How many times in my life have I heard comments about how missionaries have destroyed culture? In some cases it’s true. Just yesterday I was meeting with a pastor to learn about Mozambican culture. He was explaining how missionaries long ago came to Mozambique and taught people that it was wrong to play traditional instruments and dance in church (and out of church). Drums and other instruments were “of the devil”. Guitars and pianos were “of God”. (Does anyone actually read the Bible? Were the Israelites praising God with guitars or pianos? Did David not dance?) I said, “But now people dance in church and play drums.” He said they are starting to bring it back, but it’s difficult to get past the mentality that it’s wrong.
This is one example of missionaries destroying an aspect of culture, but how much did they and are we really destroying culture?
My Portuguese tutor made a comment the other day about culture that has caused me to ponder this concept of changing or destroying culture…
He said that he admires America very much but that American culture is destroying Mozambican culture. He explained that the youth here are listening to American music (all hip hop) and watching music videos, starting to wear inappropriate clothing (sagging jeans), and speaking disrespectfully. I explained to him that there are many cultures in America, and the American cultural influence here is hip-hop culture. What we didn’t discuss is how hip-hop culture actually has its roots in Africa. Has America bastardized something good and sent it back to its origin? How much has Africa influenced American culture, and how much has America influenced African culture?
Furthermore, what exactly is Mozambican culture? How much of it is African and how much is Portuguese? Certainly the colonists affected language, architecture, and various aspects of lifestyle. I’m pretty sure Mozambicans were not eating European-style breads and pastries before the Portuguese came. But now we call these pastries “Mozambican”. It’s also “Mozambican” to serve Fanta or Coca-Cola to visitors. We forget that Coca-Cola was once a strictly American beverage. It’s become so global that we don’t think twice about it. (At what point will we not think twice about McDonald’s and Starbucks infiltrating every country in the world?)
In the end, are there any indigenous cultures to destroy?