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RELIGION: Good Friday--Viernes Santo



Margaret Mackenzie, an anthropologist specializing in the Asia-Pacific region, has just returned from Switzerland, where she again taught a seminar. I knew that my account of crucifixion ceremonies in Spain, Mexico and the Philippines would interest anthropologists, and sure enough Margaret reports that she used the Philippine version in her seminar. It is considered unique in that the Christ is actually nailed to the cross (hence the tourist appeal!). In the famous Ixtapala ceremony in Mexico, Christ appears to be nailed, but I think that is faked. Can any Mexican clarify this point? However, in Mexico, the flagellation blood on the backs of Christ and the "peninents" seems to be real..

Margaret writes: "The former Spanish colonies adopted the forms of Catholicism that focus on suffering especially". [On this, see Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sentiment of Life, Unamuno also wrote a poem on Christ crucified.] "I am interested to hear you say more about why you think Good Friday is the hinge of Western civilization--is it that you see that civilization as arising from the intensity of the compassion that the crucifixion means?". Precisely. I believe in human progress from brute strength through intelligent force to the compassion embodied in Christianity as in no other religion. Hence comes "the peace which passes all understanding, not the peace of the world", i.e. just a suspension of hositilities. This must be our aim if we are to survive. Easter symbolizes the transition from brute force to real peace, alas still not achieved.

Margaret continues: "I teach, (with a Swiss colleague who has degrees in Finance and much experience in business negotiations in China), Intercultural Awareness to personnel from a Swiss global cement firm. I was requested to cover four countries this time--Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore. However, two of the participants are going first to do a pilot project at the plant in Mexico, so that was what they were most anxious to know about: such as how to recognize when someone from another culture is actually saying 'No, it's not possible' when their word seems to be 'Yes', how to recognize body language and action styles when you cannot verbally get bad news directly, and how to get deliveries actually delivered more or less on time in Mexico without causing terminal offense (check every half hour, for example). The Europeans generally have adequate historical, geographical, political and economic information about the countries, but in their fear about not getting their projects completed on time, they are vulnerable to stigmatizing behaviors that they don't know how to interpret or handle in other countries. My first step is to get the participants to be aware explicitly of their own values, so ironically I spend a considerable amount of time on such figures as Calvin and Zwingli, Max Weber and Tawney. Of course discussing globlisation and their roles in it is an indispensable element--to understand why it might be, for example, that the Thai are uneasy about being tested for performance evaluations with psychological 'instruments' developed in Germany, or for not understanding why the profits from their operations might be diverted to plants in South America. Happy Easter--this is the day that when I was a very small child in a cloistered Convent boarding school in New Zealand, the priest would bless our toys. That was the highlight of the holiday for me--the rituals on Good Friday were interminable and gloomy, and the idea of Resurrection as renewal was beyond my young mind! "

My comment: Not just language training is required, but a sense of the weight and meaning even of cognates which are "false friends". IS the world becoming globalized and homogenized culturally by industrialization? English as the global language, body English as well? People want to be respected and even admired, not just studied (hence the unpopularity of some anthropologists). Things are changing. A Hollywood film damning Mexican drug runners offended many Mexicans, but others praised it for forcing Mexicans to face reality.

Ronald Hilton - 4/14/01


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