27 December 2013

Christians and Other Minorities Under Fire in Iraq

It's been a while since I've posted.  Christmas has just passed and it has been a good time of reflection.

Some Christians around the world have been unable to freely celebrate the festival of Christ's birth.  In Iraq, it has been tedious and dangerous for Christians, many of whom live mainly in the north of Iraq, and other ethnic and religious minorities.  They have been under siege for a long time.

Iraqi Christians celebrate Jesus' birth behind blast walls, in a siege situation.  A Reuters news report laid out the stark conditions in the Christmas season 2013 for Christians
TYpical cement block wall, an Iraqi girl stands shyly in the shadow as we look in towards the inner courtyard
in Baghdad.  Soldiers and police ran bomb detectors across cars around Mar Yousif (Saint Joseph) Syriac Catholic church in western Baghdad and patted down visitors.  The church itself looked like a walled fortress.

The radical islamic groups seem to have the approach of conquer or destroy, convert or die.  This has not always the dominant viewpoint.  It seems to depend on who is in power and who has the guns at a particular item in a particular locale.

The neighboring Assad regime in Syria was cruel and repressive, and the revolutionaries there were first hailed by US and European leaders.  But the government's opponents are revealing themselves to likely be similarly unprincipled and uncompromising ideologues who will be as repressive, not along the lines of a liberal democracy originally touted.


Syrian Christians in have been driven from their homes in recent disruptions in that country.  Not just because of general disturbance, but because they are Christians.  This does not bode well for that situation.  Minorities are in a vulnerable position there.

The US made the mistake once of supporting Saddam Hussein against an "enemy" just because he was also against the same enemy, even if for nefarious purposes.  Without questioning Saddam's reasons for propogating his raw aggression on Iran and what the outcome would be, the US rushed weapons and materiel to the vicious dictator over a long period.  Let's hope more careful thought goes into the Syrian situation.

Meanwhile the Iraqi Christian communities were ignored and persecution increased.  They thought European arrival in military force would be a deliverance, but it has not turned out that way.

Christians in the east have suffered under pagan, then islamic regimes of various kinds. The early Arab Empires were generally benevolent, but Christians are always by definition second-class and experience official limitations. They flourished the most under the Ottoman Empire and subsequent colonial western protectorates before WWI and between the two world wars.

Three ancient Syrian or Syriac Aramaic (Aramaean) churches survive from the early centuries of Christian faith in Syria-Persia.  Non-Christian and non-Islamic traditional groups also struggle to survive,
like the Yazidis, with a strong advocacy community in Canada.

Mandeans are another ancient non-Christian sect, the only remaining organized Gnostic church.  They are a pre-Arab sect that honors various biblical characters as prophets, the last of which is John the Baptist.  Augustine of Hippo ("St Augustine") was a member of a similar very famous Gnostic religion called Manicheanism, before his conversion to Christ.  The last instance of the latter died out in about the 14th century in China, where it had migrated under missionaries.

Seasonal celebrations from the common ancient eastern calendar are still celebrated by many peoples of the region.  One of these is the celebration of Navroze, the ancient Medo-Persian New Year.  

Since modern Turkey, even with its current more reactionary traditional Muslim orientation, is a long-time ally of the USA and Europe, the ancient connection may be of further interest:    My article Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism discusses the relationships of the Yezidi and Kurds in regard to Navroze.

Updated 4 February 2014

Read further about these peoples and the cultural setting on my website:
The Yazidis – An Angelic Sect
Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism
Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
Textual Themes and Language Variations in the late Prophets

Related on the Internet:
Christians in Syria Driven from their Homes
Another Dark Christmas for Iraqi Christians - Reuters
Read more about the dangers to Christians in Iraq
Will the Middle East’s Aramaic language survive?
[OBJ note:  There are several varieties of Aramaic.  The traditional family groupings of Aramaic languages in north-south or east-west variations of the Aramaic family were in existence at the time of Jesus.  Aramaic was the Greek of the east from ancient times, so had many varieties.]
The Mandeans - the last remaining Gnostic organized church

13 February 2013

Cyprus Napkin Holder and the Orthodox Sunday School

When we were living in Cyprus, we were in a duplex with our landlord and his famliy on the other side.  While having a late night supper with them one evening on their front veranda (a common Cypriot summer practice), we we admired the napkin holder, which bore a scripture passage in old Greek script.

