What is cultural appropriation?
The term of cultural appropriation was born relatively recently in the USA. It means adopting elements of a culture other than ours. A culture that has no unambiguous definition as a word. A culture made up of an infinite number of elements such as symbols, tools, intellectual property, forms of expression, and ideas. The Indian plume became a symbol of this movement, but it quickly began to embrace not only other American attributes, but also the traditions of communities from other continents.
However, there are a few points to keep in mind before starting any discussion of cultural appropriation, that will also help draw the line between ignorance, cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.
Cultural appropriation begins with verifying the intent behind our actions. If we start using an element of a culture that is foreign to us in an infantile, aggressive, mocking or devoid of understanding way, we can speak of appropriation. And if we sincerely want to know and examine it in order to eventually introduce an element of it into our lives – it is cultural recognition. We may ask: what is the purpose of what we do? Do we treat an object that is sacred in a given culture with ignorance, nonchalance or mockery? Does our behavior put a minority group in a bad light and can it be harmful to someone?
Let’s learn, listen, talk – that is, let’s gain knowledge. Let’s get to know the history of a specific tradition that appeals to us. Let’s find out what events started it. What did it mean in the past and what does it mean today. As it was described in the works. Let us ask: have we actually known a given element or only its envelope or a truncated version?
When using a given cultural element, let us take root in its source and remember about it. Let us also inform about it when we bring it closer to other people. Without pretending that it is something new or made of our creativity.
This is, in a way, the sum of the above points. We do not blindly follow a trend related to another culture or practice that derives from it, if we do not know its source, we do not know about it, and we treat a culturally related object with disrespect. Trends – such as yoga or mindfulness and meditation – are not bad in their essence, because they help us discover the practice. However, what is our responsibility is to know where this practice comes from. What is its historical context, what culture is it part of and what role does it play in it? It is also our responsibility to treat it with due respect and understand that we are using something that is not ours.
At Purnama Rituals, we approach indigenous cultures and their traditions with respect and care, trying our best to promote their values. Our intention is to promote the heritage of these cultures and cultivate ancient rituals that support personal and spiritual development. The establishment of our store was preceded by continuous obtaining of knowledge about them, which we strive to deepen every day. We also do not try to indicate that the use of incense was our invention, which is why we often repeat the history of this practice (e.g. here). In line with our idea of ”ancient rituals for modern minds”, we want to familiarize our audience with the power of rituals. Show how we can learn about the world and life from ancient practices and apply them in modern reality.
Why do we allow ourselves to extract these foreign elements and apply them out of context?
Often because we are heard by their universal wisdom, which touches the interior of man, regardless of his origin and the times in which he lives. They show us that there are strong bonds between everyone in the world — us, living in this reality we share now, and those who lived several thousand years ago. Many cultures around the world have traditionally smoked herbs and incense as part of spiritual rituals and ceremonies. As with the ceremonies themselves, when it comes to indigenous peoples who follow their traditional practices, there is no single point of view. There are those who believe that non-Native American people can also respectfully smoke sage and other sacred herbs, willingly sharing this tradition and practice. The power of plants is able to direct us to work with intention and bring us closer to our interior. How stones and crystals affect us, how we symbolically dream, how we can work with the subconscious, even with the help of the symbolism of power animals, is natural, although different for each culture. It has its own plants, stones, climate and animals. In the age of globalization, we have access to all these things, and thus some of us are called out by Slavic gymnastics, others by yoga, and others will turn their eyes to America and its indigenous cultures and traditions.
Cultural appropriation and the spread of cultures, rituals and practices
There are also other examples of when an element of a given culture goes around the world. One of them is yoga, which, like many other colonized systems of practice and knowledge, did not appear in the mainstream by accident. Rather, its popularity was a direct consequence of the wider system of cultural appropriation. We can ask ourselves to what extent an approach in which we do not apply anything that is not “ours” is correct and to what extent. Many elements become common to the whole world, which is a natural process resulting from increased interaction between cultures. It has always been travels that contributed most to the popularization of practices, ideas or products from the other side of the world. Currently, we not only have fast and widely available travel options, but also tools such as the Internet and social media. Thanks to them, at any time we can connect with a representative of a different culture who would like to introduce us to their practices. In addition, often cultural elements cease to be secret knowledge available to a few. On the Internet, we can find a lot of scientific publications or historical sketches that support the work on the 4 issues mentioned above.
We believe that sincere, respectful and committed use of the benefits of another culture is not a manifestation of ignorance and appropriation. As long as we have the appropriate knowledge and tools, we should be able to follow the path that is calling us — whether it is yoga, buddhist practices, or smudging.