Cultural Traditions in Danger of Disappearing

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Introduction

Traditions are very important to a culture. They can be beliefs, rituals or practices, customs, behaviors, and more, passed down between generations to ensure that the traditions continue to survive over time. While some are able to continue over several generations without losing momentum, others fade in popularity before disappearing completely. Today, many cultural traditions are in danger of dying out. These include, but are certainly not limited to, the practice of fika in Sweden, ama divers in Japan, and glass-blowing in Romania. While these traditions used to be a rich and popular part of traditional culture, they are becoming less and less commonly practiced. 

Traditional Weaving in Laos

The Laotian weaving is a long-standing tradition for centuries. Weavers today are still using the same techniques and designed that their ancestors used when the tradition began. They use huge, ancient wooden looms to weave bright colors and intricate patterns of silk. When Chinese merchants visited the country during the Tang dynasty, e Laotian people became aware of how coveted and appreciated their weaving was and began weaving their traditions and history into patterns inspired by their culture’s legends rather than writing them down (Eden). Outside the city of Luang Prabang, hotel developers face fewer restrictions than they do in the center of the city and have begun to develop resorts and hotels rapidly. Where these resorts lie on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, the Katu tribe practices their customary weaving. Since 2012, the area has seen a huge spike in tourism with the Ministry of Tourism reporting over three million international visits, more than one fifth of the number of visits the year before (Eden). A drop in the cost of flights from neighboring countries combined with the rise in economic lodging in the area has caused tourism to become the country’s fastest growing industry. Naturally, tourists are drawn to the undeniably beautiful weaving of the Katu tribe. However, a sudden flood of demand has led to an influx of fakes. Vietnamese and Thai silk are much cheaper than Laotian silk, and for good reason; it is rougher, glossier, and are made without the traditional Katu expertise, which means that the fabric unravels much more easily (Eden). Such severe watering-down of the textile industry has been cause for great concern about preserving the Laotian custom. Fortunately, there have been efforts to empower the Laotian weavers and help them maintain the integrity of their craft. Various nonprofit organizations are working to help the weavers learn how to grow their businesses, education tourists about the rich history of the Laotian artisans and how to distinguish their work from fakes, and how to integrate modern elements into their designs to attract Western tourists. Hopefully, this will help visitors to avoid the imposter weavings and choose the authentic Laotian ones instead, preserving such a long and beautiful tradition. 

Ama Divers in Japan

The ancient Japanese tradition of ama diving is a form of diving and catching fish without using any breathing equipment. Uniquely, only women can become ama divers. There is archeological evidence that proves that ama divers date back to prehistoric times when humans were hunter-gatherers (Hamaguchi). In the past, women in the area were not allowed to marry unless they became ama divers. This tradition is in danger of disappearing, though, because there are less women interested in taking over the ancient position every year. Many Japanese women are more interested in other means of living. While there were more than four thousand ama divers in 1972, recent years have decreased the numbers to less than eight hundred today (Jongko). This drop in diver numbers began in the 1960s and 70s when the Japanese economy experienced tremendous growth and oceans became more contaminated. The economic boom provided an opportunity for women to go to college and get better, more lucrative jobs. The government is attempting to preserve this tradition, though; they are appealing to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to add ama diving to their list of intangible cultural heritages (Hamaguchi). The effort has been initiated by the Toba Sea-Folk Museum’s director, Yoshikata Ishihara, who feels that the significance as ama divers as experts of sustainable fishing who can see the condition of the resource in question first-hand. It is the hope that adding this tradition to UNESCO’s list will prevent the practice from being lost to history. 

Romanian Glass-Blowing

Traditional Romanian glass is widely considered to be the best in the world. It is highly sought after and most commonly sold in luxury stores across both the United States and Europe. Today, the glass is made at the Adrian Sistem SRL factory in Bucharest. Despite its wild popularity and association with extravagance, this craft and its rich history are waning because of a lack of new artists interested in learning or preserving it. Petru Stefanescu, the Adrian Sistem SRL’s owner, said, “We try to attract young people by telling them our stories, by showing them what we do. But very few of them are really interested in actually doing this job. Young people today are no longer interesting in handicrafts” (“Romania’s traditional glass-making industry under threat”). The Romanian government does not currently have any programs in place to direct young adults towards such professions, either. Still, with the global demand relatively consistent, glassblowers hope that the dependability of the market will draw young people and motivate them to carry on the proud tradition. 

Stilt Fishing of Sri Lanka

Stilt fishing is almost exactly what it sounds like- fishing while sitting propped up on a stilt in the water. Though at first glance it certainly looks like an ancient fishing method, it is actually only about seventy or so years old. The tradition began during World War II when food was scarce and fishing spots were overcrowded. Some men were clever enough to try fishing out on the water. In the beginning, they used wreckage from planes and ships to fish on; but soon they were erecting their own stilts in the coral reefs (Bierend). Made of sticks and twine, the stilts provide a place for the men to sit while waiting for schools of fish to strike with their fishing rods. The physically demanding job is performed at dawn and dusk and has been very popular for more than two generations. However, the practice may quickly be becoming extinct, as the returns are dwindling fast. In 2004, a tsunami devastated much of the Indian Ocean coastline and permanently changed the Sri Lankan shoreline, reducing the access to fish using this method significantly (Bierend). When the government put money into reconstruction, they built new homes several miles inland, bringing the fishermen away from their hunting grounds. In addition, fishing stops entirely during monsoon season and the fishermen often leave to find other jobs or rent their stilts to tourists looking to take pictures. In fact, many ‘stilt fishermen’ that can be seen today are actors paid to pretend to fish when visitors want to snap a picture. A few former stilt fishermen still continue to fish but have been forced to move further out to sea. 