 The verse on the napkin holder was Philippians 1:13 in the "original Greek" (as American pastors are so fond of saying), "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  The son, about 12 or 13, mentioned he had won this as a prize in his Sunday school class.

This led to a discussion about Sunday school and Bible study in the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.  We were intrigued to discover that they use this term "Sunday School" familiar in American churches.

They explained that not all the classes were on Sunday.  I saw that the word on the inscription was Catechismos, the equivalent of "Catechism Class."  So we asked if this was just for the youth preparing for adult membership.

The older daughter answered they have Sunday School and Bible study classes for all ages, like churches I grew up in.  This was interesting, since we knew that in the British and European context, "Sunday school" is commnly only for children.

I had already learned that the Eastern Orthodox have a simpler Confirmation process than the Roman Catholic and other western churches.  What is called "Confirmation" in the west is just handled at the Baptism, going back to an early practice in Christian history.

I learned later that this was indeed the ancient practice, called the Charisma ("The gift").  This involves an anointing of oil, to signify the receiving of the Holy Spirit, as in the New Testament references, which few western chuches still observe.  In Orthodox practice, this joint baptism and Charism varies in time from a few weeks to a few months old!

Learn more about Cyprus and its fascinting, deep-history culture at these links on my website:
Across the Greek Divide
Cyprus: Notes and Perceptions
Eastern Orthodoxy
  This article links to several other sources of information
Eastern Orthodoxy - Presentation
Prayer for Cyprus
History and Art in Cyprus
Italians, Etruscans and Greeks: Genetics and Ethnicity

For More on Cyprus
History of Cyprus
The Church of Cyprus - Official Site
For More on Eastern Orthodox Churches
Autonomous Orthodox Churches of the World

This blog article includes material first published in November 2000 in The Cyprus Sentinel, a periodic newsletter on cross-cultural communication, published in Nicosia, Cyprus

08 January 2013

Language and Identity


A major resource in our understanding of peoples of the world is the Ethnologue, the primary authority on languages of the world.  A few years ago the codeset of the Ethnologue became the world standard of the International Standards Organization (ISO) for languages of the world.

The entries in the Ethnologue indicate the main name of a language.  Dialects of the language are listed, as well as alternative names under which the language or dialects have been listed previously.

In people group research, the Ethnologue language code is correlated with the similar code for peoples from the Registry of Peoples.  In many cases the name of a dialect corresponds with the name of an ethnic group that speaks that form of the broader language.  That just depends on the self-identity attitude of that group.  You have to find out from them.  This is where field linguists and anthropologists are so critical.

For reference purposes, a list of peoples (ethnicities, tribes or people groups) of the world needs to indicate whether a certain known group is a separate entry or is considered a sub-group of another people.  The formal world-level classification may be different from a more local database or cultural profile looking at more details of local relationships and interaction.

So What Do you Do?
I had this problem, for example, with the Gawwada people of Ethiopia.  Several divisions of the Gawwada people were listed under the Gawwada entry in the Ethnologue, with their individual populations.  But the Gobeze sub-group identified by the Ethnologue had no population.

Should these people all be listed separately though they all spoke one language?  What about the Gobeze?  How different were they?  Limited information is frustrating for the analytical westerner!

As editor of the Registry of Peoples at the time, I had to make a call for classification purposes.  At that point, I assumed that the report in the Ethnologue indicates that there are some separate ethnic groups who all speak forms of the same language.  But I do not know how closely related they consider themselves.  And why is no separate population or information given on the Gobeze people/dialect?

With the state of information available, I considered that those listed with populations think of themselves as separate ethnic groups, but closely related.  The information seemed to indicate that the name Gobeze referred to an identifiable variation of speech, but that if this name also indicates a discrete group of people (like a family, a village, a region, etc.), they consider themselves still to be part of the Gawwada.

