26 October 2009

Kaffirs (and Rusyns?) (and Roma?)

I happened upon this video via @brainpicker, and I'm so glad I did.  As a film, it's produced with love and fine craft, which is rare in these YouTube days.  But what is more important is the content of this film - and for me personally because it raises some questions that I think are also so applicable to the Rusyns.

I'm not going to write too much about the Kaffirs, because I don't know a lot about them and I'm sensitive to spreading misinformation.  But I am going to raise some of the questions raised by the filmmaker Kannan Arunasalam with regard to the Kaffirs that I think we can use as an examination of where we're at within the promotion and development of Carpatho-Rusyn culture. It's nothing new -- because we've been talking and debating Rusyns as a 'museum culture' for years at this point -- which is not unhealthy nor negative in my opinion.  But here are some thoughts:
  • Intermarriage as a way that cultures erode.  Now, I'm not into cultural purity, am really a fan of the creation of new cultures and new traditions, and am the product of an intercultural relationship, so please don't misunderstand me, but let's think about how normal that actually is.  Because Rusyns have always lived around Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, Roma, Jews, and Hungarians, and then were thrown into the lovely American melting pot (though I recognize how passé the term is now and use here it in a 19th century context) and ultimately I think this is an attractive thing because it does attract others to the cultural group.  And a culture is made up of people who identify with something, not certainly by pure ethnicity.  But assimilation doesn't necessarily happen nor have to happen.
  • Using music as a way to attract people to a cultural group.  In discussions I've had with other Rusyn friends, while admitting our bias and not intending to diminish neighboring culture's music, it's clear that Rusyn music is soulful and attractive whereas some music of neighboring cultures is less so.  While watching the video about the Kaffirs, I was thinking about the performance I saw yesterday of Slavjane girls singing Roma songs -- they were so into it and obviously having such a good time, and did a great job; but I was also thinking about how many times I've heard people complain about Roma and then say "well, but they do have nice music."  This is one of the most offensive things I think could be said.  So.  Music is a powerful tool for marketing within cultural groups, but I think it needs to be backed up with a lot of substance and infrastructure in the form of a consistent message of education and organization.
  • Language. OMGZ this is critical.  I liked how the Kaffir cultural leaders encourage kids to use their creole words along with the Tamil and Sinhala that they already speak.  It's a start, and could form a modified dialect, similar to Pittsburghese.  It's like what a friend already refers to as the Rusyn-Slovak-Šariš Esperanto of Eastern Slovakia.  Since language is a living thing, it works.
  • "There's a romance about a people on the cusp of disappearing. You see it in Hollywood films about Native Americans."
  • May x (culture) find a permanent, living home in y (country) whereever they live.
But enough of me, please take the time to watch this video!

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