July 22nd is National Hammock Day! The hammock is a wonderful, relaxing contribution from my Central American culture. Hammocks originate in the indigenous cultures of North, Central, and Latin America and can be traced back about 1,000 years ago. Growing up, we specifically had twine and cord hammocks in our home, made in the motherland, of course. We had a specific Salvadorian hammock for our grandfather when he visited and stayed in our home. It is a part of our daily lives and takes substantial skill to weave the beautiful bright colors in a pattern.
National Hammock Day got my attention because of my indigenous heritage and it prompted me to think about other cultural contributions as well. We have all heard the term cultural appreciation float around for many years to bring awareness to the special, religious, and ethnic origins of objects.
I have heard of uproar based on instances of disrespecting cultural objects in mainstream culture, rightfully so. I have heard of cheap websites selling traditional prayer mats in the Muslim faith and selling them as basic carpets. I have heard people express a disliking of adopting a traditional Japanese kimono that men and women wear during ceremonies and performances into a simple article of clothing for daily wear.
Cowrie shells have been valued by many African cultures throughout history. Cowrie shells are made into jewelry and hair ornaments, sewn onto clothing, and used in spiritual rituals. They were even used as a form of currency until well into the 19th century. And yet, you can buy cheap, inauthentic cowrie shell jewelry on the internet.
Now, there is nothing more powerful than sharing one’s culture with others. And by all means, we can all relax in hammocks and appreciate the beauty of cowrie shells. What denotes a nod to a powerful civilization and what will be offensive to your audience are two very distinct things. Intention is a big part of it, but it’s not enough to have good intentions. Those good intentions should lead you to research before you say a certain word, design a certain product, or include a symbolic color or shape.
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