HIST – 480 Western Impacts on Asia: Christians and Spices Dr. Jonathan Porter
Essay 4 5/06/08 Timothy J. Sipp
The Cultural Encounter: Dichotomies of Eurasian Colonial Cultural Exchange
The Eurasian colonial cultural exchange was a complex process of social information architecture and calculated structural implementation intended to civilize and socialize colonial people while turning a profit. However, the natural ebb and flow of cultural influences as subsequent European powers exerted pressure on indigenous peoples through a range of formal and informal social institutions, expressing varying imperial ideologies, facilitated a bi-lateral dynamic of mutual affectation. Certainly, the colonized were more affected by the colonizers in the immediate sense of sovereignty and subservience, but the lasting effects on both European and Asian cultures is telling of the complex dichotomies commensurate with colonial cultural exchange.
Eurasian colonial history is rife with examples of one of the central conflicts of ideologically justified imperial expansionism: how does one exert authoritarian rule while satiating the prevailing social filters of liberalism and pseudo-scientific classification? The answer, is by implementing informal social control institutions that transfer imperial cultural norms to the desired population. This use of informal as well as formal (e.g. bureaucracy, police, military, etc…) social control structures serves to embed the target population with the seeds of cultural conformity (Sport, Cultural Imperialism, and Colonial Response in the British Empire. Brian Stoddart. 30,4 1988. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. P 650). The implantation of cross-cultural norms as social control inherently requires assimilation by the target population. What better way to accomplish a voluntary informal social norm than by using games. There are several dichotomies that exist in cultural transfer via games and the first that we will address is the dichotomy of conformity and differentiation.
One of the principles of British colonial rule was to establish a domestic indigenous base with which to work to administer the rest of the varied colonial populations in the region. It was with ‘local knowledge’ and the support of the subservient dominant culture that Britain maintained its empire. By the second half of the 19th century the playing of games, from the parlor to the football pitch, found new stature as certain games were said to bare the hallmarks of good citizenry. The codification of games and classification of skill sets to be acquired and expressed added pseudo-scientific authority to what was formerly leisure (Sport, Cultural Imperialism, and Colonial Response in the British Empire. Brian Stoddart. 30,4 1988. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. pp. 652-653).
The British predisposition towards ruling well, at home and abroad, turned to academic pursuit in the earlier centuries of colonial expansion. The same analytical tools applied to governance conveyed to gaming and sport an unparalleled place in the 19th and 20th century social-engineering toolbox as effective instruments for voluntary socialization and extensive informal social control. “Sport may be envisaged as a powerful but largely informal social institution that can create shared beliefs and attitudes between rulers and ruled while at the same time enhancing the social distance between them.” (Sport, Cultural Imperialism, and Colonial Response in the British Empire. Brian Stoddart. 30,4 1988. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. p. 652).
The creation of a new base of sports enthusiasts among the British population was the first step towards realizing the goals of extensive informal social control. In England the target audience for these new sports was largely the middle classes who sought the assistance of a ‘professional sports caste’ usually drawn from the lower orders of society. “Quite distinct social relationships were thus elaborated in most sports, with the process of codification the remaining preserve of the privileged even though the leading practitioners in games such as football, cricket and golf were usually professionals.” (Sport, Cultural Imperialism, and Colonial Response in the British Empire. Brian Stoddart. 30,4 1988. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. p. 653).
The introduction of team sports to the British public schools system was responsible for the widespread acceptance of the informal social control structures surrounding organized athletics and gaming. “By playing team sports, participants were thought to learn teamwork, the value of obeying constituted authority, courage in the face of adversity, loyalty to fellow players, and respect for the rules.” (Sport, Cultural Imperialism, and Colonial Response in the British Empire. Brian Stoddart. 30,4 1988. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. p. 653) Besides conveying these honorable traits to young people everywhere, these collective pursuits, these group passions led to the formation of informal social networks based around a commonality.
Polo was discovered in the Himalayas in the mid-19th century. The natives had no teams, no goals and no restrictions. The endeavor was a display of purely individual skills like horsemanship and hand-eye coordination. Tacticization of the game by the British military in India created the cult that was termed the sport of kings in Europe. Polo also became the sport of the Indian princes and merchants who could afford it. The very expense of the game conferred a player or team patron with great status. A polo player was a nobleman of means, a man of honor and tactical distinction. Because polo was seen as an excellent means to train officers and strategists about military affairs and tactical situations, it was primarily played in the colonies by the regiments. However, army officers, several of them without means, could not play without the assistance of others. Expressing their talents, in lieu of battle, meant taking up regimental collections to provide the best possible ponies and equipment for the officers on the team. This further exemplifies the middle class aspect of sports in England with nobility recruiting ‘lower classes’ with proven skills and promoting them to a higher station. Further evidence of the desired effects of cross-cultural behavioral transfer can be seen in the promotion of Heera Singh, an enlisted man, to officer status by the maharajah of Patiala because of his polo prowess.
As much as polo had been militarized with instructional intent, tennis had developed as more of an occasion for a social gathering fit for mixed company, primarily men of station and women of similar social standing, than it was a serious competitive sport. Tennis provided a culturally acceptable setting for men and women of similar social rank to mix in a society with strict delineations about opposite sex interactions. These tennis parties became the unofficial courts where one could learn a lot of information that wasn’t “circulating in more formal channels.” (Sport, Cultural Imperialism, and Colonial Response in the British Empire. Brian Stoddart. 30,4 1988. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. p. 658)
Cricket became solidified as a purely British passion exemplifying the very essence of English honor, gentility and nobility. It was this passion for etiquette and absolute respect for procedure through honest competition to determine the “best men” that cricket bestowed to its followers. Cricket even became the measure by which the British determined the Indians’ ability to become politically active. “Colonial governors were especially important in emphasizing cricket as a ritual demonstration of British behavior, standards, and moral codes both public and private. Lord Harris, first of the modern English cricket bosses and a late-nineteenth-century governor of Bombay, believed that selected groups of Indians would be ready for some political responsibility when they had assimilated the playing and behavioral codes of cricket.” (Sport, Cultural Imperialism, and Colonial Response in the British Empire. Brian Stoddart. 30,4 1988. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. p. 658)
In the colonies where whites were minority we see increased restrictions on who is allowed to play. Cricket was restricted to whites of station in order to reinforce the superiority of white men and their social controls. What would it mean for colonial rule if whites competed with blacks and lost? The very nature of sport as control would then be dictating equality between the races, an unequivocal parity that was backed by the revered institutions of the Anglo-imperium. The fact that the lower classes and castes were groomed for promotions based on performances better than that of the social elites, is not only testimony to the importance of winning regardless of prevailing ideology, but also disproves any noble genetic superiority in the honorable pursuit of sport. It was this tendency towards racial clarification and class or caste distinction rooted in pseudo-science, affected by European intellectual fads and existing cultural distinctions, that drove the imperial vehicle.
Thus, social engineering of this magnitude must necessarily involve the transfer of cultural axioms in addition to military authority or interdiction as a means to induce self-control in diverse populations. Thus it was the nurture over nature aspect of informal social control that is intriguing and lasting. The onset of inter-racial competition was foreshadowing for the eventuality of the ‘ruled’ challenging the ‘rulers’ at their own game, and winning independence from everything but informal colonial culture. Subsequently, you’d be hard pressed to find Dutch pastries made by Burghers to eat at a cricket match in Sri Lanka today. But the mulatto vendor selling tea and crumpets may speak a disappearing dialect of creole Portuguese.