Culture. Defined by anthropologist Sir Edward B. Tylor as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society,” culture is an ever present truth in the human existence. However, I would argue that an equally significant aspect of culture is its attendant sense of mystery.
As humans, while we are always part of a culture, there are far more cultures from which we are excluded, cultures we seek to understand through an amalgam of media, from personal experience to anthropologists’ notes to news headlines to books and short stories. When perceiving culture, it is particularly interesting to examine the intersection of culture with environment as the two are inextricably linked and mutually influential.
Today, as I was scouring the web for a news piece detailing an environmental solution, I came across this recent article regarding a biodiversity campaign in Nigeria. While the work being done in the Niger Delta addresses several issues including recent oil spills threatening local fisheries as well as the loss of biodiversity in local tortoises, crocodiles, and plants, the primary species of interest for the locals is the Sclater’s Guenon, a species of monkey. However, locally, it is known by another name, ‘First Daughter’ of Itam- Awa Itam. These monkeys are seen as sisters and brothers in the local culture, and, as a direct result, biodiversity efforts which seek to plant the fruit trees the Sclater’s Guenon relies upon for food have found strong local support.
While I found this story fascinating, I had complete faith that the same situation would never occur in a completely different culture like the United States. Seeing monkeys as brothers and sisters is most definitely not a part of American culture as far as I know. However, upon deeper consideration, I realized that we in America have in fact reacted in the exact same way. When a dearly beloved creature, the American Bald Eagle, symbol of American freedom and prosperity and vital part of our nation’s culture, became considered an endangered species, Americans changed both policies and practices – primarily concerning the use of DDT as a pesticide – to protect the raptor.
Thus, while culture is a diverse entity and its interactions with the environment are often complex, not all environmental issues register differently in different cultures. As seen in Nigeria with the Sclater’s Guenon and in the US with the American Bald Eagle, cultural relationships may differ, but both nations have groups which formed in defense of the animals the regions held dear and pushed forward efforts for the conservation of biodiversity.
Bald Eagle. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/bald_eagle/>.
Sclater’s Guenon. Digital image. Cercopan. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2017. <http://cercopan.org/sclaters-guenon/>.
Street, Brian Vincent. “Sir Edward Burnett Tylor.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Jan. 2007. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.
Uwaegbulam, Chinedum. “Niger Delta Biodiversity Project Rescues Endangered Species.”The Guardian. N.p., 09 Jan. 2017. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.