This was confirmed to some degree by a linguist investigating these speech forms (personal communication to me).  He indicates that the term Gobeze is used for the main dialect, spoken by the greatest number and used as a "standard" language form for these closely-related peoples.

With the uncertainty, I decided not to enter separate ethnic names in the main people group database, but to provide a complete picture, I would indicate them in the profile.  We are always watching for further information and updates are made as needed.

Anything that will clarify the communication and relationship patterns will be critical for outsiders who wish to work with this people cluster.  This is a common situaiton around the world.

So Who Cares?
Language information can sometimes help clarify people identity.  Linguists working on literacy development sometimes report one village or clan is unwilling to accept oral or written resources in the dialect of the neighboring village because it is not "theirs," even though they can communicate with no trouble at all with those neighbors.  This is a complicating factor for the task-oriented westerner limited by funds, time and other resources in developing literacy programs and materials.

This is not due to a peevish childish self-centeredness of that village or clan.  This is a factor of the fundamental orientation to the world.  The western worker has to decide:  Do you want to help them learn to read and provide written or oral resources meaningful in their context?  Or do you want to have to convert a whole culture to a new worldview and orientation to reality first?

Worldviews change as opportunities appear and challenges are met.  Self-identity is integrally related to Shared Significant Experiences within the group.  Initial communication and presentation of possiblities must start within the current worldview.

For more on the relationship of Language and Ethnicity
Accent, Dialect and Language
Dialects, Peoples and Cultural Change
Peoples and Languages
What Makes a Dialect a Dialect?

For more on how to define a "people"
Assimilation: How Peoples Develop and Change
Cities and People Groups
What is a People Group?

This blog includes some content originally published in September 2001 in Research Highlights, a research and culture newsletter published in Nicosia, Cyprus
This topic posted 8 January 2013
Last updated 14 February 2013

21 November 2012

Cultural Worldview Learning and Communicating

My wife and I lived in other cultures most of our married life.  We lived for some years on the island nation of Cyprus with its rich heritage of Micenae, Hellenic and Roman culture and thought.  All this identity for the Greek Cypriots is wrapped by two millennia of Christian thought, belief and practice.

It is exciting and challenging to live among a different people, and further, to look out from Cyprus to our east and south and wonder at the hundreds of ethnic groups and dozens of languages spoken!  Their culture and religious faith is different.  But there are Christian citizens of most of the countries in this part of the world.  Many trace their heritage to the first century and those first followers of Jesus.

What is involved in communicating across such vast cultural differences?
How do we develop our cultural worldviews?
How does this affect the way we think and relate to others?

Basically a worldview is the common idea of life and reality based on the Shared Significant Experiences of a certain group of people. The more similar the set of life experiences, the more similar the worldview from one individual to another and from one group to another. This is the frame of reference for beliefs, values, expectations and decision-making.  To communicate with someone in a different culture, we must come to understand the Significant Experiences that have shaped their thought.  We must also come to Share to some extent in these Significant Experiences, vicariously and practically. 

We share their stories as we learn their stories.  Sympathy and Respect are foundations of Communication.  They must be accompanied by Trust.  This comes only from sharing and earning credibility in personal relationships.

Learn More about "worldview:"
Worldview, Technical and Historical Point of View

Learn how worldview underlies all your beliefs and assumptions:
Worldview, Practical and Experiential Point of View
More on Worldview and Experience
How We Learn Worldview through Experiences
Learn about Practical Aspects of Culture and Worldview
Literacy and Learning:
Orality and Postliterate Culture
[PPt] Orality and Postliterate Culture
[PPt]Oral and Literate – Contrast of Oral and Literate Perspectives

This blog article includes material first published in May 2000 in The Cyprus Sentinel, a periodic newsletter on cross-cultural communication, published in Nicosia, Cyprus
Developed for this blog 21 November 2012

12 September 2012

Shared Significant Experiences


There is a thought system behind every culture.  We call this worldview.  It is also called Cognitive Culture.  It is natural to one growing up in that cultural setting.  But someone from another culture has to start at the bottom to learn how to communicate and relate in that worldview.

