Phan L. Xi
In different parts of the world, no matter what era of time, humans often adapt themselves to a lifestyle that will fit their need in their environment to ensure that they will be able to survive off their land. In doing so, they must live in harmony with nature. Life is a never ending conquest to build a strong and stable community to ensure the continuation of a bloodline that can carry on as the power of god continues to grow. Their survival will depend on the environment and how God will treat them. Nature plays a course in every human culture. God can be on your side by bringing a bountiful harvest to the people, or it can cause a famine.
Although life can be harsh for many communities, life for all mankind is through the respect of their natural surroundings. Nature has the power to affect how people from different parts of the world live and it also helps them to establish a tradition and culture that only they can understand. Some countries view their natural surroundings with the utmost respect because they understand how the land cannot be tamed, while other countries believe that land is to be conquered in order to have in your possession. As said in Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, “…The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to….” (50) Surely, the conquest of the earth can be a goal to some groups, while other view earth as a sacred ground and they must live in peace and obey the law of the land.
Unfortunately, not all cultures live harmoniously with nature. There are some cultures that believe god is purposely bringing misery into their life. Floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis are constantly occurring in all parts of the world. There are many times when there are no eminent sign that these natural catastrophes can happen, and so, people live in fear knowing they will most likely die. They pray to god on a daily basis or they will sacrifice other humans to their god. They believe that by doing so, there would be bountiful harvest or safety for the year to come. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as a very good example of this dexterity. When things are not going well, it is because god is unhappy with what is happening in their village. In order to ensure that god will not longer be angry with the villagers, they must take action.
“Yes, Umoufia has decided to kill him. The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves has pronounced it. They will take him outside of Umoufia as is the custom, and kill him there. But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you his father (57).” Due to the natural elements of nature, people can either be afraid or pleased with what is given to them by their land. There are certainly cultures which view nature as a form of God itself. God sometimes poses as an object of their daily lives, and living in close quarters so these gods can see who has been good, and who has been bad. Punishing those who deserve to be punished, and rewarding those who have done no evil to others of their environment. This was seen widely in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
No matter what type of environment people choose to live, regardless if it is a river, a desert, a forest, or a mountain, different foundations of their surroundings can bring forth a different god. Therefore, god is anything that can help or harm people. One such environment is the Amazon. The Amazon is a vast rain forest with many unexplored territories. Many people have wandered into the Amazon thinking that they can tame the forest, but have failed to return. The natives of this region believe that those who disappeared have been taken in by God of the forest. Although such a massive rain forest can become terribly frightening to those who do not know what they are doing, but the natives believe that survival is based on how they treat their land and how god will treat them in return. They respect their land because it is their home. I would most certainly say that the rain forest is like a life line to all forms of human life because as part of the eco-system, trees are what produce oxygen and without oxygen, we would most without doubt die. So generally speaking, god is nature in some sense.
In many parts of Africa, life is influenced by their environment. There is the Congo jungle, the Sahara Desert, and there are certainly rivers which many build their villages in. The land where people live and call home is respected by each group because they rely heavily on what is to come and they learn to respect that as part of their life. Before diamond and oil was found in Africa, African tribe has always lived in harmony with nature and the coming of war was only dictated if there was a sign from god that it is alright for them to battle neighboring tribes. After there were diamond and oil, the land was quickly being invaded by developers and the African tribe had their land taken away from them. Greed among tribes and developers are causing wars that need not be started.
Often times, a culture clash can also exist because different people from different parts of the world do not always believe in the same god. There are often times when one group will impose their beliefs on another group which causes conflict between two groups. “They want a piece of land to build their shrine,” said Uchendu to his peers when they consulted among themselves. ‘We shall give them a piece of land.’… ‘Let us give them a portion of the Evil Forest. They boast about victory over death. Let use give them a real battlefield in which to show their victory.’…They offered them as much of the Evil Forest as they cared to take. And to their greatest amazement the missionaries thanked them and burst into song (Achebe 149). Although there were those willing to learn that there is only one god, there were others who despise the idea of the world only having one god who is the mighty creator of life. Culture clashes in society can drag on and eventually cause harm. Okonkwo was a man of honor in his tribe and he ended up loosing everything he had when the Europeans stepped foot into their village. Due to the culture conflict of the two sets of belief of god. Okonkwo lost his eldest son, Nwoye to Christianity. Nwoye was fascinated by Christianity and he left home to join the missionary. Okonkwo was angry and he had to let everyone know how he felt. Needless to say, Okonkwo was deeply set in his belief and refused to accept any other faith other than what he was taught growing up in his environment.
With all the natural resources nature has to offer, it can change how a group of people view their land. People will usually choose a land where they feel is most beneficiary and work around what the natural influences from the land can be. Aside from the land, there is also the ocean. Filled with life and resources that many humans rely on, the ocean is also an aspect of human culture that cannot be ignored. For example, the Gulf of Mexico has oil thousand of feet below the ocean floor. When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf and into New Orleans, it caused a catastrophic devastation American have ever seen. The floating drill station and the levees were both destroyed when the hurricane hit. When something this major happens in our environment, people begin to realize how Mother Nature is very unpredictable. No matter what the weather may be, the biggest fear in our daily human life is to try to get things back to what is suppose to be the norm.
