Howatson-Tout, Natalie

May 26, 2021

Prompt 21: What is the relationship between knowledge and culture?

Object 1: Didgeridoo — indigenous to Australia

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This didgeridoo is handmade, decorated with traditional aboriginal art and patterns and was bought in a small independent store in Australia. I think this object is very interesting as it beautifully encapsulates a part of the aboriginal culture through its art. Additionally, because it is crafted and painted by hand, it is entirely unique, which adds a lot of individuality and sentimental value to the item. However, I bought the instrument because of its unique beauty and the artistic designs which are indigenous to Australia, rather than buying it because I knew how to play the didgeridoo. This neglects the purpose of the instrument, not letting it sustain its potential. The object itself holds a lot of character and authenticity as each instrument was decorated differently, giving a sense of individuality and distinctiveness.

There is a significant difference between buying an item for

its beauty and buying it for its purpose. This can be seen as cultural appropriation because this didgeridoo was bought by a person who does not know

how to play it, and it will very rarely be used and instead will be admired for its ‘one of a kind’ form. It was bought for the sake of having a souvenir rather than for the instrument’s purpose. The customer’s knowledge on the instrument’s history and purpose is limited compared to those who made it, creating a harsher relationship between knowledge and culture. Those who created the object were a part of the aboriginal culture, therefore, they knew how to culturally appreciate its function and purpose within the culture as well as its physical beauty.

Object 2: Paperweight in the form of art — indigenous to the Maldives

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This paperweight is in the form of a turtle, decorated with patterns which are indigenous to the Maldives. It was bought in an ordinary gift shop, targeted at tourists. It is valid to view this as cultural appropriation because a piece of an indigenous culture is taken for the

purpose of profit. There is also no context given to the customer which explains the meaning behind the decorative patterns. This also creates a larger boundary between knowledge and culture because for the culture, the object may be very meaningful, and it may hold a lot of historical importance. However, to those who buy its replica in a gift store, there is no knowledge on its cultural significance but only that it is beautiful. Like the didgeridoo, the paperweight was bought for the sake of a memory in the area. The Giraavaru people, who are indigenous to the Maldives, had made these kinds of patterns and were stolen by western culture in order to gain some kind of profit. I bought this item without any knowledge on what the art or its form means to that culture, therefore, it strips them of their cultural identity. The culture may be admired through this item, but it is not respected.

Not only was there no information provided on the item’s meaning within its culture, it was also not specified how it was made. This may take away some of its authenticity because the process of how it was made, and its cultural meaning was not at all indicated and the only part of it which is appreciated was the end result. The fact that none of its history or representation is taken into consideration could lead to no knowledge of the indigenous culture altogether. Instead, it could lead to them being thought of as historical figures who no longer exist in today’s world. As a result, the relationship between knowledge and culture is rather complex because the understanding of the culture is lost through the lack of specificity of the object’s history or information.

Object 3: Castanets — indigenous to Spain

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These Castanets were bought at a market in Southern Spain in 2009 and was very popular for tourists. the instrument’s material is unspecified, but I would assume it is made from a traditional material hard wood like oak or rosewood. Like the didgeridoo, these castanets were bought out of admiration for the object instead of wanting to learn how to play them. Because going to Spain was a frequent occurrence, they were bought to feel

more culturally aware or appreciative but resulted in doing the opposite. The owner of the object holds very limited information of how to use the castanets compared to a professional flamenco dancer. This shows that there is a conflicting relationship between knowledge and culture. This is because having knowledge on the object’s worth or history does not mean that it is culturally valued.

It could be argued that castanets have evolved through time as an item which is seen by other countries as more of a cliché object with connotations to Spanish culture, rather than a traditional musical instrument used in flamenco dancing. It is seen as a stereotypical characteristic to Spain instead of an actual instrument which is still used in the modern day. This is why I believe that it is highly likely that these castanets were mass produced from a country other than Spain, making the object’s cultural significance of less value than the item itself and the profit it generates. Therefore, creating a blurred relationship between knowledge and culture.

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