Wednesday, September 24, 2014

before you join a tribe part one: call your mom

I feel like every other day I am reading something about people and their tribes. These phrases jump out at me every time I run across them – tucked away in a variety of settings, on blogs and articles and photo captions: “I just love my little tribe.” “Go out and find your tribe.” “Me and my tribe, we’re doing this.”

Interestingly enough, I seem to always hear these comments from white Americans and I can’t help but wonder, What is the TRIBE obsession all about, people?Am I the only one doing a double take with all of this tribal language? I can use my cultural IQ and deduce that tribes are exotic and sexy and therefore full of “Stuff White People Like.” So it makes a little sense. I guess.

But having lived for the last seven years amongst a tribal people, I’ve learned a few things about tribes that I wonder if the tribal-trendy Americans are aware of. Ya’ll are signing up – but do you know for what?

Without launching into an advanced anthropological study of tribal culture or differentiating between the customs of one tribe verses another, I want to present a blog series outlining some things to think about before you join a tribe.

Without further ado – part one of Before you join a tribe.

Before you join a tribe, you need to… prepare to venerate your elders. What does that even mean, you ask? Good question. Before I started living amongst the Aushi people of Luapula I pictured "veneration" as paying homage to old pictures on mantles surrounded by candles. Perhaps that is a practice in some tribes. (Perhaps I needed to consult a dictionary.) But despite varied practices and definitions, the principle of elder veneration is quite basic:

Older people deserve extreme respect.
Older people are to be sought out.
Older people are to be invited.
Older people are to be listened to.
Older people are to be heard.

Americans have adopted certain values that makes veneration of elders unintuitive. We are expected to, at some point, “age out” of our parents wisdom, becoming our own, free-thinking adult selves. Young families move far away from grandparents and even those that stay close often set up very strict boundaries regarding extended family time. We brand older practices as passé and prefer to let our peers (and Google) teach us everything we need to know about life. Older people are often tolerated – they don’t move quickly enough and don’t always know the latest news on a given topic. Their examples are super dated and not at all tweet-able.

Bana Kalaba Chama - she knows things. Seriously.
If you are a part of a tribe that doesn’t have ancient folk sitting in your midst then you are not a part of a tribe at all. The ones who have L.I.V.E.D. – they are the ones with true wisdom and understanding. It is these old souls at whose feet the young members must sit and learn and piece together history. Tradition, practice, celebration, protocol – EVERYTHING – stems from the council of the elders. Disrespecting or disregarding these people, or their counsel, is the most offensive action a tribal member could take.

 "bana kulu" - mother of many
And so when the young tribal gal meets up for coffee with her equally young tribal gal friends and they dish about marriage and parenting and career, neglecting to call their mom back and pushing off the promise to visit Great Grandmother in the nursing home – the whole lot of them might as well surrender their membership cards, for they blatantly dishonor the most fundamental of rules.

surrounded by no less than 4 generations of passed down wisdom

I am thankful that early in Bronwyn’s life she has had the opportunity to mingle with some of the ancients of the village. Their gray hairs symbolize of all the cumulative knowledge of all their years. These are men and women who have spent decades teaching children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren the way to live and to think and to relate to the other members of the tribe. Around fires at night they explain how marriages should endure children should behave and everyone listens in earnest and without a shred of skepticism because this is what tribes do.

you have never seen a cuter woman than this
Jeremy and I have commented on how the elderly in America are perceived as a burden. We shove them away in special homes to be cared for by strangers, letting their glorious knowledge fade away with their bodies. We watch as young people put up walls and fences and boundaries announcing via cold-hearted e-mail how much time the grandparents and aunts and uncles are welcome to “invade” their nuclear family's space. How many priceless encounters are millennials forfeiting by being too busy to care otherwise?

of course on the day that my child meets the oldest and most venerated woman in the village, she's running around like a crazy naked baby. thank heavens great-great-grandma is mostly blind.

Tribes, tribal members, recruiters and followers: invite the older generation sit with the girls at the table. Ask questions. Expect answers. Follow the directions. Love these people. Honor these people. Give them your attention until their last breath and then mourn their absence like a traveler who has lost her compass. They are a gift and a blessing, not a curse and a burden.

Call your mom back.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't actually seen much online about tribes, but I've been online less lately. :) I see where you're coming from and agree with many of your points, especially about shoving the elderly away in American culture. It's a shame. As a child I wasn't taught to honor my grandparents, in the sense of valuing them the way you speak of here. It's only as a 30 year old with kids of my own that I am finally getting to know my 84 yr old grandmother who I see once or twice a year since, yes, we moved away. She has wisdom, and she knows the Lord. I mourn for our lost time (she's my only remaining grandparent left) and am trying to get it back. But: I want to point out that age cannot be equated with wisdom. I think spiritual age and physical age are different. While we are so excited to finally be on a community with many older people for the first time in our marriage and parenting, I believe it's important to be discerning with all advice. Does it measure up to Scripture? And, is it not merely passe, but actually wrong? A lot of the methods our parents and grandparents employed in their parenting fit in this latter category. (Thinking of my grandma's advice in some instances, "We used to give the baby rice cereal at 6 WEEKS," laying baby on front to sleep, etc). I'm sure you would agree here, just adding to the conversation. I would also add in the leave and cleave concept from Genesis 2. Yes, nuclear families are forming something new. The bible establishes this in the beginning. Maybe our culture has gone too far the other way (think children being "emancipated" from their parents), but I think it is biblical for the father to be the head of his household, the wife to submit to him, and so forth- not the great grandfather as patriarch and all older extended relatives having their say at all times. So some boundaries on advice and physical presence seem reasonable to me. Now, we don't live near the grandparents... So I don't have much personal experience, except to say that I do believe adult children cease to be children in the same way as young ones actually dependant on their parents. The relationship changes a lot.
    Thanks for your post, it really got me thinking!

    PS msg me about whether you think you'll be coming to Seattle! We have a guest room... :)