A big disturbance in our eco-system like this can make a huge difference in the balance of nature. Humans rely heavily on the landscape and the weather. All people see things differently because of the balance of nature and how things are suppose to fall into place. In Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, “The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the silence of now. He boarded the bus from Erzurum to Kars with only seconds to spare. He’d just come into the station on a bus from Istanbul—a snow, stormy, two-day journey—and was rushing up and down the dirty wet corridors with his bad in tow, looking for his connection, when someone told him the bus for Kars was leaving immediately (3). Ka was returning back to his hometown in the thick of a blizzard. Silence fell across the land. This silence set up a scene where the life of Ka, would fall victim unto his death. Although he knew he was on a very dangerous mission, the blizzard did not stop him from doing what he had to do.
All and all, the effect nature has over humans is a very dramatic entity and it remind humans that life to the best is what you should expect from your environment. In many cases, we can find that if we do not believe in what we can have from the bringing of the earth, we may not have the slightest idea on how to survive. When you lose faith, who can you turn to? In Black Water, written by Joyce Carol Oates, she describes how death can take a tow on human and encourage you to react in a behavior that one may find most comforting because there is no one else you can turn to. “And now what held her tight?—a band?—several bands?—across her chest and thighs, her left arm tangled in one of them?—and her forehead had cracked hard against something she hadn’t seen, it was pitch-black she was blinking squinting trying to see, she was blind and that roaring in her ears as of a jet plane and a man’s voice incredulous “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God (46).” The instinct for self preservation can trump over any conservation that you have for others.
If we did not have any ocean life, we would most likely not have any life on land as we know it. Everything on earth is independent on one another. Without one thing, we may not have another. Human cultures are reflected by these surroundings and so people try to understand how or why things must occur in order for them to survive. This not only affect us in terms of the agreement we must have with nature, but it is also interlinked to human’s financial value in every aspect of life. Depending on the environment we may live in, we learn to deal with matters the best we know how in order to live freely on what we have. Many times, owners of oil refineries will have to raise the price of gas because they know how dependent other nations rely on what some other nations may have. Such example is the natural oil which needs to be drilled out of the ground. Saudi Arabia is of such country rich with this natural resource. The owners of the refineries know that oil is essential in our daily lives because it provided heat for homes in cold weather. Oil is also used to power our vehicles so we can get from point A to point B. Having such rich resources, greed and selfishness usually erupts because when a person has enough power, the first thing that comes to mind is having more power. It is not a fault of nature for having this resource, but it most definitely influences the behavior of humans and their subcultures as well.
In other expansive cities, there are many problems that arise because of the wealth a single person may have out of the entire community. Many of these cities are built near rivers, and everyone must work together to provide safety for their communities and themselves. In God Dies by the Nile, “‘many a time have I prayed to God, called upon Him, beseeched Him to have mercy on us, but He never seemed to hear me, or to respond.’ And the voices cried out as though with one voice, ‘Have mercy on her for what she has said, O God. Have mercy on us. Thou alone art all-powerful. Without Thee we are helpless, and without strength (Saadawi 70).’” The constant struggle to find your belief when nothing seems to be going right can cause distraught to one person or to the entire community. There is a constant pressure to stay on top of your own journey through life, or simply let go of what you truly believe. Often times, there can be those who feel that this is an opportunity to step into power because they feel they are entitled to this superiority because everyone else is at a low point in their life. They take advantages of what can be brought to them from the community. Others live in fear because they do not want to offend higher authority. Each individuals behavior is based on what they can see from others mistake. They learn of difficulties through stories brought to them by their elders or by those who experience turmoil. Many of these cultures view superiority between men and women. Men usually have the higher authority because the natural surrounding permits these views on the group.
Respect for ancestral life form is also a way for survival. Life in harsh environments depends on the signs given to you by what you believe in most. Such a case was in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes. Life in the desert is hard and bringing in a small child is even tougher. When life does not seem to be in your favor, you look for signs to tell you everything will be alright. “Carefully she unwrapped him on her blankets in the tent and gently wiped him down and dried him with part of a clean sheet she tore up for diapers. The thunder cracked and shook the ground, and raindrops clattered against the tent while the wind pulled at the canvas and rattled the cottonwood branches and leaves above them. ‘Good for you,’ she told him. Your rain cloud ancestors came to greet you.’ If not properly welcomed, a baby that tiny might give up on this world and leave (346).” Without this proper welcome, Sister Salt surely believed that the child she just gave birth to would certainly die. The rain was a welcoming to new life and new beginning for everyone in the desert.
Life can be tough regardless of how easy things may seem to be in society. We pray to god to hope everything will be in our favor for the days or months to come. We learn what we can about life and we try our best to incorporate what we know about the land along with the innate surviving techniques we must go through to ensure a brighter future. Learning what we can is important because it can help us achieve a sense of passion and respect that we all must have for god and Mother Nature. In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, “But the sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the ship. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired. Tangier was no longer a strange city, and he felt that, just as he had conquered this place, he could conquer the world (62).” It is always easier to live in an environment one is most familiar. If everything in life was in fact a given, there would be nothing out of ordinary that needs to be learned. The challenge in life is to know what you believe in, and to also learn to respect all forms of life around you because you may never know what you can come across in the future.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Book, 1994.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. USA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Black Water. USA: Plume, 1993.
Pamuk, Orhan. Snow. USA: Vintage Books, 2002.
Saadawi, Nawal El. God Dies by the Nile. New York: Zed Books, 1985.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Garden in the Dunes. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1999.