Friday, November 27, 2009

Learning from primitive cultures

In my last post, the second video I embedded by Gever Tulley mentioned how the Inuits taught their children how to use knives at a very young age, thus allowing them to gain better control of a basic tool of their life. In my foundations of sociology class, I had the opportunity to read and critique a wonderful article by Richard Sorenson on the Fore culture, which had some amazing cultural social stucture.

I like the talks, because they give me a way to share ideas without totally bogging people down with my wordiness. I had thought I had found an excellent talk about documenting endangered cultures; however, while the efforts shown are commendable, I truly feel that the speaker is missing out on the real lost of these cultures. It's good to know that there are other cultures and other ways of doing things, but we also need to save the lessons of life from these culture and learn from their social structure. We obvioiusly can't apply everything we learn and some of it we may not want to, but some cultures can give us wonderful examples on how to deal with others and life.

So, instead of treating you to a video (which you can find here on, I will instead give you my critique of Sorenson's article. Yes, I'm lazy when it comes to repeating information, but my friends already know that.

A Doerr
April 3, 2008

Growing Up as a Fore Is to Be “In Touch” and Free (from Readings for Sociology)

The thesis of Richard Sorenson is that the reduction of cultural diversity may rob us of some very important knowledge and influences. He bases this on his observations of the Fore people in Papua New Guinea. It is obvious that he considers their original cultural to be a utopia of human interaction and child rearing. His downplaying of the fact these people have patterns of settling and then migrating when the land no longer can support them shows a willingness to overlook the fact that if the survival rate of the people improved, they would have eventually developed like many other ancient cultures who found that with success comes an increase in structure.

However, his point that we would do well to record these cultures before they become “corrupted” by Westernization, is a very valid one. Knowledge and skill can just as easily be lost as gained when a culture changes. Art professors have commented that their students no longer have the fine skills the artists of previous generations did because they no longer have to do as much by hand. By knowing what we have lost, it is possible to perhaps relearn it or at least modify it to work to our own cultural benefit. In the case of the Fore, the most precious knowledge would be that on how to raise confident and wise children with few emotional problems.

Sorenson’s article also shows how quickly a culture can be changed when it is naturally inquisitive and opened to ideas. Indeed, he states that this was the downfall of the Fore culture. Something as simple as a road can make a great deal of difference. But his article shows a lot more than just that. It shows how people in primitive cultures actually have comparable intelligence and mental sophistication to be able to adapt to a more industrial way of life if they are open to the concept, belying the ideas of inferior races. It shows how rushed cultural changes can “toss the baby out with the bath water”, suggesting that we would do well to revisit our own cultural pasts to see what we have left behind.

This article is worth keeping in any family counselor’s personal library. While the Fore culture can never be regained in this world, there is enough there that may help us sort out dysfunctions in our own family relationships. In the end, Sorenson’s point about learning about primitive cultures before they are lost, is more than aptly made.

I know, it would probably be more helpful if I directly quoted from the article. If you are really curious, you can read some of Sorenson's work here. It's not the same article I critiqued, but it covers some of the same data.

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