Access to ceremonies

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There are times and places for all sorts of ways of being, such as moments when we want to be casual and others when it is necessary to be officious about our presentation. The fact that some folks are raised to live their lives surrounded by ceremonies doesn’t make them intrinsically better than anyone else. They are just well practised at doing one sort of thing.

Ceremonies, pomp and pageantry exist in a wide range of manifestations across the human race. A friend told me of a time he spent in an African country, where he met a man he described as a “fetish priest”. The priest took my friend into ceremonies he conducted. On one occasion, some of the priest’s followers showed up at a shrine with cooked rice, which was probably a sacrificial offering. In the middle of the process, the priest handed a plate of rice to my friend, who thought he was being offered food to eat.

When I heard the story, I immediately knew my friend had committed a faux pas. “Why did you eat it?” I asked him. Basically, he had no idea about formality in that setting. He admitted that he felt ill for a long while after the incident, however. This was a man of European heritage, who had been given access to a profound moment of formality in an African setting. It is likely that those who witnessed the incident might have felt some dismay and possibly pity for my friend. Issues of status would have probably been remote from their thoughts.

I was once part of the creative team for the New York production of an African play. Most of the actors of African descent that auditioned for roles were Americans, with no recent familial connections to Africa. I realised after a short while that they had no understanding of formality, ceremony and status in a contemporary African setting. Again, it never occurred to me to think about cultural superiority or inferiority because of this.

The world is becoming increasingly smaller. Folks from divergent walks of life get to meet each other in ways that probably never happened before. In some cases, they fall in love and try to create new chapters in their lives together. Why are some people so quick to judge when they see new entrants into a way of life, making mistakes?