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Transculturalism: Rejuvenating Globalization

Transculturalism is the phenomenon that has been brought out by the interactional aspect of cultures made inevitable by globalization. Globalization, a techno-political assimilative arrangement which is giving the cultures across the world a time to revisit and rethink indigenous and new approaches to cultures, is opening up new vistas to question how the new concept  of transculturalism should be interpreted. The very concept of transculturalism is still a debatable one as it has been misconstrued by many sections of the new business owners’ employees who are trapped in the cheap money making tendencies that robbed people of their indigenous cultures and values. The new lifestyles created by Business Process Outsourcings and Multi National Companies in the business hubs of India have also given a new perspective to looking at transculturalism with minute scrutiny. This cultural standing of globalization is in a chaotic situation which requires special attention to come to a proper understanding and give a true meaning to its intended purpose.

Transculturalism was first coined by Fernandez Ortiz in 1947. It emphasizes rootedness in one’s culture and at the same time accepting and tolerating the cultures of other communities. This is clearly a cosmopolitan outlook that tries to bring out the best from all the available cultures.

Transculturalism is very much associated with rootedness. It is metaphorical with the kite flying high in the sky in all its glory but somewhere somebody on the ground controls the string. The root is the base from which the transcultured human rejoices the multi cultures of globalization.

It is a setback that many educated intelligent section of our society have misinterpreted and misused the very beautiful concept of transculturalism to suit their own purposes. It would be very wrong to equate transculturalism with acculturalism as it would mean completely discarding the old concept and tradition you are accustomed with. Then it becomes a colonial endeavor that controls and subdues to rule and dominate. Chinua Achebe has very clearly highlighted this difference between transculturalism and acculturalism in his book ‘˜Things Fall Apart‘. This book is about the downfall of a hardworking and bold Patriach Okonkwo who belongs to the Igbo Tribe of Africa.  As you read the book you start travelling into the traditional and indigenous culture of Africa that is quite typical and fascinating in its own way. You start living with the characters so well that  it seems all the change of events are going on right in front of you. That is the extraordinary quality of Chinua Achebe, the writer who has given the connection between the root and the route in order to transculture. Chinua Achebe has dissected the traditional system of the Igbo society to give a clear picture of the social system they follow; the marriage system of the Igbo tribe, their law, their social activities, their superstitions etc. which has its own merits and some demerits as every system is fraught with. The coming of the white men ushers in a new culture that is too compromising and flexible for a hardworking and strong patriarch like Okonkwo who prefers committing suicide rather than stoop and survive. He saw his fellowmen who had never been given importance in any of their social related gatherings being swept away by the white men’s culture. This acculturation seems to be very convenient.

For the weak that were given a route to exist as is highlighted by the writer. Here the writer draws the line between the root which is signified by Okonkwo and his society and the route which is signified by the white men and his beliefs.

The colonial instinct that subdues and dominate and kills a culture to give route to its own culture will never serve the purpose of globalization. Globalization as opposed to colonization paves the way for free and individualistic lifestyles that sees no segregation in any form. There are many issues about identities and boundaries that need to be tackled with proper understanding and knowledge about history and politics that led to the problem. Transcending the culture we are in and seeing what lies beyond, is the mantra of living in the postmodern culture. Postmodernism is not about losing our identity and adopting myriad multi cultures and signs. It can be a solution   to many of the social and political problems which I will not specify and pinpoint in this paper.

Transculturalism is the ultimate goal of globalization. It is very inevitable given the way the world is being connected day by day. The problem and hindrance in the way of spreading transculturalism is whether the mechanism through which this process is to be speeded up are socially and politically reliable and imparting their responsibilities in a free and fair way. The mechanism is the focal point or the key word that needs to be highlighted as it is crucial in enhancing or deteriorating a given system of working. If the very mission of transculturalism is to be speeded up, the mechanism need to be value laden and rooted otherwise it will not be able to pave the route to the desired goal.

Amitav Ghosh is also a transculturalist in the sense that he, in spite of having a cosmopolitan upbringing always tends to become nostalgic about his local childhood longings. He always searches for his root, his identity as a Bengali which is quite natural of any individual craving for its lineage. If we go through his novel ‘˜The Hungry Tide‘, we are acquainted with the writer’s own predicament at the crossroads of two cultures, one trying to subsume the nostalgic past rooted tradition that is too strong to disconnect and the other like ebbing tide moving away leaving behind a trail of memories to succor.

Ghosh also discusses some issues related to wildlife and the displacement problems in the Suderbans which goes against the very goals of globalization. He discusses at length the problems and panic created by the tigers in the Sunderbans where the inhabitants like Fokir had to be bold to even resort to kill them to tackle the tigers’ problems. He makes us feel quite ironical when we come across the global campaign against killing of tigers given the problems of tigers in details.  He portrays two characters in the novel symbolizing the two cultures he has been exposed to. His protagonists namely: Fokir an uneducated rustic man who is too value laden and Piya a cosmopolitan in search of its root interacts and communes to bring a strong tie between the root and the route .

The story is set in the Sunderbans and the meeting between these two protagonists sets the stage for the interaction between the two ideologies that culminate to the attainment of transculturalism. Fokir ultimately sacrifices his life to give Piya the root she was craving ultimately transculturing her for the mission of globalization.

Even Kiran Desai harps on this theme of transculturalism in her novel Inheritance of Loss. In this novel too, Kiran Desai like Amitav Ghosh brings out the debate between nativism and cosmopolitanism through her protagonists, Gyan and Sai. This theme is also found surfacing in almost every novel of Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni. Her stories are replete with struggles of these ebbing and the other overpowering cultures. All the writers end their stories with only the nostalgia in their memories letting the new culture of globalization to transculture. This bears testimony to the inevitability of the new culture of the globalization   gulping up to give uniformity to almost all the cultures of the world. This statement doesn’t implicate the uniformity in the practice of a culture rather it calls for a broader perspective to look at things. People have their choices to choose but we should be well equipped to know what to choose and what not to choose. This is crucial as the features and characteristics of postmodern culture that demand every culture to transculture is misleading the youths in a completely different direction. Transculturalism should not be mistaken with westernization or colonization. It is a concept that tries to give individual the freedom to lead a life of its own choice by respecting the individuality of the other person. Unlike traditional societies where choices were limited, the new age is bringing in an era of connectivity and choices which makes boundaries and identity issues quite irrelevant. The prevalence of these  issues in this age demand for a minute scrutiny as to how the administrative and governance mechanisms are imparting responsibilities in speeding up globalization and transculturing their mindset in a free and fair way. We still are in the nascent stage of transculturalism and globalization as many social and political problems are still pervading even today which otherwise would have been thwarted out long time back. The imprints of colonialism are still impinging on the social and political scenes of many part of the world especially India. This is a clear indication that globalization is still an unfulfilled project.

Hence, globalization is all about connectivity, free choices, individuality and self esteem and not domination. A transcultural approach to looking at problems is the only solution to many of the issues hindering the process of globalization. We are witnessing a techno extravaganza which is the result of the market that tries to attract different customers. Whether the technology that we are developing is serving the intended purpose or not is another pertinent question .Technology should be used for enhancing globalization and hence transculturing mindset. If this purpose is not served we can say, we still are in the grip of some kind of colonization.

*The article is written by Dr. Reena Sanasam

*The author is Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology, Silchar, Assam. She is at present working on Transculturalism and Feminism.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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