Our cultural research probes for the key features of a people's worldview to enable communicators to make sense in that cultural setting.  Cultures are based on collective group experience.  New experiences are interpreted in light of previous experiences.  Thus change may be slow and difficult, new concepts hard to understand and accept, even if better (in some views).

Mediterranean
After living in East Africa for about 25 years, I spent some years living in Cyprus, an island country in the Mediterranean a few miles from Turkey and Syria.  There I was the cultural research coordinator for a company called Geolink Resource Consultants.  We provided cross-cultural training and media production, and training in cultural research and worldview investigation, primarily for people from other parts of the world living and working in Northern African, Middle Eastern or Asian countries.

Underlying all our research and media training is the worldview of the various peoples* we interact with.  This worldview focus entails oral culture concepts, since most peoples of the world are not literate and abstract in the western sense, but oral and relational in culture and learning style.

How We Think
This is a whole different matter from the technical ability of functional literacy.  We are talking here about how people think and make decisions.

Early cultural experiences set the basic patterns for understanding the world around us, and for dealing with later experiences.  Significant life experiences we share with our closest society -- family and beyond -- become the basis of worldview and the social patterns for living.  This is why cultures and worldviews are different -- different families,  communities, ethnic groups, peoples have different sets of experiences, and thus view the world differently.

Shared Significant Experiences
These Shared Significant Experiences are the common treasure of reference for a family, community, extended family, tribe or nation.  The "common sense" of any human family or society consists of these shared memories, concepts and beliefs and the world and reality.  This is the "worldview" which resides in the heads and hearts of each member of that society.

Their language and history are components of this set of experience, as well as their religious experience.  Thus we try to discover these deep concepts through worldview investigation to understand the peoples of the world and how they communicate, to learn how to relate and communicate the good news to them.

Experience and Reality
The core of common experiences is a shared reality for those who are part of it.  The more different the most significant experiences are, the more various individuals and families will differ from one another.  The differences occur by generation, geography, lineage or other significant characteristics of human society.

This is why generations move away from their elder generations, slightly or radically, one party or clan sees things differently, has different ideas of how to meet a crisis, etc.

* The term "peoples" refers to what are also called by the more recent term "people groups," "ethnic groups" or "ethnicities".  Earlier this was the meaning of the term "nations," which in the recent modern era came to be applied to geo-political states, called "nation states," the common format in today's political world.  For instance in the words of Jesus "Nation (ethnos) shall rise up against Nation (ethnos)" the meaning is that tribes or ethnic groups will be fighting.  A pattern of our human history and current world scene!

Learn more about this concept of Worldview as Shared Significant Experiences on these links:
Culture and Shared Experiences
Culture and Experience
Cognitive and Social Culture
Culture, Learning and Communication
Ethnicity and Nationality in Mixed Genetics:
  What Makes a "People"?
Socialization and Self-Identity

What is Worldview - PowerPoint Presentation

This blog article includes material first published in November and December 2000 in The Cyprus Sentinel, a periodic newsletter on cross-cultural communication, published in Nicosia, Cyprus
Developed 31 January 2012
Finalized and posted on Topics and Thoughts 11 September 2012

06 August 2012

Ethiopia's Hidden Peoples

Have you ever heard of the Gawwada people of Ethiopia?  Not many people have.  They are one of about 140 different ethnic groups of Ethiopia.  There is little information available about them.

This cluster of related peoples is respresentative of people groups all over the world who are closely related genetically and culturally to neighboring peoples and whose language is very similar.

Language and ethnicity correlate only about 50% worldwide.

Gawwada
The Gawwada people of Ethiopia present a case which is unclear.  Information on this people is limited, and they live in an area with limited access, making further investigation or verification difficult.

Ethnologue information indicates that separate ethnic identities are involved, and gives the number of speakers of each variety of the Gawwada Language.  Total speakers of the Gawwada language are reported to be 32,700 (1994 census).  Previous estimates were over double that population.

The total number of Gawwada ethnicity is reported as 33,971 (1994 census), meaning some people who are part of the ethnicity do not speak the Gawwada language as a mother tongue.

