How ‘stone age’ is traditional diplomacy?

Posted: May 15, 2012 in Culture and traditions, Pacific Ways
Tags: , ,

Mine is a warrior culture. One that prided itself on conquest, expansion of territory and on the ability of its young warriors. But the great battles fought over long distances to lay claim to enemy lands wasn’t the central part of my people’s existence.

Diplomacy was of utmost importance and the skills to prevent violence through diplomatic means was and still is highly valued. Such skill didn’t come into play only to prevent war. It was part of everyday life.

Brothers resolved issues by talking for hours or even days so that their present disagreements didn’t affect their relationship and their children’s relationships in future. Past relationships between members of distant clans were also equally important. Each word used in the dialogue was chosen with care. The potential effect of every gesture was considered before it was made. Elders listened and were slow to speak because to offend someone physically or verbally was costly. It was the equivalent of an expensive lawsuit in today’s justice system. Resolving the issue involved an apology and compensation which included payment in the form of pigs and other gifts. So sincerity and honesty were of paramount importance during negotiations.

While the men provided protection as warriors of the clan or tribe, their economic power both in peacetime and in times of war rested on the women. Women were highly valued members of our society. They were our mothers who gave us life. They were key in the man’s economic and political status and they raised the warriors who laid claim to new land and resources.

Traditionally, women were marked to become wives. But that didn’t stop girls from choosing their future husbands if they so wished. In many instances, a girl would take her possessions and go to the family of the man she wished to marry and be accepted as part of the household. If she was rejected by the young man, another process of diplomacy was initiated by his father and mother. The young man’s family would take gifts – pigs included – to the girl’s family as a sign of respect. That gesture simply said: “We appreciate your daughter’s decision to choose our son but our son will not take your daughter as his wife. We value your daughter and respect the decision she made and we apologize to your family for the inconvenience this may have caused. We give you these gifts as a token of our appreciation and we hope our relationship and that of our children and our children’s children will not be affected by this event.”

In family life, disagreements between husband and wife rarely erupted into physical violence. This was because apologizing to a woman and her family was an extremely expensive exercise. The number of pigs demanded for the harm caused to their daughter or for the open display of anger was determined by the woman’s uncles and brothers.

The raising of children also had to be done creatively. Children were not only the responsibility of the parents but also of the uncles and aunts. Spanking and even raising your voice at your child in the presence of other family members or guests was offensive. It also called for an expensive apology.

Today many of those practices have lost their meaning. It’s the 21st Century and many feel that these customs are ‘stone age’, that we have no need for them. Similarly, some feel there is ‘no need’ for the extended family and children are our responsibility and we can do what we want.

Today, we march against gender based violence and inequality. The man is called the the ‘breadwinner’ and the ‘head of the family’. We attend conferences on child abuse run by overseas consultants. We use child protection methods that come from other countries and we’ve forgotten that violence against women and children was shunned in our societies.

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