There are two different basic starting points for understanding how culture works. The first assumption is that we are all – all of us humans – essentially the same under the skin. Certainly, people are different in some ways – they speak different languages, wear different kinds of clothes, perform different rituals for marriages. But at base we are all the same: We all use language to communicate, we all wear clothes of some sort, we all perform rituals to mark the important changes in status in peoples lives – marriages, births, deaths.
There are a number of virtues to this model. One of them may be that the model is, in fact, true – that it accords with the objective, testable reality of the world. Another is that it is an essentially democratic view of the world: We are all equal to each other regardless of skin color, regardless of race or religion or ethnicity or nationality or wealth. The poorest outcast in Calcutta is equal to Bill Gates because we are all human and so share core values, practices, beliefs, inclinations. This is the model of culture that anthropologist Laura Bohannan took with her when she went to visit the Tiv.
But before we examine her attempt to have the Tiv appreciate the Shakespearian play “Hamlet” – perhaps the greatest play ever written in the English language and one of the greatest plays written since the Greeks first thought up the idea of theater in its formal, proscenium theater sense – we should consider another model of culture.
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