The Crucible

We have inherited a bit of every continent. And in our island state there are individuals from different cultures who have to adapt to new truths

We are back, at last. Yes, we had started our journey some sixty thousand years ago. After crossing the shallow seas in the North Eastern regions of Africa and made the first detour towards the rising sun, we finally went to all the corners of the world and even crossed the Bering Strait for the Americas.

As we went by we acquired all sorts of experiences – sometimes ugly ones like tribalism and wars. By that time our people in different places started to fall under the influence of the environment, of low and high temperatures; we changed skin texture, colour, hair style and traditions. From the Neolithic Age we entered into the Bronze Age, which later still would lead to the use of iron. We discovered dialect, script and numerals.

We experimented with all sorts of rituals in agriculture and trade, the paranormal, and later social stratification. Some civilizations rose, and fell perhaps because of disease, drought, famine or wars. We gradually developed new concepts and imposed them on all those around us, as religion. Culture developed and with it our sense of belonging. Some invented the abacus, others the zero, some the algebra, and still others discovered gravity.

Some of us, after centuries of conflicts, gave up, and started preaching about peace and love, kindness and tolerance. Some believed that thinking with the heart was more humane than thinking with the head; meanwhile some chose the middle way in their philosophy, while others thought of a more scientific concept of life, and knowledge spread from the East to the West and vice-versa. Somehow or other we survived in spite of diseases and infections, prompting some to develop traditional systems of medicine like ayurveda and acupuncture, until allopathic medicine got the upper hand. Meanwhile sailors had crossed the oceans in search of more land and adventures.

We go on reviewing all sorts of concepts. Some of us look at time as a circular process, while for others it goes in a straight line. Consequently, for some of us the coming of the Messiah will be just another Avatar, a universal routine while for others it will be a miracle. Some from the East believe society must be a collective affair and responsibility, while those from the West bet on the individual. A few would be non-vegetarian — eating beef and pork; others would abhor doing so or adopt a purely vegetarian way of life.

Eastern vs western

In a psychological experiment a group of Americans and Japanese students were asked how they would classify a monkey, a cow and a green meadow. The Westerners said that the monkey and cow go together (living beings); while the Easterners group the cow with the meadow.

Some psychologists believe that eastern people may think differently from their western counterparts. That could explain a lot about the differences: the adventurism, the daring spirit, the recent empire building, colonialism and slavery activities of some of us. And the Westerners had perfected the show. Diego Garcia is here to remind us of this truth. But they are the people who have become scientific minded and brought the industrial and technological revolutions. They have learned how to build cleaner and more efficient cities and set up social facilities that could cater to a maximum of people, and promoted modern democracy.

The Easterners have always looked upon man as part of nature; in fact this forms the central tenet of their philosophy. Hinduism is said to be a forest religion – so also Buddhism; while the western one Christianity and Middle East Islam are city religions. Hence the difference in interpreting and appreciating life.

From those basics some would venerate nature, while the others have come to look upon Mother Nature as an estranged impediment, to be explored, exploited and enjoyed. Individualism flourished and became the centrepiece of human activities in the West and God was relegated to oblivion. From the concept of non-attachment we have espoused unbridled consumerism.

Some dream of a life after death, while others scoff at that idea and demand more pragmatism. Some religion was good when there were only a few millions of people, but now as we go into billions we know we need something greater on the social order – to manage our world problems.

In our island

And here we are back in that crucible called Mauritius — geopolitically part of Africa the cauldron, whence we set out long ago. Each of the descendants of those ancestors have brought along their way of life and their God. Are we are here to compare notes, and take stock of the differences that have evolved during that great expanse of time?

Unfortunately for most of us, the experiences gathered after that tour of migration in faraway lands have come to mould our mindset, psychology and beliefs to such an extent that we find it extremely hard to change our concepts to accommodate those of our neighbours: we have emerged as different and antagonistic clans.

We have inherited a bit of every continent. And in our island state there are individuals from different cultures who have to adapt to new truths. Suddenly some have to give up the concept of joint family for the nuclear one; there is the strain between grandparents, parents and children as the latter are exposed to western culture and education where they are taught about freedom of thought and action. When the children grow up and want to marry according to their wishes to express that freedom there is mayhem; there are doubts and frustration as ancestral traditions and religious rituals are forgotten.

In one culture we are being taught how to live and dissolve one’s ego, while in the other everything is done to reinforce that very ego and fashion the individual with a character. In some culture the women are taught to cover as much of the body as possible, while in other the women try to wear as little as possible; it is called fashion, ultimately meant to sublimate or titillate man’s sexual prowess.

Some societies adopted a patriarchal mode of life, while others chose the matrilineal one and the conflict between the two is obvious: one encourages the sons to go to war, while the other, under the mother’s influence, temporizes the son to stay home and become docile. The Indian, Chinese and the Africans had no ‘personality’, now they are being taught through western education to have one and acquire ‘character’ and become more self-centered.

Deterioration of the genes

Those coming from Africa are shining in the Olympics field events due to solid physical prowess, while the subcontinent with a billion over people do not do well. Is it possible that there has been a deterioration of the genes since the past 60,000 years? Could this explain the rise of some disease like diabetes in given communities? Some people are thinking that if one day we have a sudden universal catastrophe killing most people of the planet then those African cousins would likely be the most robust and resistant helping them to survive, to adapt easier and start the human race all over again.

Yes, we are all in a crucible, little knowing that we have just made a very long tortuous pilgrimage through the forests, corridors and streets of the villages and towns of Africa, Asia and Europe. We have come back after tasting all the flavours of so many religions, philosophies and different ways of life. We are now incapable of liberating our ego and our ignorance. Are we prisoners of our own beliefs? Will the experience of 60,000 years of expedition go wasted? Can we undo the regional, environmental conditioning that has fashioned our thinking? And erase temporarily our past and our memory so as to emerge with broadmindedness and large-heartedness, ready to go out once again to explore the cosmos and discover new ‘truths’? Difficult to predict what road Homo Sapiens will choose.

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