? How do we develop a sense of place? do we feel an obligation to return home at certain times? What is our obligation to our parents and our spouses? To our children?

* Kabre women hold power when it comes to marriage. They can decline a proposal from a male, while a male cannot reject a female. Males must prove themselves to in-laws over the course of years–with physical labor, elaborate ritual, and constant deliveries of food. A woman is ready to be wed when she has become “filled” with food delivered by her fiancee. Her roundness is a symbol of fertility and the valiant efforts of the man who wishes to marry her. Why can’t courtships here work more like that? How are American men expected to prove themselves before marriage? What do we expect will happen when a couple gets married here? Why are skinny, athletic, well-groomed and expensively clothed women attractive in the United States? What does this say about our culture?

Chapter 5: Houses

* Houses are separated for the Kabre people into specific male and female domains. A woman may lose her fertility if she crosses into the male domain (i.e. watching as he hunts.) The house represents relationships between its members, with the houses around it, and with the houses from which its members originated. Houses, like the Kabre people, are centered upon relationships. In America, I think that our houses act as an escape to privacy. We fence them in, close our doors, and use them as a physical measure of our success. How do we cultivate a sense of community in ways that are different and similar to the Kabre? How are our homes divided in terms of gender domains? Or are they at all?

* (from p.115) When interviewed, several Kabre men said that they had less men and animal holdings than they actually did. If this same interview were repeated in America, I think that the opposite lie would be true. We always want to appear as if we have more than we really do. Why does this difference occur? Does it have to do with the exchange economy and emphasis on dependence of the Kabre people?

* As they grow, Kabre children are raised with the knowledge that they belong to two houses– the house of their mother’s brother, and the house of their mother and father. They are owned by one, and owe existence to another. Does this conflict happen with us as well? I am reminded of talking about my “Mom’s side” of the family versus my “Dad’s side.” When I have seen the aftermath of what happens when parents of my friends get divorced, I see even further struggles as to which “house” a child actually feels that they “belong.” How do we, and the Kabre, navigate these vast webs of connections as we find a sense of who we are?

Chapter 6: Community

* Why do we feel a need to categorize, study, and understand colonial subjects? How is this both beneficial and detrimental?

* The Kabre have no specific name for their “communities.” Is this because for them community is so fluid, easy, and seemingly inherent? Is community something that needs to be taught? If so, how?

* Sprits and the spiritual world are a huge part of the Kabre experience. Why are we so skeptical in the West of spirits as a way to explain the world? Why do we see sacrifices and rituals in the name of the spirits as backward and primal?

* I’m really interested in the notion that Kabre work to capture the power of “enemies” with their rituals. I wonder if this is part of why we have learned to be so intimidated by ceremonies and to dismiss them as inferior and “crazy.”

* Over time, the chiefs of Kabre communities have been made pretty powerless–unable to participate in the most meaningful rituals, and used more as figure heads. Is this something we should think about in the U.S.? A way to put a check and balance system on the “seductions of power” and rule largely by the input of the people as the Kabre do?

Chapter 7: Diaspora

* The migration of Kabre people North and South is incredibly important to their identity, economy, modernity, history, and sense of duty. I don’t entirely understand this migration–just that it is necessary to make when returning a deceased dead person to the North (which is associated with ritual while the South is associated with modernity.) I’d like to talk more about these dynamics.

* I’m interested in the fact that men from female “moieties” or “houses” must identify with the feminine side in certain rituals or ceremonies, and that the same is true with females born into male moieties. How does this affect gender identity? What does it really mean to be “male” or “female?”

* p.168-169 discuss death ceremonies and their importance for the deceased to reach his or her ancestors. Acknowledgement is key. Kabre children have an obligation to their parents in death to take them back to the ancestral houses of the North. Thinking about the recent death of my Pop, and how my own American family dealt with it and navigated obligtions (i.e. picking out funeral music, deciding where to bury him, selecting certain biblical passages) I recognize that child to parent obligations are universal when it comes to the death of a parent. What are the similarities and differences across cultures? Why?

Chapter 8: A Kabre Modernity

  • The bottom line of this short and conclusive chapter is that the Kabre are in fact a “modern” people. They have influenced the modern world, and been influenced by it. Why would some (particularly from the Western perspective) disagree with this? How do we define modernity in our culture? How could we be made more aware of how essential other cultures are to our own sense of modernity?
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