Culture is a way of life. It is the sum total of norms and values in a human society. Though norms and values might differ from society to another, there are common human values that differentiate humans from other animals. Among many one can take the human value that respects and values its fellow members of the species; dead or alive, rich or poor, old or young, a human being is dear and respected for just being a human. Humans reflect the care and respect they share among themselves by way of their respective cultures. This makes culture not only a reflection of identity but also a means of protection and security for members of a society. When people gather in weddings or funerals, sharing in the joy and sorrow, or when they visit each other for different reasons, they communicate an important message saying “We are here for you, don’t ever feel scared of life’s challenges and hardships as long as we are all together.”
However, this advantage that humans have been privileged with when compared to other animals, is being battered as a result of the economic and technological advancement of this “developed” era of ours. The developments in technology yielded a new way of life where the role of culture as a means of protection and security is being replaced by artificial arrangements. These new arrangements demand an institutional structure assuming an awkwardly huge responsibility of taking care of the old, children and other disadvantaged members of a society which consumes a considerable amount of budget. In a human community with a lively social makeup, where culture plays its due role, human welfare is not the responsibility of an individual member or a single institution; it is rather a moral obligation of the whole society emanating from culture.
So, when we talk about preserving and developing our culture it should be seen from this point of view. Conserving our cultural values is a crucial issue for developing countries like Eritrea. It is near to impossible to restore norms and values once the essential social institutions like ‘the family’ are destroyed. It is hard to guarantee social security and welfare by means of written codes of law and policies, in the absence of the natural way through which humans assure their security –culture.
In our Eritrean culture, assisting families of fallen heroes, prioritizing common good, looking after the sick, helping the weak and generally standing together in times of prosperity and adversity, are the main reflections of social safety and protection. Not only is a guest welcomed in any village as a distinguished person, if a relative or a friend knows that a relative or a friend had spent the night in other places, for example a hotel, it is seen as offense to the would-have-been host. On the part of the guest visiting a friend, even if one has come to that place for a different reason, and on the part of the host accommodating a guest is rather a privilege for both. In the Eritrean culture, it is unthinkable to send one’s aged relative to a rehabilitation centre for care. An aged person could hardly be treated by others as long as his/ her children, grandchildren or any relative for that matter is alive. It is culturally embarrassing to expect ‘institutions’ look after one’s aged relative.
Likewise, culturally, the rights of the orphans are well protected. In Eritrean tradition it is believed that depriving the orphaned from their due right is a sinful act. Misfortunate kids are specially treated. The society prefers such children to live with their relatives enjoying the human affection and strengthening the social bonds.
Our culture’s role as a means of social security has even an enduring effect on the life of the members of the society. For example, seeing children leave their families and live with a relative in a town or city to continue their education is a common thing in our society. Had it not been for the value of the society that makes it the responsibility of the relatives too to help such children to accomplish their dreams, they would have lost opportunities until the government, NGOs or other presumably responsible institutions took assumed responsibility of providing them with education services. Thus, it is in our own interest to preserve our culture as it is the sole genuine means of social security and human welfare.