In Australia I took some time off work to visit Uluru – also known as Ayers rock. I was interested to learn about the Aboriginal culture and how they have been integrating into western culture over the years. During Lunch, I watched some of the traditional dances that they performed for tourists (See above Picture).
I couldn’t help but feel bad for one of the dancers, as he clearly found the dance awkward. He didn’t embrace it, and it was as if he was being forced to dance. It reminded me of another dancer I witnessed in Indonesia who was just woken up from an afternoon nap and forced to dance for the tourists in the area during a lunchbreak (while the other dancers smiled – she frowned, and barely even performed the dance). She can be seen on the very left of the image below.
Although she most likely was being forced to dance against her will, the Australian aboriginal dancer was dancing completely voluntarily. He seemed to have the look of someone stuck in a modern world, yet forced to perform a dance which had little meaning or relevance to his life – and it was just embarrassing him.
I am unsure what he though about his own culture, but the traditional practices of his people are dead. Despite how much they try, they are slowly being forgotten as the struggle to preserve and share their heritage is not only vain, but also meaningless. Cultures are supposed to evolve and change – to adapt to the modern world. Without cultural evolution, the arts, stories, social institutions, and achievements of a social group are meaningless. For example, the Ananu share a story about a guy who steals an emu, and use this story to teach honesty. Honesty however could be taught in much better ways rather than with a story about an emu – as the Ananu people rarely encounter emu these days.
So let me ask: Why should we try and preserve these inefficient cultural systems to teach values? Why are they worth remembering? Perhaps the answer is just for histories sake. Its not enough to simply say how the Ananu people shared values or did things, but its good to also document it.
This should be more of a history lesson then an attempt to share traditional culture. This is why you see the anxious and awkward look in the dancers eyes. They know the dance is meaningless to them, because they do not totally identity themselves as an Ananu in the traditional sense. After the performance they ate some hamburgers, drank coca-cola, and collected their aychecks for performing to tourists interested to hear about a way of life no one is actually living.