So here’s today’s Displaced Question: “What is the weirdest multi-cultural celebration you’ve ever attended?”
Now, when two or more cultures collide you’re bound to get some strange combinations. Nowhere is this more apparent than at gatherings or celebrations, especially if they’re traditionally part of one culture as opposed to the others… and boy can they lead to friction! It’s that old traveller’s saw; do you eat all the food because it’s delicious, or do you leave some to show they served you enough?
I’ve drunk kava in Fiji in a very uncomfortable situation – invited by a worker at our resort, we met the Chief to hear his legendary tales of the arrival of White Man. Of course, he can’t talk to us – he has to tell his right-hand man, who can then lean over and tell us. Or rather – he can tell me. Not the two women who are with me – not even the second-in-command can stoop low enough to talk to a woman whilst drinking kava!
And let’s not even get started on the two French girls that were also invited by the same worker. They were on a bit of a party holiday, and neither of them seemed to have brought anything less revealing than hot pants and bikinis… Yes, that was a tense evening. I wouldn’t have minded, if I’d been drunk – but kava, a rather bitter brown liquid, pounded (in a sock!) from roots, has only a mildly narcotic effect. So mild, I was painfully aware of every awkward glance – and the intense silence – which dominated that gathering. I’ve never wished so hard for a bottle of vodka in my life!
Perhaps stranger though, was a ceremony I got invited to by a Native American man, whilst checking out the artefacts in his store in Sedona, Arizona. He described it as a mass, much like I would have attended during my Christian upbringing. I was intrigued, and couldn’t really pass up the chance, so I went along on Sunday morning to a small room above his shop. There, the proprietor led us in chants and prayers offered up to Allah, Shiva, Buddha, The Earth Goddess, Jesus, Mary and the Spirits of the Dreamtime – all simultaneously! The small crowd, people from all walks of life, all colours and clearly all creeds, all seemed delighted with the equality shown to the reigning deities. If only the rest of the world could be like this, I thought!
And whilst I’m on the topic of Native American celebrations, I once took part in a ‘sweat lodge’. This is an awesome shamanic tradition, involving the building of a special domed hut of logs and sticks – kind of like an igloo. It’s then covered over with mud to fill in all the gaps. A fire pit is dug in the centre and lit, and all the participants – enough to completely fill the structure – squeeze in… naked.
Yup – I said it! Naked you go in, and the drumming and chanting begins… it’s like a sauna in there, incredibly hot and sweaty, with the chanting and the previously consumed herbal tea helping to turn your ears into wings! It was an incredible experience. Slightly odd, in that it was the only time I’ve sat naked next to my Mum and my sister – but the reality of the ceremony was so far beyond that, beyond such earthly concepts as clothing and embarrassment. It was… well, spiritual. I felt so pure, so cleansed, so in touch with the divine. If I ever get the chance again, I will go for it without reservation. But probably not with my family present :0)
SO! The time has come for you all to spill the beans – what is the strangest experience you’ve had with a celebration of some kind? Where have the cultural boundaries blurred unexpectedly – or come sharply into focus? It’s a weird, weird world out there – what have YOU seen? Tell us in the comments!
STAY TUNED…for tomorrow’s post, where we introduce the new theme for May: La Dolce Vita!
Image: Tony drinking Kava in Fiji, 2009
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