Posted: September 3rd, 2013
The White Masai, by Corinne Hofmann is a representation of cultural conflicts.The book is about a German and Masai who met, fell in love and eventually got married. The book relives the love story of Corinne Hoffman, a German from Switzerland and Lketinga, a Kenyan Masai warrior. The love affair between the two began in 1987 when they met in Mombasa during one of Corinne’s vacation at the coast. The tall Masai warrior became the object of Corinne’s admiration. The setting of the story is in Africa at a time when interracial dating was a concept that was unheard of. The story of the Swiss business woman and the Masai warrior is a representation of attempts towards cultural integration.
The story took an unexpected twist when Corinne moved to Africa after leaving her life of comfort in Switzerland. She opted for a life in the bush where she lived in a hut made of cow dung with her Masai warrior. Corinne encountered various cultural differences that she managed to overcome with great difficulty. The life style of the Masai is one she is not familiar with. Lketinga expressed his rich African culture by wearing loincloth, frequently carrying his spear and painting his face with the traditional markings on a daily basis. In the bush, she is expected to live without electricity, take fewer baths, walk for long distance in search of water and endure without a toilet. Lketinga is also introduced to different cultural practices like kissing which he is not acquainted with. The two of them also experience a language barrier that was hard to overcome.
Corinne showed a great deal of integration of culture when she decide to start a business that would help the locals. In spite of the great culture shock and experiences that were detrimental to her health, she opened a shop which sold sugar and maize. She was willing to introduce aspects of her culture by availing comforts to the locals. She brought a four wheel drive which she used to assist the locals to get to the city for supplies and medication. The car was purchased with the money that she acquired from selling her business in Switzerland. She was keen to assist Lketinga’s mother and this is evident in her willingness to embrace the Masai culture. Corrine provided Lketinga’s mother with comfort gifts like a mattress. This was emphasized when she endured situations of extreme hunger, malaria and encounters with wild animals.
The following year Lketinga and Corinne got married. The marriage was a way through which more of the Masai culture was forced on Corinne. She was coerced to embrace the culture of female circumcision. Lketinga’s firm believe in the culture was not enough to change Corinne’s adamant attitude against the practice. As the years passed, Corinne continued to face more difficulties in the unfamiliar land. Her life began to crumble when she had a difficult pregnancy coupled with bouts of malaria. She began to express worry concerning her daughter growing up in such a hostile environment. Lketinga also began to throw jealous fits that irritated Corinne. Her business was the source of her husband’s envy. The locals spread rumors that she had affairs with the men who were carrying out business with her. This aggravated Lketinga’s anger and jealousy.
Lketinga’s insecurities became detrimental to the performance of the business. He also talked about the idea of acquiring a second wife because of Corinne’s promiscuity. Lketinga began to abuse Corinne physically. This was his way of controlling his wife. Corinne’s desire to go back to Switzerland was ignited by these harsh conditions. She saw her departure from Masai land as the only way to ensure her safety and that of her daughter. She needed to get proper nutrition for herself and her daughter in order to guarantee their survival. She eventually leaves Kenya for Switzerland with her daughter.
The book, The White Masai, shows various aspects of cultural conflicts. These conflicts arise through the interactions of the Swiss and Masai culture. The cultural aspects portrayed by the author are ethnicity and race, multiculturalism, assimilation and integration and cultural identity.
Ethnicity and Race
Racial ideology and identity are concepts that are built from socialization and implicit values. This is to imply that society’s idea of what constitutes a particular race is from a natural and obvious perspective. This is displayed in the instance whereby the first thing one notices when they meet an individual is the race of the person. This is similar to Lketinga’s situation where he first noticed Corrine’s race and the color of her skin astounded him. The society experiences discomfort when it meets an individual of mixed race. This is because they are not easily able to place them in their stereotypic labels.
These kind of racial perceptions are built by physical, environmental and learned determinants. In learned determinants, they perception of an individual is molded through processed, organized and received sensory data. In the environmental determinants, the focus is laid on how the environmental placement of an individual affects his perception of race and ethnicity. Physical determinants are the physical differences that influence an individual’s sensory receptors. These three factors collectively mold the view that society has on race and ethnicity.
