Friction between the preservation of unique culture and new trends can seem inevitable in a rapidly globalizing world. But is culture clash inevitable? Or can indigenous communities find new ways to fight back against cultural hegemony?
Resorting to kneejerk opinions is not a helpful reaction to the expansion of a global culture. It is possible for indigenous communities to engage with the rest of the world while preserving the unique and cherished aspects of their native customs.
Pushback is understandable in the face of what seems to be a threat to the fundamental way of life of members of fragile communities. It is our job, as citizens of a global community, to show compassion and empathy for tribes that have been encroached on and threatened for centuries by outside forces.
When we take on board the context of these interactions and the power dynamics at play, it is clear why we need to take a gentle approach to outreach and dialogue. Foisting rapid change on people can lead to alienation and hostility in the best of circumstances
The Role of Technology
The Mukurtu project is an apt example of product design that builds in sensitivity to the needs of an indigenous user base. By offering tailored solutions that mesh technology with the protection of culture and customs, Mukurtu offers a means for vulnerable communities to protect, preserve, and share their unique heritage.
The importance of projects like Mukurtu becomes apparent when we take into account the potential for generic technology to disrupt and fundamentally alter the way of life for people around the world.
By demonstrating the power of the internet in a non-threatening way we can create a gateway for the acceptance of other digital technologies that may offer a lifeline to communities struggling to reconcile the survival of their heritage with the growing global economy.
Worldwide demand for raw materials and agricultural products can stimulate new opportunities for growth in communities that have long been shielded from economic gains in other nations. For instance, aspects of traditional medicine have gone mainstream via the nutraceuticals industry, forging new export markets that simply didn’t exist a few decades ago.
Take ashwagandha, for example: what was once a little-known herb lauded in traditional Indian medicine has now gone mainstream, making a name for itself as a nootropic with alleged calming effects.
There are many who approach these trends with cynicism. After all, western companies appear to be cashing in on prized aspects of the culture of smaller and less market-orientated communities from around the world. But these efforts also stimulate new demand for the raw material exports of isolated parts of developing countries.
If we are to engage positively with peoples on the very cusp of global development we must show a willingness to engage with them in a fair and reasonable manner. The days of abusive corporate behemoths and banana republics must never be allowed to rear their heads again. This is why movements such as Fair Trade cannot solely be paid lip service. As a united global community we must vote with our feet and our spending to force corporations to treat their suppliers with respect and decency.
Investing in the Future
For small farming communities to make the most of new opportunities they require sustained investment in both their labor force and their capital stock. Sophisticated agricultural methods must be gently introduced and the adoption of best practices in inventory management and shipping will only come about through careful and tailored education opportunities.
Abusive exploitation can no longer be a permissible aspect of the global supply chain if we are to engage indigenous communities as equals in the world economy. Customer relations are a fundamental part of the business management toolkit employed by modern companies. But the best CRM technology and the sharpest minds in PR can be forced to reckon with the ethical demands of consumers if we are compassionate enough to base our purchasing decisions on the needs of everyone in the supply chain — including indigenous farmers, rural communities, and nations that have been left behind by growth.
Can communities stay true to themselves?
The million dollar question remains: can indigenous communities stay true to themselves while engaging with the outside world in trade and cultural exchange?
The most pessimistic outlook would suggest that smaller cultures face no other fate than being swallowed whole by larger and more relentless global cultures. The English-speaking world must reckon with the fact that its influence in global affairs has a checkered record at best. Hostility toward its expansion is nothing less than understandable.
Investing in tools that allow tribal communities to preserve their heritage is vital. Change occurs slowly and gradually and progress can be scuppered at any time by acts of implicit or explicit violence. This includes abusive trading practices and overly eager efforts to usurp local customs with outside culture.
It is not in anyone’s best interest to destroy the fabric of unique cultures. We have seen first-hand the devastating effects of colonialism on America’s indigenous peoples. Faced with rapid change forced on them by an alien culture, many have struggled to come to terms with violence and alcoholism among other social ills. We must bear the brunt of the responsibility and learn from past atrocities to ensure that cultures around the world are given the breathing space to thrive on their own terms.
This means respecting local religion, customs and laws and offering technological solutions that preserve the unique ideas that make these societies great. The price of failure is the destruction of the cultural diversity that makes the world such a fascinating and wonderful place.