Tuesday, March 22, 2011

America- A Potpourri of world cultures


When we refer to the culture of a people, it covers almost every activity of the people, including the material and the economic in addition to their whole social anthropology. People have always mingled by commerce, conquest, migration and other historical factors so that no culture can be held to be absolutely original or uninfluenced by other cultures. Ralph Turner, considered an eminent American authority on the Integration of Cultures, shows in his book “The Great Cultural Tradition” how the culture of one people has absorbed that of the other and how civilization is, in essence, a cooperative success. Normally the integration of cultures broadly relates to two major spheres of human activity—one relating to the higher sphere of religious beliefs and doctrines, and another to the lesser sphere of material culture.

As regards the material culture, Ralph Linton, another American specialist on the subject, has made a deep study of the present day American culture and has written a book called ‘ The Study of Man’ published in 1936. Here he shows how the present day American has absorbed in toto the material culture of so many other countries that he is ignorant of their origin. Making this point clear, Linton writes in his book and I quote:

“Our solid American citizen awakens in a bed built on a pattern which originated in the Near East but which was modified in Northern Europe before it was transmitted to America. He throws back covers made from cotton, domesticated in India, or linen, domesticated in the Near East, or wool from sheep, also domesticated in the Near East, or silk, the use of which was discovered in China. All of these materials have been spun and woven by processes invented in the Near East. He slips into his moccasins, invented by the Indians of the Eastern Woodlands, and goes to the bathroom, whose fixtures are a mixture of European and American inventions, both of recent date. He takes off his pajamas, a garment invented in India, and washes with soap invented in the ancient Gauls. He then shaves, a masochistic rite which seems to have been derived from either Sumeria or ancient Egypt.

Returning to the bedroom, he removes his clothes from a chair of southern European type and proceeds to dress. He puts on garments whose form originally derived from the skin clothing of the nomads of the Asiatic steppes, puts on shoes made from the skin tanned by a process invented in ancient Egypt and cut to a pattern derived from the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean, and ties around his neck a strip of bright-coloured cloth which is vestigial survival of the shoulder shawls worn by the 17th century Croatians. Before going for breakfast he glances through the windows, made of glass invented in Egypt, and if it is raining puts on overshoes made of rubber discovered by the Central American Indians and takes an umbrella, invented in Southern Asia. Upon his head he puts a hat made of felt, a material invented in Asiatic steppes.

On his way to breakfast he stops to buy a paper, paying for it with coins, an ancient Lydian invention. At the restaurant a whole new series of borrowed elements confront him. His plate is made of a form of pottery invented in China. His knife is of steel, an alloy first made in South India, his fork a medieval Italian invention,, and his spoon a derivative of a Roman original . He begins breakfast with an orange, from the Eastern Mediterranean, a cantaloupe from Persia, or perhaps a piece of African watermelon. With this he has coffee, an Abyssinian plant, with cream and sugar. Both the domestication of cows and the idea of milking them originated in the Near East, while sugar was first made in India. After his fruit and first coffee he goes on to waffles, cakes made by a Scandinavian technique from wheat domesticated in Asia Minor. Over these he pours maple syrup, invented by the Indians of the Eastern Woodlands. As a side dish he may have the egg of a species of bird domesticated in Indo-china.

When our friend has finished eating he settles back to smoke, an American Indian habit, consuming a plant domesticated in Brazil in either a pipe, derived from the Indians of Virginia, or a cigarette, cigar, transmitted to us from the Antilles by way of Spain. While smoking he reads the news of the day, imprinted in characters invented by the ancient Semites upon a material invented in China by a process invented in Germany. As he absorbs the accounts of foreign troubles he will, if he is a good conservative citizen, thank a Hebrew deity in an Indo-European language that he is 100 percent American”

The above paragraphs should remind an American of his debt to world cultures and restore a bit of humility that is not always present.

B .M.N.Murthy
Friday, February 8, 2008 8:37 PM


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