Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Loss



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Cultural loss can give people a sense of inadequacy, lost identity, anger and the breaking of ties that bind them to their past. Traditions and customs are linked to culture and dictate the way lives are lived based on the teachings of one's forefathers. It is the respect and perpetuation of those that came before and those to follow.
 
History has repeatedly shown us that many indigenous cultures suffered cultural loss during the colonization of their countries. With the arrival of early settlers from Europe to the new unexplored territories of the Americas and around regions of the Pacific, the existing native occupants were forced to share their lands with the newcomers. The native cultures had the advantage of knowing the terrain the early settlers were unfamiliar with. To their detriment, the natives assisted the colonists by helping them navigate this unknown terrain. The settlers also had an advantage that came in the form of more advanced weaponry such as the gun. The spear and native weapons were no match against the gun and as is the case in any struggle for power the winner takes all.

The indigenous cultures gradually succumbed to the might of the early settlers either by force or by farce in the form of treaties favoring the colonists. Many of the native cultures, seeing no end to the battles and their heavy losses to the foreign invaders, ended up signing treaties. These so called “treaties” were just ploys to appease and manipulate the indigenous tribes and were never implemented for, or in favor of the native tribes.  With numbers already decimated by their lack of immunity to diseases such as smallpox — introduced by the colonists — the native tribes had a choice to either assimilate with the foreign settlers or fight to the death. In many instances this was how cultural loss occurred. The colonist’s beliefs and customs were imposed upon the already weakened and dwindling indigenous cultures, and their customs and traditions gradually lost or forgotten. Their traditional customs were gradually forgotten and replaced by the customs of the victor. Although many cultures would practice their rituals in secret there was always the threat of death upon discovery.

History is riddled with the conquests and loss of cultures. The displacement, assimilation or annihilation of some cultures was always to be expected when one culture goes to war with another, whether it is for reasons of status, religion, land food or just plain greed. It has to be noted that different tribes within cultures also fought among themselves for status sometimes hastening their cultural loss when foreign intervention occurred. From the defeat of the once thriving cultures of the Inca in Mesoamerica for their abundance of gold by the Spanish conquistadors who ran roughshod over occupants of newly found territories to other European (British, French, Dutch) colonizers of North America who were also responsible for the loss of some first nation cultures. The Romans and Vikings were also responsible for the conquest of many tribes on their journeys of discovery and expansion. Not only were these people bringing war, but their rampant diseases as well, which the indigenous peoples had no immunity to.  Weak and with depleted numbers, the natives had no other means of survival but to assimilate with their conquerors.

Many cultures have hovered on the brink of extinction, just managing to grasp what little they had and gradually rebuild some of what was nearly lost. Alas for some total emersion occurred and has seen their culture minimized and remnants of it hardly recognizable.  The sad thing about it is the world will never see the likes of their living culture again. It has faded into history and there it will forever dwell with no one to carry its essence into the future. This is a real blow to mankind and maybe a sign that his future may not be as carved in stone as he thinks.

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