Published 10 Oct 2017
First, I would read any literature that did exist on the culture to learn about their ways of life. If that was not possible, then I would consult my guide and ask him what to expect when we visited. It’s important to be open minded about other cultures and the ways that they live, even if they are very different. I might choose read about American culture in the past, before we had any electricity or other things, so that I might understand that we were once like the Yanomamo, too, in certain ways. I would like to be prepared to understand at least the basic differences between our culture and theirs, and be willing to accept what I see even if it is shocking.
I once went to a party where I was the only white person in the room. The rest of the people, about 30 of them, were all African American. Up until that point, although I had always known black people, I had never been in the minority. I was shocked by some aspects of their culture. For example, the party was supposed to start at 1, but no one came then. I was assured this was normal. In fact, no one showed up for over two hours, and when they did, everyone came at once! Everyone was so loud and friendly and there were no apologies for being late, which I found strange. It was just very weird to be entirely surrounded by a race and culture other than my own.
Understanding culture is important, but very difficult. It is hard to assimilate our own cultural knowledge with other cultures without feeling like they are “weird” or “wrong.” However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to try to understand the other cultures. The other cultures are simply different, and there’s nothing wrong with them. In my situation, I needed to understand that this culture had its own set of rules about behavior, and that what might have been considered very rude and presumptuous to me was considered normal and acceptable to them. For Chagnon, he needed to understand that this culture was an incredibly small and private culture that did not deal well with outsiders, which he was. This culture had probably been hurt by outsiders before, and their reaction was justified. If they appeared large and scary, and had weapons drawn when new people came, those people might be less likely to hurt them. He also learned that the reason they did not wear clothes was because it was so hot. He, himself was sweating and extremely uncomfortable when he was dressed, so he could probably imagine that the Yanomamo did not wear clothes for comfort. They were probably also acclimated to the heat, which he was not. All of these different elements were important for Chagnon to understand.
- Margaret Jank ‘Culture shock’ Chicago : Moody Press, 1977.
- R Brian Ferguson ‘Warfare, culture, and environment’ Orlando, Fla. : Academic Press, 1984.