Cultures in the Purest Form

By Jake Marinkovich

Something world travelers will often cite as a reason for their travels is to experience other cultures, but is that even possible in their purest form anymore? In this globalized age, you’d be hard pressed to find a place completely detached from the rest of the world. And when you know what the tourists want, and you rely on the tourists’ money, you’re bound to change your practices.

As I said, experiencing other cultures plays a major role in people traveling abroad. I know because it was a motive I stated in traveling to South Africa this summer. I was lucky enough to experience a new culture in one of the best ways possible: homestays. For three days, four peers, a translator and I lived in a 75 ft 2 hut in Dotha, South Africa. Dotha is a very beautiful, but very poor place. In those three days, we met nearly every member of the village. Without a doubt, we met every child under 12 years old. From the moment we arrived, to the moment we woke up and emerged from our hut, to the moment we left, I had at least 3 children within my proximity. We helped them with chores they needed done around the house, such as cutting firewood, and collecting water. However, most of our time was spent playing games and dancing. They even dressed us up in the traditional garb of the region. It was all great fun, but something nagged at me. How much of this was for our benefit? Was this what life truly is like for them, or is this a show for the foreign white tourists? Don’t get me wrong. It was an incredible experience, and I’m so happy I was able to immerse myself as much as I did. However, I’m afraid western influence is changing the culture of even the most remote places, like Dotha.

For me, at least, whenever I was shown some sort of traditional dance or ceremony, I had trouble completely letting go of my doubts and enjoying the experience. Luaus always felt rather whitewashed to me, especially when the majority of the staff is white. Or look at how traditional holidays have morphed together across the world. Holidays like Christmas have become virtually the same globally, when many countries had unique winter solstice holidays to begin with. Traditional clothing has largely gone by the way-side as well. You can see the same brands of clothing virtually anywhere you go globally. Especially in developing countries, where the populace idolizes the life of those in developed countries, they will imitate as much as possible, leaving traditions aside. This will continue through generations, as the younger children grow up without the traditional practices that their parents may have experienced when they were young. Soon, the traditional part of their culture will die out. This happens naturally over time, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cannibalism is something most people would agree needed to die out. But in the past, cultural traditions died because their country of origin was fading, or a neighboring country began influencing their culture. That is similar to what is happening now, but it has never been done on this scale before. We are seeing western influence on even the most remote areas.

In this digital age, cross-contamination of cultures is inevitable. You can see touches of western influence in almost every culture across the globe. I’m sure some will say that this isn’t a problem, and that cultural influencing is natural, but I still have a desire to see a culture in its natural state. If you feel the same, I can’t recommend homestays enough. It’s the closest thing you can get to a distillation of any one culture.

Natalie Miller