Corinne and Lketinga represent two different ethnic groups and races. The perspective of the society on race and ethnicity is brought out in the way they treat Corinne. The concept of race and ethnicity have for a long term been pegged on observable features such as the color of one’s skin. Defining characteristics of a race or particular ethnic group has been the subject of debate for many decades. This is because of the varied opinions that arise when the subjects of race and ethnicity are brought up. Complexities arise when acquiring a method to be used in classifying individuals in group identities. The race and ethnic labels used by different societies do not exhibit universality. The result of this is a breakdown in communication because individuals may end up using labels that are offensive to others.
In understanding the concept if race and ethnicity, it is therefore important to consider the criteria used in a particular society while classifying people into race and ethnic groups. It is also important to analyze this concept with a non-biased approach. In America, the social groupings are based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, age and religion. A particular society will define the social grouping that is to be valued. The grouping of ethnicity, race and gender are most valued because they have the most influence on the members of the society. This is the same case among the Masai community. The aspect of race was the identity of the Masai and an introduction of another culture was a cause of conflict. Weaver talks about members of a community being socialized into an attitudinal framework where they are trained on how to react to new stimuli. The Masai community acted with hostility towards the Swiss culture.
Ethnicity has both cultural and physical aspects to it. This is because both physical and selected cultural characteristic are used to classify members of a society in various ethnic groups. However, there exists ethnic group that do not have a cultural roots. These identity groups have little or at times no common cultural traditions. Examples of such ethnic groups with loose identities are the German Americans and the Irish. On the contrary, there are other ethnic groups that have coherent subcultures and common cultural practices. This is characteristic with immigrant groups that have not undergone assimilation.
A race is a biological grouping that a distinct population with distinct anatomical characteristics that singles it from other races. However, this biological concept of race does not fit into the social concept of race. This is because human beings exhibit genetic homogeneity. Races are the products of culture rather than biology. According to Gallagher, race has social and biological aspects. Biological races are based on the assumption that anatomical traits like the skin color are the basis of racial classification. This however is not true because anatomical traits that are used to distinguish a particular race can also be found among a different people in a different region. This is because, the same factors of natural selection in different regions yield in similar adaptive features.
Patterns exhibited by biological variations can be misleading and deceptive. This is because these variations undergo constant changes that are complex. Therefore, race cannot be based on these traits that are constantly undergoing changes. The use of anatomical features to classify race has also been the major cause of discrimination. Superficial physical features are easily identified and make it easier for the members of the society to discriminate based on these features. Racial identity is usually based on preconceived notions that lay emphasis on external observable features. Gallagher talks about a kind of disorientation when people of a particular race do not act or look as society expects. A focus on these external features that vary will result in a focus on the differences that exist among human being. Emphasis will not be placed on the similarities that exist among the different members of the society.
People create identities. The notion that nature creates identities is a fallacy. Therefore, the concepts of ethnicity and races are constructed by culture. The concepts exist as social and not biological aspects. In the book, The White Masai, the concept of ethnicity and race has been well represented through the interaction of the Masai and Swiss cultures. However, the perspective of the Masai society is that race and ethnicity are based on observable features like the color oft the skin and the hair texture. Corinne’s discrimination is based on the color of the skin. This is evident when the villagers accuse her of having affairs with her business partners. Displaced aggression is the cause of this kind of discrimination. The Masai society is battling with the image of colonialist who existed as superior cultural personalities. The aggression towards the colonialist is then channeled to Corinne through their prejudice. The perspective of the Masai people is justified because Corinne’s disparities in cultural practices find their genesis in the place of origin. Their perspective was molded by physical determinants. Her cultural practices are socialized by her environment.
