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).

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.

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:

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

17 January 2012

What’s in a Name?

The western mind-set causes us to think every name, or noun, refers to some objective reality. This causes us to start with the name then try to describe or define the category, to see who goes into it. This is very confusing when you find different writers using the same word to refer to different cultural or ethnic entities.

It can lead you in the wrong direction when you assume 2 different names must refer to two distinct people groups. This confusion can lead to inadvertent discrimination when one tries to forcibly place some ethnic or social community into a predefined formal category.

Others can use their poor grasp of the factors involved to coerce or mislead others to support their prejudices against some other segment of people, defined by location, language, physical features or even economic group. In the current financial troubles, for instance, we see various groups commonly blaming the problem on foreigners or speakers of some language or other demographic definition.

Labeling with a name does not tell you much.  A name can be used by multiple groups, and various human groups with separate self-identities may be broadly known by the same name.  Different ethnic groups may speak the same language, as we find in Europe, USA and Africa.

A more productive approach is to ask how a certain word or name is used by various individuals or groups. You can find overlapping usages by different writers or inconsistencies, older terms and newer ones, etc. Especially you need to be aware of the vague lines between what we would like to be clearly different people groups. Groupings overlap.

This was the problem with the Kurds, since many sources were published before extensive updates in 1996. Even our report is now somewhat outdated, since language analysis and updates continue constantly. There is still extensive and valuable information in the chart compiled at that time.

Check out my analysis of the Kurdish cluster of people and cultures. This shows how confusing and overlapping names can be. Some groups are referred to by the name of their religious sect, locale, tribe or language. All of these designations overlap.

See also our introduction to the Yazidi people and religion, a part of the broader sphere of culture in Turkey and Mesopotamia.

A listing by ethnic name and language can be a better reference point. This is what is meant by the term "people group." This basic reference identification can then be cross-referenced to country, town, language and sect for communication access purposes.

Check out these links to resources on my website to explore the relationship between names and ethnicities, ethnicities and languages and related factors.

This blog article includes some comments originally published in February 2001 in Research Highlights, a research and culture newsletter, published in Nicosia, Cyprus

01 January 2012

Your Hand - A Blessing or an Offense

A correspondent wrote to tell of an odd experience she had in Massachusetts. An African gas station attendant became incensed when she handed him her money with his left hand. She was puzzled and asked him to explain what was wrong. This only made him more angry.

Several years ago, a missionary friend in Kenya told me of an experience he had with a Maasai acquaintance. Working with a group of church musicians in a training setting, he was getting their names. As my left-handed friend wrote the name of one of the Maasai men, the man expressed with a mildly surprised tone, "You are writing my name with your left hand!"

Many peoples of the world consider the left hand a shameful hand. This was true for many African tribes we came into contact with. Likewise in Arab culture, you must be careful how you use your left hand.

In some cultures, it is considered an offense to hand someone something with your left hand. This concept is alive in Middle East. This ancient concept is demonstrated by the name of the biblical Jacob's favorite son, Ben-Yamin (Benjamin), the Son of my Right Hand, indicating this favored position.

Read more about this concept of the shameful Left Hand of Cursing and the honored Right Hand of Blessing:
Gas-Pumping and Finger-Pointing Fiasco
The Right Hand Of Blessing
Across Cultures
How to Learn a Language and a Culture
Analyze and Compare Your Worldview