Cultural anthropology Essay
Cultural anthropology is one of the most important fields of anthropology that explores cultural variation among people and promotes culture as a meaningful scientific concept. The aim of this paper is to explore the key concepts, such as subsistence practices, economic systems, issues w/social stratification, marriage practices, kinship and marital residence, political life, religion and arts, and issues w/globalization or the environment, taking, as a case in point, African culture.
Subsistence Practices In 1930s the researchers developed a better classification based on peculiarities of the subsistence practices (the methods and sources used by society to get the food and other necessary things in order to survive). This classification, being based on economic differences, was much more effective, as far as a culture is “directly related to its economy” (O’Neil, 2006).
In such a way, the world cultures were divided into four types according to the subsistence practices: foraging (gathering wild plants and hunting), pastoralism (herding domesticated animals), horticulture (low intensity farming), and intensive agriculture (large scale farming). Intensive agriculture is the primary subsistence practice of such large-scale, populous society like Africa. Moreover, three fifth African citizens are subsistence farmers. Africa has a well-developed agricultural sector that provides for the most domestic needs. In addition, the country exports wool, corn, tobacco, peanuts, sugar, and other important farm products.
Economic System Different types of culture have different economic systems, not only in terms of the scale (e. g. isolated, small-scale economies vs. large-scale economies), but also in terms of their systems of production (the subsistence practices), distribution and exchange. African economic system consists of industry, trade and resources of the nations of African countries. Africa is considered to be the poorest inhabited continent in the world. Its poverty is partially rooted in its history due to uncertain transition from colonialism.
Being the country with poor economy, Africa has no complex market exchange system. African agricultural sector employs approximately sixty per cent of the country’s inhabitants. The most important exports are petroleum and minerals. Investment and banking is very problematic due to the country’s uncertain economy. Issues w/social stratification People are social human beings; and, having a need in social contact they live in isolation quite rarely. Social institutions and social groups have their own specific functions, which may overlap and are interconnected in multiple complex ways.
Manifest functions are obvious, while latent functions are more difficult to discover and are less apparent. In all social groups people have a social status and a certain role to fulfill. Status is a “relative social position within a group” (O’Neil, 2006), while a social role is “the part our society expects us to play in a given status” (O’Neil, 2006). Alike other countries, Africans achieve statuses in two basic ways: the achieved social status is one the person acquires by doing something, whereas the ascribed status is the “result of being born into a particular family or being born male or female” (O’Neil, 2006) (e.
g. some casts in African indigenous tribes). Social groups in Africa are organized on a basis of age, gender, common interest (e. g. avocation (fraternal organizations), vocation (trade unions), common residence (neighborhood organizations), religious belonging (membership in a certain church), past experience (veterans clubs), political beliefs (political parties), to mention a few. Marriage practices Marriage is “the socially recognized union of two or more people” (O’Neil, 2006), which functions as a glue in the organization of society.
It is generally referred to as an efficient way to regulate heterosexual intercourse by determining “who is socially accepted as a sexual partner and who is not” (O’Neil, 2006). After the marriage, all other people, except of the souse, are treated as off limits for sexual access. Different societies have different views on sexual access restrictions, and, therefore, have different marriage practices. For example, in Africa marriage partner selection to a great extent depends on complex rules, which vary significantly from region to region.
In addition, the concepts of beauty are also considerably different in different cultures (e. g. African countries consider large and pump bodies to be attractive, while European countries prefer slim women). Ttraditionally, African marriage is a kind of alliance between the kin groups. As well as in other countries, marriage partner selection restrictions in Africa imply two basic categories: exogamy and endogamy rules. Exogamy rules insist that marriage should occur outside of a certain social group (e. g.
family) (in other words, exogamy explains who the person cannot marry), while endogamy rules require that the marriage should be “within some larger group, such as the local community” (O’Neil, 2006) (in other words, endogamy explains who the person is recommended to marry). For example, in Zambia a woman is not allowed to seek for marriage (it is a taboo). Pre-colonial marriage in Africa was a kind of transaction between the two kin groups, where the bridewealth was paid to the bride’s family. During the period of colonialism polygyny (the marriage of more than one spouse at a time) was a common practice.
Nowadays, the vast majority of African countries have serial monogamy (a “marriage to multiple spouses but only one at a time”) (O’Neil, 2006) Kinship Kin groups are very important part of African culture. Kinship is a culturally determined relationship between the people who are “commonly thought of as having family ties” (O’Neil, 2006). African culture uses kinship to classify people and to form social groups. Yet, as with other cultural practices, kinship patterns and rules are different for different types of country’s region.