Assimilation, Integration and Cultural identity
The terms integration and assimilation are cultural concepts that result from cultural interactions. Integration refers to the process of a particular culture fusing with cultural aspects gained from other cultures. A particular culture that is undergoing integration maintains its unique identity but evolves in terms of the perspectives that it holds. This evolution is as a result of gaining different technologies, ideas and products from other cultures. The concept of cultural integration implies a change of a particular culture within constrains of its cultural structure. Preservation of cultural identity is important during the process of cultural integration. The term cultural assimilation referrers to the process through which a culture undergoes complete change in its identity. This change occurs when the culture acquires and absorbs new attitudes and customs. The culture adopts new practices that are unfamiliar to its original cultural structure. The term is frequently used when referring to the process through which immigrants are completely absorbed into the cultures of their host nations. Cultural assimilation is usually a way trying to fit into the new society. One’s previous culture is abandoned a new one adopted.
Cultural integration and assimilation exhibit a major difference in cultural identity. In the process of cultural integration, the people maintain their original identity while in the latter a new identity is acquired. The concept of cultural identity is pegged on the cultural practices, beliefs and values held by the members of a community. In cultural assimilation, new values are acquired and absorbed. The result is a change in the cultural practices of the members of the community. The previous identity is disregarded such that the assimilated community resembles the superior community. When two cultures interact, in most cases there is always a superior and inferior culture. The inferior culture is the one that undergoes the process of assimilation. The superior culture in most contexts is one which is desired and admired by the inferior culture. This is aspect of admiration is important because assimilation occurs consciously. On the other hand, cultural integration does not change the identity of a community. This is because the ideas that are adapted by the community are implemented along the structures of the community’s culture.
The book, The White Masai, the aspect of cultural identity is seen in the lives of Corinne and Lketinga. According to the social identity theory, objective conflicts that are predominant in interactions of different cultures lead to prejudice. This stimulates a distortion in one’s cultural image. Both Corinne and the Masai community are faced with aspects of integration and assimilation that was dominated by prejudice. The prejudice distorted the image of Corinne’s culture making he look inferior. This is seen in the interactions of the two distinct cultures. Corinne shows aspects of cultural integration. This is seen in her ability to withstand the Masai cultural practices. She not only acknowledges then but also engages in practicing them. This is evident when she walks long distances top fetch water and engages in practices like drinking goat blood and sleep in the bushes.
Corinne however, does not go through cultural assimilation. She maintains her identity with the Swiss culture. Corinne introduces aspects of her culture in the Masai community. This is seen when she introduces commodities like the mattress. She also introduces cultural practices like kissing to Lketinga. Her adamancy in maintaining her identity is shown when she refuses to accept female circumcision. Lketinga coerces her to engage in the practice but Corinne stands her ground and rejects the practice. Towards the end of the book, Corinne expresses her discomfort in Lketinga’s home. She then decides to go back to Switzerland. Her preference shows that she still values the culture that is upheld in Switzerland. This is because she maintained positivity in her cultural sense of esteem.
The book The White Masai is a representation of cultural conflict evident in prejudice that was shown towards Corinne. The interaction between the Swiss and Masai culture bring about awareness on the concepts of cultural assimilation and integration. The Masai community’s ability to integrate Swiss culture represented multiculturalism. The ethnical and racial barrier that existed was bridged through the accommodation of the two cultures.
Culture is like a language. Language is not only the manifestation of one’s culture but a synonym to it. This is because, just like language, culture is the way through which man expresses his beliefs, values and norms. The analogy of language helps one to see the importance of individual culture. Self expression lies in one’s culture. Therefore, there is a need to accommodate the diverse cultures that exist in society. Aspects of prejudice and discrimination in the society emphasize ion the need for multiculturalism.
Prejudice is an inevitable social ideology. This is because man is a social being. The implication of this is that he is constantly surrounded by social units that shape and influence his conduct. These social units define the identity of the individual. This is because the concept of self is embedded in the social groups. Individual identities are built by group membership. Self definition is therefore in regards to professional, national or religion. These social groupings always give rise to prejudice. This is because of the social demarcation of ‘we’ and ‘them’.
