A War Between Small Cultural Groups and Mega Industries

February 20th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

When I was in Cusco, Peru last summer, I was such a shopaholic.  I was exploring in the boutiques almost everyday and admiring the beautiful woven pieces such as blankets, sweaters, and boots.  Some were in bright colors and some were in somber colors.  In fact, some shops had Peruvians weaving at the spot, which gave me an insight on how they produced their work.  I was enthralled by their talents and how they could master creating illustrations on woven pieces such as strange creatures and kaleidoscopic patterns.  This is just one example of my having a learning opportunity in a shop.

Visiting shops in foreign places was like visiting a museum.  I learned about each countries’ specialties, their artistic styles, and what products are vital to their culture.

For my current anthropology course, I had a very interesting reading assignment that was totally related to my area of interest. I was reading about tribal arts and the concerns about tribal artworks losing their spirituality due to tourism.  Many spiritual objects were becoming souvenirs that were being used to gain revenues from the tourists.  Some cultures perhaps were feeling that those spiritual objects were becoming less exclusive to their culture.  They also may have been concerned that tourists who purchase them would just place them on a bookshelf in a bedroom in their home and all it would mean to them is their own travel memories rather than the spiritual meanings of the culture.  Denis Dutton, the author of the journal, Tribal Art and Artifact, stated:

“Mass produced tourist souvenirs lose a sense of meaning and separate the spirituality of the creator from the object.  The myth of purity and Otherness disappears through a process that wipes a smear of rationalized industry on the object.”

So, Dutton spoke about the concerns about how the industries were taking an impact on some cultural groups due to “stealing” the spirituality away from them by turning the meaning of the objects into symbolizing them as cash cows for bringing in revenues into those industries.

It’s not just the worry of objects losing its spirituality but even also the culture itself, especially in small cultural groups.  I came across a paragraph that made me want to read again a few times to ensure that I was reading it right:

“Small-scale traditional cultures world-wide are in decline, and their arts are deeply affected by the collision with powerful industrial societies.  Where art works might in the past have been created for exclusively ritual or spiritual purposes, they are today increasingly produced for sale to tourists or foreign commercial buyers.  Many such “made for export” works imitate traditional pieces, or in event continue a ritual artifact tradition beyond the survival of the beliefs that underpinned it, indeed, beyond the life of the ritual itself.”

Therefore, it seems that some cultural groups can’t survive the loss of spirituality.   Industry is really exerting a powerful control over society and is certainly taking over the small cultural groups. It seems as if we’re in a war between small-scale traditional cultures and mega-industries!

Now I’m thinking if I should have been feeling guilty for buying foreign products.  When I was buying products, I felt that I was supporting and learning to be part of their culture.  Shouldn’t those cultural groups have felt appreciated that they were being recognized by the tourists?  What if they chose not to allow their objects to be sold to tourists, but to be displayed in museums and the like as artifacts when their culture dies?  Also, what if the small cultural group wants to expand their culture by bringing in tourists who fall in love with it and choose to assimilate into it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *