How to Preserve a Culture

What environment must exist for a culture not to change? How can you preserve a culture and create a community that allows its people to climb to the top of Maslow all on its own?

Some guesses…

The Factors

  • Isolation—What seems by far the biggest factor, the elimination of outside influence, not the rejection of it. What we are talking about here is a culture condensed to a single location and physically remote from others. Ideally, modern means of communication (phones, internet) should be absent, potential travel between this location and others should be difficult, lengthy and (for basic survival needs) not necessary.

  • Subsistence—Location, location, location. Location and lifestyle need to come together to provide the basics: food, water and shelter. The supply must be in a continual state of replenishment.

  • Adaptability & Security—The culture needs to be flexible enough to adjust for intrusion of outside forces, both natural and human. Its strategies for adaptation must provide for subsistence and security without breaking isolation. If this does not exist, need and anxiety protrude to push people out, to experience and learn from other cultures. These people, their ideas or their stories, may return.

  • Pride & Contentment—What secures the moat against influence is pride and an overall contentment among the people. This means a culture with a working religion, a community that operates as a whole to assist its members and a social structure of hierarchy that provides the two basic psychological needs: mastery and belonging.

This may be a crude list but it is a start. The Samburu, who I am about to meet, score high marks in all four categories. And on the whole, it has worked, incredibly well. Until a few years ago, the culture had preserved and had not changed.

So my entrance to Sereolipi and my first few days there have that amazing feeling of stepping inside a vacuum. But it is not as simple as that. And it is much more interesting. Sereolipi is no museum.

Because the dam has broken, and everything is changing.

Four consecutive years of droughts (2000-2004) have crumbled the walls and threatened subsistence and security. The cattle died and the cattle raids came back. It became harder to be content. At the same time, the Kenyan political landscape changed. A new president in 2002. Free education in 2003 (especially important for a culture without much use for traditional currency—you can’t pay school fees in goats and cows). And the rest is dominoes. The realization that jobs outside of the farming industry and not susceptible to droughts. Sereolipi gets a store. More than doubles its school enrollment…And that creaking sounds is the big wheels of change starting to turn.

What an amazing opportunity to visit this place at this time! In the first few years of a culture making giant lunges at change. Much more on this, including specifics, in future posts. Jobs in place of subsistence farming. Camels for cows. The cell phone….

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