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Thursday, December 9, 2010

/ Published by Simon L Infimate
- Lienthanglur Khawzawl, Shillong

Development is a state of change, in general terms, a state of existence or a stage in a changing situation (Oxford Reference Dictionary, 2003). In economic terms development connotes to a state of progress, a state of movement from a relatively lower to a relative higher stance or existence with prospects of a higher quality life. Development can be induced by way of internal and external intervention, voluntary and involuntary as well as triggered by changes in the immediate environment and surrounding wherein the existence is immediately based on. However, backsliding of developmental progress can also be the consequence and influences of the same circumstances triggering development in a society or community. Development in terms of the modern state framework or structure is defined more or less based on technological advancement, health and welfare, infrastructure etc. In short, an economy irrespective of size may not be termed developed if it does not meet the requirements of a high quality collective life as an economy in a modern state framework. So what? –A remote community representing a small economy which is sustainably developed and highly independent in terms of resources it requires so as to sustainably exist as that economy may not be accepted as developed. Nevertheless, it is an undeniable truth that we as humans are bound to develop and change towards the next stage of being a wee bit better-off than a previous stage. However, if development is directly relative to existence, the question arises, is there any relationship between culture and development? The answer is yes, culture interacts with development in many different ways. It is involved in both the ends and the means of development (Amartya Sen). In this light this is a brief attempt to look into the relationship of culture and development in the Hmar perspective.

Culture is a term which has often been misinterpreted in the Hmar society today and as such, more often than not, has been trivialized to simply mean the traditional dances, songs, customs, practices and attires directly associated with the once-upon-a-time loin clothed Zu guzzling tree-stump worshipping pre-christian men, who necessarily were not uncivilized and barbaric ascommonly portrayed but, in fact, they belonged to a highly developed community centric social structure. Their societies rather, in its trure picture commanded a much organised and exhibited a closely knitted cultural group far from the staunch differences we flaunt in our modern image. There is a strong presence today in our society of a deliberate attempt from a faulty pre-conceived misconception of culture in disassociating man from his culture, and an attempt to nullify and shut off culture in the believe that it harnesses harm to our Christianity. This however, seems to be an induced/ influenced ideology or belief instilled by the white missionaries who came to our parts of the world. Prof Lal Dena states, “beyond religion, the way the white missionaries induced us is grave”.

When culture is misconceived, the underlying values which could have been advantageous to the positive development of a community and the society as a whole are lost. In course of time as traditional culture becomes oblivious and lost to the people by way of forceful introduction of an alien culture, the traditional practices on environmental awareness, traditional forms and means of teaching, self-reliance and societal ties and bonds are lost and with it all the values which are significant and immensely vital to the healthy development of the society or community. Consequentially, dependency increases, natural resources are unscrupulously extracted and exploited out of greed and selfishness, societal bonds loosen and underdevelopment increases. Individualism and singularity takes the place of a community centric collective society where there was a sense of belonging amongst member individuals. Such is the case of the Hmar society today. The question arises, if culture is so important then what exactly is culture?

Culture is the sum total of all the aspects portraying a particular group of people or community in terms of the material and the nonmaterial aspects of existence of that group of people in order to live, breathe and develop as a community or society. This includes customs, practices, values, thoughts, customs, beliefs, traditions, dresses, language, ways of thinking and personality traits shared within that community. In short culture defines the expressions of a group of people which defines them as a distinct group or society. Culture may be defined as the total complex of spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterise a society or social group. Culture is mental structures, the general patterns of understanding prevalent in given social group: conceptions of the world, religion, gender role patterns and the management of natural resources. But culture also comprises more specific forms of expression through works of artistic or cultural value. Operationally, this twofold definition means that work with the cultural dimension involves (i) culture as the sum of social practices in the form of, for example, religion, language, education and social and family practices, and (ii) culture as artistic expression in the form of, for example, literature, dance, music and films.i

The general notion of culture in our society is vastly misinterpreted and strongly deviates from what it might have to positive influences. Today as a result, class distinction has arisen in the form of the educated elites, the religious leaders, the social leaders and the common man. The educated elites who are learned and cultured tend to think with a certain degree of sophistication and as such overlook the small details which seem to be insignificant to their high quality perceptions. They tend to busy themselves in a level way beyond the grasp of the common man. The religious leaders most of whom will of all things stay away from everything they label cultural and pertaining to culture (oblivious that marriage customs, the language along with all the traditions they follow all form a part of culture), the social leaders who will think away from the others and refrain most of the times from sharing a common platform with the religious leaders and the common man who is left in desolation and total disarray –the present situation. In such a circumstance, the common man becomes the sheep and is forced to follow all of the separate leaderships in different directions. Now, who represents the society, the few selected leaderswho are relatively better-off than the common man or the common man who forms the bulk majority and on whose collective response to changes determines the movement of the society as a whole. The problem stems from an alien attitude and perception which was cultivated in the first Hmar elites when Christianity first came to us. It is definitely not the coming of Christianity which has seeded disarray in the society but the actions of the white missionaries and the attitude and perceptions they inculcated to the people stemming from their attitude of considering them highly primitive and inferior to them. We are no intentional culprits to the misinterpretation of culture but the but the white men who came and forced us to adopt an alien concept of cultural perception. As Prof Lal Dena puts forward that, the white men, either administrators or missionaries are a proud race, suppressors, Asian dark or African black they looked down upon all of them. Not distinguishing Christianity from their Culture they always tried to induce their own culture to whoever they came in contact with by making them see through their eyes and making them belief that their ways of life and culture were evil/unchristian. It is undeniable that some bits of our traditional customs, practices and beliefs may have been beyond the definitions of the newly found faith of Christianity, which had ushered us and brought us to light but, this does not imply that the Hmar culture and everything within its hold is bad and evil.

