On Indigenous Cultures and Mala Sen’s “Death by fire”

Though I am a staunch defender of indigenous cultures with an uncanny sentimentalism to things ancient, archaic or age-old I am unabashedly against all barbaric practices that have become ubiquitous among modern cultures all in the name of the glorification of ancient traditional and religious practices that border on the nonsensical and malevolent.

In my studies on indigenous cultures and their practices what amazes me are the stomach-churning details of the barbaric practices they hold in high regard, and how anthropologists make people believe that all is rosy in these cultures because of their interconnected-ness to the earth, as evident by their residence in remote forests, mountains and deserts.

These individuals who claim to revel in modern values would be quick to glorify age old cultural and religious practices even if these practices have dangerous consequences within and without their immediate environments.

So in essence these grotesque practices by some indigenous people are not wrong in themselves, or to claim that these people are wrong would be one claiming a level of superiority, which leads to a dark and thoughtless form of arrogance – the anthropologists say.

I strongly disagree with this position, because we cannot claim we know nothing of the ‘enlightenment’ to keep quiet about these dehumanizing practices because of some pseudo-relativism preached by these so called experts of ‘comparative anthropology, sociology and what not’. These individuals that abuse the true meaning of what it means to be objective, when regarding things that are exotic – like the indigenous cultures in question.

There are natural laws that are absolute which govern all things, including human beings irrespective of race, ethnicity or class. These laws can be known objectively. Whether they are adhered to or not, or known or not, they exist as independent entities. Reason is the best way to come by these absolute truths and being rational with respect to these objective truths improves our chances of achieving our aims – which are subjective. It is with this in mind we make judgements and accusations, not because we feel superior to these people.

Mary Slessor did not feel that stopping the killing of twin children in a certain part of west Africa was important because of her feelings – at least not entirely. She understood the fundamental unalienable right for every human being to life. Twin killing in that part of the world was a normal practice, because the people saw two children coming from the womb of a mother at the same time was demonic, and they both had to be killed for the protection or purification of the land. By what right I ask these scholars and intellectual booty-seekers of these indigenous cultures did Slessor have to intervene or even make judgement on the practices of these people?

Today misogyny of all kinds runs rife the world over, and whenever their roots are traced, bronze-aged cultural practices are discovered as culprits. As I read Mala Sen’s ‘Death by fire’, I could not help but feel nauseated by the spine-chilling details in her narrative about the inherent misogyny in India. Misogyny means the hatred of women, but when it’s inherent, it means that it is embedded into the very fabric of the society that people have become desensitized to it. This is what age-old traditions can do to any society. In these societies the female entity from the foetus to the wizen, suffer from barbaric traditions immensely.

It is because of the continuous glorification of these ancient cultural practices usually based on the physical – as a result of the advantages afforded him by our evolution – and psychological control of the male over the female, that many of these practices still exist today and are defended by individuals who are supposed to be liberal or enlightened.

Here are snapshots of excerpts from what I consider a seminal work on the subject of misogyny.


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