The book, The White Masai, gives a case study of the cultural aspect coined around multicultural concepts. Corinne is immersed in a culturally rich society where her role transforms to that of a cultural recipient. The author allows us to delve into the conflicts that arise during efforts of allowing a society to embrace multiculturalism. Corinne and Lketinga are the authors representation of attempts to accommodate the two cultures represented in the book. Multiculturalism is the entity that deals with the effective response to diversity that occurs in culture and religion. It is a perspective on human life. It is not enough to tolerate and live through this diversity. Society has to employ positive accommodation towards the differences that occur among the difference social groups. This will give the minority groups that exist in the society a sense of belonging. This can be done through the enactment of group- differentiated rights. Such rights will give exemptions to members of the society in accordance to their needs. These exemptions can either be based on language or religious practices. Multiculturalism is a concept that focuses on the integration of minority groups and cultures into society.
Man is a culturally embedded being who lives in a world that has been structured culturally. This implies that his life is organized in accordance to these cultural structures. This is one of the arguments for multiculturalism. Culture greatly influences the life man of man and culture is the medium through which he views life. This is seen in the way Lketinga beliefs that he should control each and every aspect of his wife’s life. His culture has molded his perspective to the point that he believes it is justified for a husband to exercise physical control over his wife. The culture that dictates man’s life is not necessarily his native culture. It can be one that he has been assimilated into or a culture that has been acquired unconsciously. It is therefore important for the structures within the society to consciously allow the expression of one’s own culture so that it can play a participatory role in molding the individual.
Culture realizes a limited degree of human capabilities, emotions and existence. This means that the totality of man is not realized in a singular culture but in the integration of different cultures. The existence of varied cultures will help an individual culture understand itself better. This is because; other cultures will challenge its intellectual and moral standing on various issues of the society. Other cultures will prevent an individual culture from monopoly of society. Though an individual’s culture will ultimately enable the individual to live a fulfilled life within the boundaries of his goals, other cultures will enable the individual to attain richer perspectives of life. This implies there is a need for the accommodation and integration of the different cultures that exist in society. This aspect is seen in the positive influence that the Swiss culture had on the Masai culture. The Masai community was able to widen its perspective on aspects like comforts that made life easier.
Multiculturalism therefore integrates these three dimensions. A perspective that incorporates cultural plurality, incoherency of culture in man and the multicultural existence of cultures will yield to multiculturalism. A particular culture is not perfect and its existence needs to be complimented by other cultures. A single culture is limited and cannot satisfy human needs in totality. In the book, The White Masai, minority culture is represented by Corinne’s Swiss culture. The locals embrace multiculturalism through the accommodation of Corinne’s comfort goods like the mattress.
Society’s expression of diversity and variety is through the different cultures that exist. These cultures are embedded in different ethnic and racial groups. The White Masai is a good portrayal of this diversity of culture. The merging of Lketinga and Corrine prompts various social aspects like multiculturalism, racism and prejudice, assimilation and integration. Cultural identity of the Masai and Swiss were challenged by different cultural paradigms. Corinne Hofmann shows the importance of cultural identity through the character of Corrine. Culture is an inherent societal need that is shaped consciously and subconsciously through various interactions. These interactions are what show society’s standing on matters of prejudice and racism. Prejudice existed in the Masai community and its members expected Corrine to undergo assimilation. However, Corrine represents adamancy in preservation of one’s cultural identity.
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 Gary Weaver, ‘Culture, communication, and conflict: readings in intercultural relations’, (Boston, MA: Pearson Pub, 2000), 34.
 Diane Adele Reynolds Trombetta, ‘Economic integration and cultural assimilation: Mexican-Americans in San Jose’, (Thesis—Stanford, 1977), 51.
 Kelly Barth, ‘Assimilation’, (Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010), 25.
 Manuel Castells, ‘The power of identity’, (Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 1997), 98.
 Ruth Benedict, ‘The integration of culture’ in High Points in Anthropology, (1988), 175-181.
 C. Watson, ‘Multiculturalism’, (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000), 29.
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