The neglect of culture in the developing societies threatens to undermine and corrode the very process of development. Plans of economic and social development are often left to economists whose horizons are limited by the outdated notions derived from the West and their implementation become the responsibility of rather stuffy and timid bureaucrats, steeped in the habits and traditions of the colonial past. The result is that the immense potentialities of indigenous cultures to rouse the people to action, to cement national unity, and open out to the wonderful realities of our times lie dormant and the process of development continues to slow and lop-sided.ii

Development and culture both present aspects of livelihood and existence which are directly interrelated in a society and as such endorses a confusing and chaotic notion whenever the two are deliberately distinguished and demarcated from one another. Any initiative taken or introduced with intention to partner and channel the livelihood and circumstances of livelihood in a society towards progress becomes alien and largely refrains from falling within the societal paradigm whenever it is framed beyond the understandings of a culture. In which terms we mean that such initiatives will be much more readily accepted and fruitful when it is framed within the understanding of culture.
In the Hmar society today, the church forms the hub and as such presents itself in a position of immense potential to usher the society towards progress but this becomes a dream in utopia when denominational differences are stronger than the bonds of blood and brotherhood. It is sad that dependency is induced and societal ties broken down by such actions which stem from denominational differences. Ironic as it may sound, denominational differences seems to put a mockery to the society by taking undue advantage of the common man. It has more or less become a dog-eat-dog world under the beautiful pretext of one tribe where everyone eyes for an upper hand by ways he or she deems fit and not what is fit and advantageous to the society. We are more enchanted, inspired and taken away by emotions which are more often than not mere manifestations of feelings and experiences limited within a particular circumstance and situation rather than the underlying truth of what eventually is expressed by way of thoughts, action, ideology and practice.
Asserting the importance of culture in development does not necessarily imply that culture is to be preserved and practiced in its originality. Which would be impossible and in some cases absurd. Who amongst our elites would readily accept to exemplify by going to work with a loin cloth sans an underwear, barefooted and wielding a spear and nor would the students be willing to go to class half naked which would be an oddity in this post modern world. However, as has been mentioned, dress, language, customs and and practices represent just a few aspects of culture. In so mentioning it is important to understand that the underlying intrinsic values hold grave importance in a society.
Culture is dynamic and in fact, it evolves with time and change, customs and practices, language, music, art, tradition and all other aspects, in fact, culture as a whole experiences modifications, changes and evolves through influences within and outside the society and also in relation to the immediate environment in which the society flourishes. The process of cultural change and evolution influenced and triggered by agents oblivious to the people and which, is natural is gradual in process and exhibits changes which are almost insignificant until the society reaches a certain stage wherein the changes so accumulated in due course of time becomes noticeable. Whereas, when people belonging to a group or society with a distinct culture are deliberately forced to or induced to accept a culture which is foreign to them by undermining the values deeply rooted in their culture and to which they adhere to, then, it results in creating confusion and disrupts the whole web of the society thereby inhibiting positive growth. In short the society experiences culture shock and is slowly forced to adapt to and absorb a totally new concept of living, mind over matter which may not be compatible with them as a society in relation to the environment and circumstances of their existence.

In this acute stage of underdevelopment and high dependency, it is of grave importance that we look back and rethink into our rich culture wherein, still lies deeply rooted values, practices and ideologies the old man of long gone adhered to. However, this does not mean that we go back in time or seduce our neatly chiseled images to put on loin cloths and dance in circles. It simply means that the secret to our development as a society lies within our culture, many parts of it lost in time. This article simply attempts to put forward a personal view of the underlying problems within our society in a very brief and fragmented approach. The solution to the problems mentioned and all other problems and their answers lies within our reach. The only requirement is for us to look a little deeper not just beyond but backwards and try to understand the ideals of our existence as a society and of our society. It is high time we learn to our benefit that a better understanding of culture is the need of the hour especially in a society like ours where culture and society had been put to the test a couple of times. Have we survived and evolved cultured or are we just an odd representation of what is and a fragmented what was, unable to go left, right or stand straight slowly going down to oblivion as if standing one foot each on two rafts gradually being forced apart, or too adaptable to healthily progress in a certain direction. What lays ahead, what is left behind, what was to be left behind, what is to be retained and what is to do is for you and me to think.

i. Culture and Development, Strategie and Guidelines, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Danida, 2002, p.5

ii. Culture and Development, Prem Kirpal, Har-Anand Publications, p.14 Culture and Development, Amartya Sen, 6699222/Culture-Development-by- Amartya-Sen

iii. Mingo Misawnarihai Kalhmang le Chanchinthra, Prof Lal Dena, Oxford Reference Dictionary, 2003
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