Cultural appropriation

by | Aug 10, 2006

I’ve been giving the whole issue of cultural appropriation in “alternative” western culture a lot of thought recently…

Then mortalcity stirred up the thoughts again by asking about her book name – to which I replied as follows;

Western appropriation of other cultures is an interesting thing – and Orientalism has of course been going since the 17th century with Chinoiserie and Japonaiserie in art and design.

In contemporary culture there’s a new sensitivity to cultural appropriation – particularly in regards to certain ritual practices and body modifications. But English is a magpie language – and if the word “verandah” is okay then perhaps so is “Shaman” even if the person involved is a long way from the Tungus people of Siberia from who’s language the word comes…

It’s interesting how “Japanese Rope Bondage” has become an force of its own – and so many people who ask me for it have no idea what makes bondage Japanese as opposed to western… they just use it as a general catch phrase for rope.

Ethically it’s interesting – you’re not marketing to a Japanese audience – so the understanding of the term is very different – and language is an evolving thing… the meaning that is constructed by a Westerner looking at the word Shibari is very different – and of course varies from person to person.

Not sure how this adds any value to the book name question – but you’ve certainly stirred some thoughts for me 🙂

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts – what do you think?

I prefer not to use the term “Shibari” or Japanese rope bondage as I’m not Japanese and while I have been lucky enough to have some training from a traditionally trained Japanese bondage expert – she never called herself by any grandiose title and referred simply to “rope bondage”. (though I do reference it currently on my website)

And what about the other things – can you be a Shaman if you’re not a nomadic reindeer herder? Is it disrespectful to the Tungus people to use their word to explain a Western interpretation of spirituality?

I wish my Mum was home to talk to – she’s an actual expert on Orientalism and cross-cultural influences and also knows a lot about traditional shamanism…. but she’s away – and will in fact be soon traveling from Moscow to Beijing on the very Silk Route that spawned Orientalism in the first place!