Nepal is a “collective culture” according to the anthropologists. This in contrast to USA or Europe, where individualism is the rule. Think of USA as the land of the cowboys, if you need a mental image that will make it more vivid.
Collectivist culture examples:
Nobody makes a decision without checking with everyone else who might be affected.
If even one person close to them states an objection, that’s enough to stop a change from happening.
Activities are conducted by the group, as a group. The leader is likely to be a “senior” – the oldest person – and even if the senior is not physically involved, those who are doing an activity will seek approval from their seniors.
Things like play are conducted cooperatively, from early childhood. People are not comfortable being alone or being singled out.
There is a family constellation called “Community housing.” What this means is, three or four generations under the same roof; there is space for cousins from the village, or – just people from the village who aren’t really related but they might as well be. Every Nepali woman has fifty sisters – “Well, cousin-sisters, actually…..”
Unmarried Nepalis often sleep with a sibling until they get married. This is practical – many houses do not have heat, and cuddling conserves warmth. One woman friend of mine who is 26, shares the bed with her mom whenever her dad travels for business.
All events are public, and when anything happens it’s accepted that a crowd will gather. This includes emergencies at the hospital and cremation of the dead.
The group might make up their mind by discussing something in private, then everyone acts on it together. This extends across the spectrum of activities. For example, if a person is caught red-handed in crime, those present will form a sort of posse and administer brutal justice, a beating with sticks known as a “thrashing.”
Political disagreements are expressed by a “bandh” – a large team in an area conspires to shut down motorized traffic and commerce. These require a high level of organization and large numbers of participants.
For a better example, family gatherings and festivals will always have a role for every family member.
Rato Mechhandranath, the chariot-pulling festival of Lalitpur, is a prime example of collectivism. It’s an event that requires the entire population to take part if it’s going to work.
Construction work is not mechanized. When you visit, you can see such how they build large buildings with minimal use of heavy equipment. Bucket brigades, for example, are used to get wet concrete up to a second- or third-floor building under construction. Building are built with rebar, not steel beams. Why? because steel would require a crane, whereas rebar can be handled by the workers.
They love belonging to a group and will do just about anything that conveys the feeling of togetherness. If there is a uniform, that’s cool, but if there is no official uniform, people will coordinate with each other to dress similarly so that the clothes reflect the team.
A man and a woman don’t get married; it’s the two families that get married.
As you might expect, the idea of collectivist culture can be used to predict how the government functions, or how the political leadership functions (don’t confuse the political leadership with the bureaucracy. The politicians seem paralyzed, but the bureaucracy is quite content to enforce the group norms).
Fascinating? want more?
In my book, The Sacrament of the Goddess, I wanted to explore the ins and outs of collectivist culture and the way it affects decisions made by individuals and the group. Instead of writing a dry boring list, I decided I would create situations for the people in the novel that would force them to react to the way the group was acting.
I realize that these may seem like generalizations to some – I’d love to get your reaction…