Culture is not a static condition, it responds dynamically to new factors

Dear Editor,

Recent letter writers, including the accomplish- ed Harold Bascom (13/11/07), on the matter of Guyanese culture being eroded by foreign influences or behaviours, while understandable, appear to be missing an essential point: culture is not a static condition; it is a dynamic one.

The Guyanese culture of 50 years ago is not the Guyanese culture of today for a number of reasons, none of them intrinsically insidious, and to expect otherwise is, frankly, to be naive. Further-more, it is not a condition peculiar to Guyana. Every culture everywhere changes because the inhabitants of the culture decide that some other behaviour they see in another culture appeals to them. American culture, right now, is being turned upside down by Latin influences. Canada, in the Pierre Trudeau years, was transformed by the multi-culturalism injected by the immigration flood. It affected the colours and styles of buildings, the foods in restaurants, even the liquor laws.

Unless the inhabitants of a culture make a conscious decision to isolate themselves from external influences (as some indigenous people choose to do) change is inevitable. More importantly, while the invasive culture may be guilty of some degree of proselytising, the essential point is that the host culture – in this discussion, Guyana – is the one choosing the changes.

Cultures, wherever you find them exposed to other cultures, will decide what to accept or what to reject from the other alternatives or styles to which they are ex-posed. We can see it as a matter of loss, but that is a subjective position; the majority of the people in a culture, will take from a foreign culture what they see as useful or attractive (more comfort; more entertainment; more income; etc.) and to rail against that is to spit into a hurricane.

The very television and internet phenomena that have brought us quantum leaps in entertainment and communication have also brought influences from which we cannot be immune.

The attraction of the US Hip Hop culture for a 17-year-old young man in the Cayman Islands, for example, exceeds the appeals from the adult community to “find a pants dat fit yuh”.

Furthermore, if the complainants examined their own condition, they would see that they themselves are making similar acceptances (fast food instead of metagee; email instead of letters; frozen dough instead of cassava bread; etc.) in their own lives while they’re objecting to Halloween.

The additional point is that with all the changes, a culture instinctively chooses to retain significant aspects of itself that it values. Guyanese cuisine, Guyanese sense of humour, our devotion to ritual practices from India and Africa, remain powerful signposts of our culture; signposts that we carry with us and proudly plant whether we land on Eglinton Avenue in Toronto, or Liberty Avenue in New York.

Yes, there is intrusion, and some of it is annoying, but generally speaking the rubric of a culture does not get lost along the way.

For those of us, and I count myself, who are concerned about the dilution, we can each do our part to hold on to what we feel is evocative of Guyana.

That is the best you can do. Beyond that, the only way to avert change completely is to find a cave in the Pakaraimas some place and hunker down there.

Yours faithfully,

Dave Martins

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