African kinship is “the most important social organizing principle along with gender and age” (O’Neil, 2006), because it “provides a means for transmitting skills and property from generation to generation” (O’Neil, 2006). No wonder that inheritance rights are predominantly based on kinship ties. Marital Residence Alike the vast majority of societies, African newly married couples rarely establish their own residence. Instead, they generally become a part of compound household occupied by relatives or a part of existing household. There are several types of residence in Africa:
Patrilocal residence (when a couple establishes their home not far from or in the groom’s father’s house). It is the most common type of marital residence followed by the vast majority of African population; Matrilocal residence (when a newly married couple establishes their home not far from or in the bride’s mother’s house); Avunculocal residence (a couple establishes their home not far from or in the groom’s maternal uncle’s house); Ambilocal residence (when a newly married couple establishes their home not far from or in the bride’s or groom’s house);
Neolocal residence (when a newly married couple establishes their home independent of both sets of relatives). Other types of marital residence (e. g. virilocal, uxorilocal, and natolocal) occur very rarely in African culture. Political life Alike all other countries, Africa has some sort of political system, because the politics is a “competition for power over people and things” (O’Neil, 2006). The simplest type of political systems can be presented in bands and tribes (in Ancient Africa and some modern African indigenous tribes).
These kinds of societies are acephalous (Greek – without a head) (with no leader in the sense we commonly expect) (O’Neil, 2006). Tribes are a little bit more complicated system, compared to the band. Nowadays, modern Africa has plenty of political structures organized into bureaucracies of positions. Each of them has different levels of power, responsibility and authority. African Union (AU) consists of all Africa’s states except Morocco. African Union has a parliamentary government (the AU Government) and consists of judicial, legislative and executive organs.
It is headed by the Head of State and the AU President Gertrude Ibengwe Mongella. Religion Generally, religion is a system of beliefs that usually involves the worship of supernatural beings and/ or forces. Religion plays an important role in African culture, as far as it introduces a kind of order “in what might otherwise be seen as a chaotic existence” (O’Neil, 2006) and provides the meaning and understanding for inexplicable things and events. African religious people define religious beliefs as the core of their world views. Sub-Saharan African traditional religion revolves around ancestor worship and animism.
Indigenous African religion divides the ancestor spirits into two categories: helpful and harmful and involves the performance of rituals (a stylized and repetitive act that occurs at a set time and location and involves the use of symbolic words, objects and actions). African religion has psychological and social functions. It helps people confronting and explaining death, fears, and anxiety about the unknown and supernatural. They can “provide a basis for common purpose and values that can help maintain social solidarity” (O’Neil, 2006).
In addition, there are many other religions in Africa, such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, to mention a few. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, about 46. 5% of all Africans are Christians and another 40. 5% are Muslims with about 11. 8% of Africans following indigenous African religions. African Art African culture enjoys a rich tradition of crafts and arts, such as brass, leather art works, woodcarvings, paintings, sculpture, pottery, religious and ceremonial headgear and dress, to mention a few.
As far as Africans devote much attention to personal appearance, jewelry is the most important personal accessory. Traditionally, Africans make jewelry from cowry shells. The art of making masks is one of the most important aspects of African culture. There are several themes widely used in African art and craft. Couple theme is one of the most interesting, because, unlike in European cultures, the couple theme rarely expresses the intimacy between man and woman. Instead, the couples are most likely to represent married couple, ancestors, twins, and community founders, etc.
Mother’s or woman’s theme is the second most important theme in African art. It embodies the woman’s desire to have a child, and may symbolize mother earth. The depiction of the man with the weapon or depiction of animals traditionally symbolizes power and honor. Issues w/globalization or the environment Africa is the country solely dependent on rains, global warming may cause devastating effect on the country by worsening the food supply and, consequently, exacerbating the widespread poverty in the entire African continent.
Moreover, it is assumed that the reality of globalization for African continent is dramatically environmentally destructive and the human influenced environmental catastrophe in Africa is worsened by the impact of globalization that may result in further devastation of the continent. References O’Neil, D. D. (2006, November 30). Cultural Anthropology. Retrieved May 24, 2007, from http://anthro. palomar. edu/tutorials/cultural. htm
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