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What is culture really?

Updated on October 30, 2011
a Nuer house
a Nuer house
Neur girl
Neur girl
Basseri house
Basseri house
a Basseri woman
a Basseri woman

What is culture? Culture is everything around us, everything we do, make, think or say. Culture is constantly changing and is influenced by many things. Culture deal with society and you can’t have culture without society, just like you can’t have society without culture. In this essay I will be taking a look at two different cultures and explaining how their culture is influenced by herding or pastoralism. Anthropologists look at cultures to get a better understanding of integration.

The first of these cultures is the Basseri tribe. The Basseri are herders of mainly sheep and goats. They also used donkeys to carry women and children, horses to carry men and camels to carry the heaviest of the loads along their journey. Their herding of these animals influences the way they live. They are nomadic people and are constantly on the move, stopping for a short time in the summer and the winter along the “tribal route” or the Il-ran. This tribal route is a route and schedule that the Basseri utilize and then move on. Due to the need of their animals to eat and the exhaustion of natural resources for the animals to eat they move to keep with the best climate possible. They live in small tents as a nuclear family; bigger tents are for the longer stays. The Basseri move on average every three days this requires vast amounts of organizing and lots of hard physical labor. The Basseri’s culture gives them different vocabulary as well. Take the work Il-ran meaning tribal route; not all cultures use that term or have a need for that term. Another word is found when talking about marital ties. Milk-price or Bride-price is like a dowry but instead of it being paid by the bride’s father it is being paid to the father of the bride for the bride and the house hold items she brings with her. When it comes to religion the Basseri are less formal than others around them. What little they do practice is Islamic, they do not observe the holidays, rituals are scarce and the ones they do celebrate are tied to seasons and live cycle events. They have a holy man in the tribe to perform these and marriages. The Basseri relay on the cycle of seasons and at the beginning of a new year they organize their life and make plans. They believe that sex is strictly forbidden till marriage and boys are circumcised at birth or at the age of six, whichever is more convenient to their time of travel. The fact that they are nomadic and herd certain animals affects what they eat. They don’t stay in one place to long to avoid exhausting both the land and running out of food for their animals and to keep with the weather that is most in favor of the livestock. This results in them eating a lot of milk based products, and red meats from the goats and sheep. The fact that this keeps them on the move makes it hard for them to have deep religious beliefs, they can’t build temples and such to warship in; no one owns the land they stay on, they share with other tribes. Technology wise, they use woven goat hear to make the tents they live in. These tents are waterproof and allow heat to stay in the cold months and cool air in the hot months. Also dairy being a big importance in their diet they use it to make cheese and dry the cheese so that they can store it for the winter months. They use the hide from the donkeys to carry their belongings in. They use what they have readily available to live and to trade for think like flour at the markets to supplement their diets. The way they live determines what they eat, what they do for work, influences what they believe and how they live.

The Nuer are also herders and this also influences the way they live. Due to their location the Nuer must travel with the season too, however they move because of the extreme floods and droughts that come with the area. These make it impossible for the Nuer to live in one place and survive. The Nuer herd cattle which they turn into meat and milk, they supplement their diet with fish and grains. In the months that allow, they plant foods and the months that they are in drought they move to water and fish. The Nuer need to move to higher ground when the rains come, this prevents the cattle from getting hooves disease, they are nomadic but move based on food. The fact that they herd cattle also has an influence on their vocabulary, they use the words Jur and Bar. Jur meaning people with no cattle, Bar meaning people with few cattle. If they were not nomadic and did not herd cattle there would be no necessity for these two words. The Nuer are more stationary than the Basseri in that they stay in one place till the weather changes. Inside the camps, families will move if land becomes exhausted from cattle grazing or fights break out. As for religion they believe in a spirit as the creator and two forms of other spirits. These two groups are the “Spirits of the Above” and “Spirits of the Below”. They believe that when someone comes down with an illness it is a spirits reminding them to pay attention to it, when this happens, a sacrifice of cattle is done with expectations that the sick will get better. Again here the cattle play a big part in their beliefs. For the Nuer, cattle are like kin to them. They derive their names from their cattle. Women usually take on the name of the cattle they milk and the men take the name that refers to the color of their favorite ox, even children take on names of the cattle when they play in the fields they are addressed using cattle names. Cattle are such an importance to the Nuer that they take great pride in caring for their cattle and even take names based on those cattle. When a person’s favorite animal has died the owner is usually drowning in sorrow and people of the tribe have to convince the owner to get over his sorrow and share the meat. The influence of cattle has much to do with the Nuer’s way of life and what they say, do, make and think.

As you can see these are two very different cultures but both have major similarities. Having similarities does not mean they live they same way or that is affects us in the same way. They both are herders but due to the land and weather they herd different animals thus making different animals optimally important in their lives. If something were to drastically happen and take out a huge part of either of these animals they would have to adapt and that might change their culture even more.


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    • profile image 4 years ago

      i would rate this out of 8 cus i thought it was really good and how they really exspressed there opinion

    • rambansal profile image

      Ram Bansal 5 years ago from India

      Culture is often directed by evil minds in a society for their vested interests of exploiting others, therefore induces distortions in human civilization. This warrants some intellectuals to watch and deculture their respective societies.

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