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Archive for June, 2012

“People without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

–          Marcus Garvey

 A few weeks ago, I rang up a group to find out if they would be interested in doing dinners or events in collaboration with Oasis Wimmera.  I was very much looking forward to meeting this group given that they make up one of the earliest and largest ethnic groups ever to migrate to Australia.  I was told however that the older generations of this group have either passed away or moved away from the region and the younger generations have integrated so well into the community that they no longer identify with their original culture.  In short, there was nothing left of that culture within the region for people like me to experience with relish and even reverence.

 On hanging up, I was awash with dark waves of foreboding – is this what follows in the wake of acclimatization?  Does one’s original culture, the values that once defined us, have to bite the dust because we are busy trying to fit into the mainstream culture?  If integration is the sum of the parts working in harmony, why is it sometimes we end up losing the very part that defines our roots? Is it selfish in wanting the best of both of our worlds for our progeny?

Growing up, I was very rebellious, lashing out against any kind of tradition and the time-honoured cultural beliefs thrust upon me.  I especially disliked anything that even remotely smelt of conformity or compromised my individuality.  Given that I had a very conservative and religious upbringing, it did not bode very well for me when I tried to buck the system.

But today, when I walk down the memory lane and trawl through my earliest happy memories, I am amazed to discover that these recollections are always entwined with celebrations of the very same traditions and cultural beliefs that I so strongly fought against.  Am I finally growing up or is this adrift soul vainly searching for comfort in the moorings of forgotten customs and practices?

I am sometimes concerned that my children will grow up not knowing the customs and practices that I was exposed to.  Of course when I say this, I don’t expect to pass on blindingly every single cultural tradition I grew up with.  “When in Rome, be a Roman” is the famous adage I abide by, but at the same time I would like to remember my roots and pass on this legacy to my children hoping that they will also learn to appreciate and respect it and above all continue it.

With the advances in science and technology and the gradual evolvement of our current globalised mass culture, most of our customs that once were a necessity in the past have now become obsolete; however one can still find richness and beauty in many aspects that are connected with the arts and craftsmanship of any culture.

Lately in Oasis Wimmera, we are looking at ways to resurrecting some of the traditions and art forms of the various ethnic groups we have, while still actively pursuing assimilation activities within the community.  We are committed to disseminating interesting aspects of the various cultures involved, be it a culinary skill, an art or a dance form.

It is indeed a delicate balancing act of keeping the past alive while rushing forward to meeting the future, but we are hoping in doing so, we will be leaving a heritage that will be appreciated not just by our children but will also add to the richness and diversity of Australian culture.

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Th’ hast spoken right, ’tis true.
The wheel is come full circle, I am here.

King Lear Act 5, scene 3, 171–175

 Every morning, as a teen while getting ready for school, my mother and I used to have the famed battle of the locks.  She would try to tame my rather spindly but easily tangled hair into braids while screaming a litany of curses at me that I ought to take better responsibility of my wayward locks.  

My standard response was asking her permission to cut my hair to a manageable length which would save everyone the misery.  However, at this point, I would be further subjected to more ear bashing from her. 

This continued for years and thoroughly sickened by my oily coils, I relentlessly persisted and finally, one day she caved in.  I was 16 or so when I walked out of the salon, with my hair short and felt lighter, both literally and figuratively; an additional bonus was me getting my way with my mom.  

Even Delilah would have not been subjected to so many questions after cutting Samson’s hair, but I was plagued by questions all around “how did you mother allow this?”, “ all that hair gone?”, “how dare you?”.  It took me a while to realise my hair did not belong to just me……my parents, my neighbours, my society all seemed to claim ownership to what I thought was mine.

But not for long, as soon as I landed in Australia, the first thing to go was my hair.  I relished in the new found freedom of having my hair styled the way I wanted.  I could have shorn all of it and there would have been no questions to answer except perhaps for mine when I would have been freaking out at my reflection in the mirror the next day. 

A relatively simple matter of hair wasn’t that simple for me – it somehow marked a momentous event in my life.  It defined my transition into someone who could make decisions finally, but before that I had to fly the coop.

And today, the battle of locks still continue – the scene is different, the characters slightly changed but yet the theme is the same.  To cut or not to cut is the question.  So now when I see red in the mornings when I try to untangle yet another silky head, my daughter persists in growing her hair.  I plead with her to cut it to a manageable bob and she shakes her head adamantly and constantly reminds me of my own growing pains with my mother.

I have to say I have come a full circle here and guess some things never change – I have spawned a child with a mind of her own and even though I find it irksome at times, I still feel this quiet glow of pride in seeing her take a stand in her matters.  And in hindsight, I believe my mother too, despite the exasperation I had caused her, would have admired this tenacity in her daughter.  And hopefully my daughter will grow up to be her own person under her own roof.

To all moms out there and their own battle of the locks……… 

   

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