In my profile on the Gawwada I report it this way:

Language:
The speech form of the Gawwada is very similar to other related Cushite peoples living near them, whose speech forms are classified by linguists as dialects of one language called by the Gawwada name.

Dialects of the language, as classified by the Ethnologue, are called by the names of the other peoples who speak the Gawwada language.  Earlier versions of the Ethnologue reported individual populations for sub-groups of the Gawwada speakers, though population numbers do not appear in the current version.

The other 6 peoples speaking the Gawwada language are:
Dihina 2700
Gergere 2500
Gollango 5000
Gorose 2500
Harso 10,000

The total figure of all these Gawwada-speaking peoples is about 64,000 - 76,000 (from 1995 figures by SIL in the Ethnologue).

Figures on their population vary also.  This would mean that the Gawwada people proper (speaking the Gawwada and Gobeze dialects) number about 10,000.  Some figures include all these as the Gawwada people.

The Ethnologue gives is no population for a Gobeze people, but this is the name given for one dialect of Gawwada.  Thus we need more information on the Gobeze dialect or people, as well as a clarification on whether these various peoples see themselves as separate ethnic groups, or simply sub-divisions of the larger Gawwada "family."

A linguist working with them now reports that each group is resisting identification with a different variety of the language, making standardization of printed materials a problem.

See the full profile of the Gawwada people on my website.
Read cultural profiles of other peoples of Ethiopia.

The Afar People
The Beja People of Sudan, Eritrea and Egypt
The Borana of Kenya and Ethiopia
The Gabbra of Kenya and Ethiopia
The Somali People (Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia)
The Amhara People of Ethiopia

This blog article includes some content originally published in September 2001 in Research Highlights, a research and culture newsletter published in Cyprus
This article posted 6 August 2012

01 February 2012

Orthodoxy and the Latin Church

When Richard the Lionheart, King of England, landed in Cyprus in 1191, he intended only to make a brief stop on the way to defend the Norman Kingdom of Jerusalem from the sieging Saracen forces.  At that time the island was ruled by a local tyrant named Comnenus who had declared independence from the Byzantine (Greek) Empire and called himself King.  When Comnenus refused hospitality to Richard's party, Richard landed his forces and overthrew Comnenus, annexing Cyprus to his Norman holdings.

Over the next year, the defeated Norman King of Jerusalem was offered Cyprus as a fief.  The new ruler of Cyprus was Guy de Lusignan.  The Lusignan (or Frankish) Dynasty ruled Cyprus until lost to the Venetian Empire in the 1400s.  One of the first acts of the new Frankish government was to establish the Roman Catholic Church as the official church (where it had never had any followers or influence).

The Latins forced the Cyprus Orthodox Church to acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope.  Roman Catholic priests began to arrive a few years later.  The Orthodox Church survived despite persecutions during this time.

Since Orthodox call the Roman Church the Latin Church, they call this period of Western domination the Latin Period.  Non-Greek Cypriot Christians here are still officially referred to as Latins, and are given ethnic representation in Parliament under this name.

The large Maronite (Syrio-Lebanese) Christian community, whose church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic ("Latin") Church, are separately represented.  Evangelical Christians make up a miniscule proportion of the population, even counting foreigners.

In 1571 after the Ottoman Turks conquered the island, they reestablished the Orthodox Church as the official church of the island, which had then become a province of the Ottoman Empire.  The Latin Church leaders were expelled and their churches turned into mosques.  The Lala Pasha Mosque is a former Latin Church in Famagusta, Cyprus, that is now a prominent mosque.

See my photos of Cyprus Churches and other sites

Read more about Cyprus and the Orthodox Church on my website:
Cyprus: Notes and Perceptions
Read more about the Orthodox Church in my article

More on Cyprus
Cyprus - Wikipedia
Cyprus - CIA - The World Factbook
Orthodox Church of Cyprus

More on the Maronites
Maronite - Wikipedia
Maronite Church - Wikipedia
The Maronites and Lebanon, A Brief History
Present state of the Maronites - Catholic Encyclopedia