- the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.
- the flavor every uniquely ethnic group of humans project onto everyone and everything they interact with.
- the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.
These are a few definitions I found with a quick web search. Here is a longer definition from our CLA manual; “Culture is the shared knowledge, behavior and values, consciously and unconsciously passed from one generation to the next, which make a particular people unique. On the surface, culture is what people have, know, think, do and say. Under the surface, culture also deals with the why; that is, their values, feelings, motives and attitudes.”
“The process we often refer to as “culture study” is really a study of how we might become “incarnate” (real people in the flesh) among the people we have come to reach—laying aside privileges of status, taking on new forms–becoming that usable instrument that God desires. Jesus came to initiate change and rebirth. He did not come to become like us in every way. But this did not prevent him from making every effort to become like us in every way he could.” quote from our CLA manual.
Again we ask “What does culture study look like in real life?” It looks like real people experiencing life with another group of real people. We daily go out to spend time with our neighbors, not to elicit words/phrases, not to get pictures or recordings but to experience life on Manam, unplanned. Helping build homes, cook and eat meals together, washing clothes, attending funerals, playing cards or just sitting and visiting are all part of daily life for the Manam people.
Here are a couple things that we have learned about Manam culture:
- As the time for birth approaches a woman moves into a birthing house where she will have the baby and stay for weeks after the birth. Many people come and care for her, bringing food and drinks, starting fires for her and keeping watch over her and the new baby.
- When a person dies, men come and help carry the body to the burial area then stay at the home of the family members, sharing food and other items, playing cards and telling stories for up to a week.
We could have learned this without ever going out and experiencing it first hand, but what we wouldn’t have known is.
- it is taboo for a woman to touch a man or even come close to him after giving birth. She also cannot make fires, cook food or gather water as this could cause the men of the village to become sick, or die an early death, or cause the male children to not grow healthy.
- when a man has a sick family member he avoids the burial ceremony as stepping in the footprints of a person who carried a dead body will bring more sickness and even death into the household.
It was only while we took part in these “culture events” that we we were able to observe some behaviors that caused us to realize there were some underlying assumptions behind what they were saying or doing. This causes us to ask questions and observe more closely what is being said and done around us. We begin to see the very heart of the people. The end goal of CLA is to be able to speak truth into their lives. To do this we must first earn the right to be heard and secondly we must communicate clearly in such a way that they desire to hear what we have to say. This can only happen when we understand what they are thinking when they say “I cannot go the funeral today because my wife is sick.”