Culture Shock

I just woke up from a dream. I was somewhere exotic with lots of sand and snakes with my girlfriend (I had a girlfriend apparently). Snakes were coming up out of the sand all around us, and we were freaking out, but then I realized that this meant something. We ran away from the beach and found a gathering of natives. They were standing around a large square hole large enough to bury a car that they had dug in the ground with pathways spiraling down to the bottom. At the bottom was a woman lying on the ground seemingly unconscious. The natives were chanting and going on in preparation for some ritual. At first I thought they were going to bury her alive, but then I asked a native if she was already dead and found out she was. I was relieved. But then I noticed a small child wrapped in the woman’s arms. At first I assumed the child was dead too, but then the child moved, lifted its head and looked up at the crowd smiling. At this point the man I had asked about the woman took his wife and walked off muttering something about the rest being too hard. The child got up and attempted to climb up out of the hole.  I had spoken in Malagasy earlier, but what happened next was most definitely not part of Malagasy culture. The chief, (I assumed he was the chief; he was in charge so to speak.) grabbed the child and pushed him back down the hole. The child attempted again and the chief grabbed him and used a cruel aborigine type weapon to cut him on the back side of his arm pushing him back down in an attempt to intimidate the child into staying with his deceased mother. I don’t remember if someone had explained this ritual to me previously or if I asked someone there or just knew what was going to happen. But these people were about to bury a women who had died with one of her living children. I yelled at some of the locals that I knew personally, trying to figure out why they were doing this and how it could be stopped, but I knew that I was not going to convince a group of over one hundred people to stop right in the middle of a ritual they had done consistently for hundreds of years. I was about to witness the murder of a small child and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt helpless, I was frantic at the thought of standing by while this happened. Then I woke up…

I don’t know where this dream came from, but as I woke up, I, for some reason, immediately thought of my pending field study in Madagascar (probably because I had spoken to one of the natives in Malagasy). Our topic for Monday’s class will be culture shock. I’ve lived in Madagascar, and I know that no part of Malagasy culture would ever include a ritual this morbid. But it occurred to me that many of us may still encounter cultural rituals or beliefs that are incompatible with our own religion and belief system. We may be forced into moral dilemmas of sorts where we feel it would be wrong to participate or even to stand by without saying something, but, at the same time, we are powerless to dictate a change in century old culture. This may be something we have to confront and will definitely contribute to the culture shock. In Madagascar it may be worshiping the ancestors by opening up the tombs to re-wrap the dead and parade them around town. In other locations it may be the way people dress. (My quorum instructor growing up had served in South Africa and mentioned that sometimes they had to ask women to put a shirt on because they answered the door without one.) Maybe it’s simply the way parents treat their children. The apostles say that people should leave their culture behind where it is incompatible with the gospel but bring with them those parts of the gospel that are consistent with its teachings. Since we are not missionaries but rather scientists learning about another culture, we will be in much less of a position to make that invitation. How will we deal with the culture shock?

~ by Abraham on 3 April 2011.

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