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How Does Geography Influence Ethnic Groups?

Updated on August 23, 2012
Classic World Map
Classic World Map | Source

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There are many different and distinct ethnic group across the globe (Asians, Africans, Native Americans, Inca, Aztec and Europeans, among others) and many variables that make them each unique. While it is quite true that one’s ethnicity is strongly derived from their DNA (eye color, hair color, skin pigment, build, height, etc.) one of the strongest influences on someone ethnics is their geography. Where you live determines how you see the world. There many differences between ethnic groups and yet, perhaps surprising, there are many similarities; although they are filtered through the unique culture of each ethnic group.

The world “Ethnic” is derived from the Greek “ethnos” which means “nation”. This reference to ethnicity is simply based on where a certain group of people are from, what kind of habitat they call home, and this influences their lives and their culture. In ancient Greece, before it was “Greece”, it was mostly city-states that had their own unique culture and thus were specific ethnic groups: i.e. Spartan or Athenians. Where a person or group (nation of people) is from and where they live, has a huge impact on their own identity, their outlook on themselves, their surroundings and their view of the world in general. In Ancient Rome the term “Barbarian” is derived from how the Roman soldiers viewed the language of the Germanic tribes: they thought it sounded like sheep (“Bah—Bah”), and that is where the word “Barbarian” is from.

Some ethnic groups live on islands, in the artic regions, or in the dessert. Where they live influences they perception of the world around them (“what’s over that mountain, across the sea, or beyond that valley”). Even their views of the afterlife are determined by their geography.

Every culture around the world has a myth about a worldwide flood (a Flood Motif). Yet every civilization has a distinct version of that story which reflects their culture and geographic surroundings: In the Americas the Trickster-hero Coyote steals Water Monster’s babies and Water Monster, in anger, floods the world. In China, one god was angry at another god and, while one was chasing the other, stepped on the corner of the earth and broke it; flooding the world. The well-known biblical flood is essentially the same as the one in the Tale of Gilgamesh: the god(s) were angry at the people and flooded the world. In all these tales the gods are mad, yet who and what they are angry at differ. This reflects that ethnic groups or cultures view of humanity’s relation to the gods; some cultures god care about man and other don’t real pay attention to them.

All culture has creation stories. Each ethnic group bases their own origins on their surroundings: In Japan and Hawaii (both island nations) tell stories of gods who created the entire world out of the sea. In Norse mythology, Demark and Norway, the creation myths surround the frigid artic climate of their own land as the world was created out of a glacier. In the biblical tale of creation, man is created from dust, because that is what a person because when they died (dust to dust) and decayed. For the American Indians, man was created out of Maize (corn). This example is very intriguing because it showcases how a culture defines itself by its crops and surroundings: Since corn was an abundant resource in the Americas, it would seem to make sense that the gods would use it to create life.

Many cultures believe strongly in an afterlife in one form or the other. As such, each ethnic culture sees the afterlife through the filter of their lives. In ancient Egypt, the afterlife was, in every way, the same of normal life; except that is was “perfect”. Workers still worked in the fields harvesting wheat from stalks that where seven feet tall, and the pharaoh would travel up and down the Nile River every day through different gate to test them (The Nile River was the road to bliss). Essentially, to the ancient Egyptians, Heaven was Egypt and they would be able to spend eternity in their homeland living their normal lives in ecstasy.

As time has gone on, it seems that ethnicity is something that is solely genetic. However; if we look beyond the outward differences that separate each culture and see the rich uniqueness and the intricate similarities that each culture share, the world becomes a more interesting and beautiful place filled with similar stories from unique perspectives ,which enriches us all.


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