Kalinga’s Tattoos

Deep in the mountains of Kalinga in Northern Philippines lives Apo Whang Od, a ninety three year old woman who is said to be that last traditional tattoo artist in the Philippines. She has marked countless girls crossing into womanhood and boys becoming warriors. Her people consider women covered in tattoos to be incredibly beautiful, with patterns of snakes and grains down their arms and crosses and triangles dotting their faces. Boys earned their tattoos when they killed enemies in battle, particularly when they cut off a rival’s head and bring it back to the village with them (Reyes). The tattoos are done by hammering one bamboo stick with a calamansi thorn sticking out of one end with another bamboo stick. Known as batuk, many of the tattoos are inspired by animals. Many years ago, warriors would often get tattoos of certain animals in hopes that those animals’ characteristics would transfer to them; for example, they might tattoo a python over their shoulders for strength or an eagle on their chest for courage (Reyes). With less need for warriors these days, these tattoos are losing popularity and the younger tribe folk show little interest in keeping this tradition alive. It has mostly become a tourist activity and visitors can pay Apo Whang Od for batuk tattoos. 

India’s Agra Gharana

Agra Gharana is one of the main kinds of Hindustani classical music in India. This tradition is more than four hundred years old and is considered to be a huge part of India’s musical heritage (Jongko). This musical tradition is slowly disappearing, though, due to a lack of interest in listening to the music or learning to play it. Still, though, several passionate enthusiasts are still fighting to keep this ancient musical subgenre alive. Several practitioners of agra gharana offer lessons for free or at extremely low rates in an effort to promote the traditional music. A member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association noted experiencing, “disappointment and sadness toward the young generation’s tendency to disregard classical traditions in favor of modern, popular music” (Jongko). Sadly, despite the effort to revive interest in agra gharana, it has not been very successful. The Agra University, for example, has been forced to end their classical music department, though some colleges continue to offer a few courses in the subject. 

Fika in Sweden

Fika is a term in Swedish that refers to having a pastry and a cup of coffee. While the United States seems to generally move in a hurried pace, the Swedish custom of fika give people the opportunity to slow down a little bit, relax, and spend time with people you care about over a cup of coffee and a snack. Those familiar with the tradition say, “Coffee represents a true break, a moment to sit and contemplate on your own, or to gather with friends. In Sweden, coffee is something to look forward to, a moment where everything else stops and you savor the moment” (Lutz). This tradition is slowly disappearing in the modern world, though. The younger generation does not really consider it to be an important part of their national culture worth preserving. They consider fika to be more of something you do on a casual date or when visiting your grandparents. It is no longer done on a regularly with coworkers or friends. Many believe that the loss of this tradition is a result of longer work days in Sweden, which leave no time for these extended coffee breaks. Regardless of reason, it is undeniable that the tradition is fading.

Conclusion

Traditions are an integral part of any culture. They make it unique and keep it alive and thriving. Some have symbolic meanings and significance while others were created for various cultural purposes. Many cultural traditions are in danger of dying in today’s modern world. Traditions like Kalinga’s tattoos, Sri Lankan stilt fishing, and the traditional weaving in Laos, to name a few, are all quickly disappearing and proving that they are unable to withstand the test of time.

Works Cited

Bierend, Doug. “The Dying Tradition of Sri Lankan Stilt Fishing, Captured in Powerful Photos”. Wired. Wired, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 22 Aug. 2016. <http://www.wired.com/2014/08/florian-muller-sri-lanka-stilt-fishing/>.

Eden, Caroline. “Weaving a new future in Laos”. BBC. BBC, 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Aug. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20130825-weaving-a-new-future-in-laos>.

Hamaguchi, Fumihiko. “Traditional ‘ama’ diving at risk as numbers plunge”. Japan Times. Japan Times, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Aug. 2016.<http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/03/17/national/traditional-ama-diving-at-risk- as-numbers-plunge/#.V7svjZgrLIX>.

Jongko, Paul. “10 Unique Cultural Traditions That May Soon Disappear”. Listverse. Listverse, 03 Jun. 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <http://listverse.com/2016/06/03/10-unique-cultural-traditions-that-may-soon-disappear/>.

Lutz, Ashley. “One of the most famous Swedish traditions is dying”. Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc. 14 May 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <http://www.businessinsider.com/swedens-fika-tradition-is-exagerrated-2016-5>.

Reyes, Osep. “In Kalinga, tattoo by 93-year-old artist is skin-deep with pride and ancient traditions”. Interaksyon. Interaksyon, 28 Jul. 2013. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.<http://www.interaksyon.com/lifestyle/in-kalinga-tattoo-by-93-year-old-artist-is-skin- deep-with-pride-and-ancient-traditions

“Romania’s traditional glass-making industry under threat”. CCTV.com. China Central Television, 01 Aug. 2014. Web. 22 Aug. 2016.<http://english.cntv.cn/program/cultureexpress/20140108/102288.shtml>.