Time

September 13, 2011 General 4 Comments 11,159 Views

Time: Why Are We So Focused On It?

Hardly anything distinguishes humans as much as their dealing with time. While in the western industrial world every second counts and a day is often thoroughly planned, some cultures have invented other time-concepts. Some set their calendar by the smell of the trees & flowers; others even think that not the future lies before them but the past.

Since I’m one of these western people who has to adjust to this tightly planned time management because of work, etc. (even though I’m not a big fan of it), I admire other cultures who have found a different way of living and dealing with time. There is a really good saying in Africa, which I would like to state here: “Africans have time, Europeans have watches”. Says it all, doesn’t it? Anyway, now I what to tell you a little bit about these great cultures:

The Nuer of Africa.

The Nuer are nomads of the south Sudan. For them, time is not measured by objective measurable units but they orientate themselves by the recurring environmental changes like wet- and dry season. These standards might not be accurate but reliable.

The Nuer and their cattle in southern Sudan. Photo credit © Ngari - Norway / flickr.
The Nuer and their cattle in southern Sudan. Photo credit © Ngari – Norway / flickr.

The Aymara of South America.

For the Aymara, who live in the Andes, the past lies ahead and the future lies behind. Huh? Well, the Aymara say that with your eyes you only see what’s in front of you and therefore that is the known – the past. Behind (where you can’t see) is the unknown which therefore is the future. Also the  linguistic evidence gives another explanation: The Aymara language recruits “nayra,” the basic word for “eye,” “front” or “sight,” to mean “past” and recruits “qhipa,” the basic word for “back” or “behind,” to mean “future.” So, for example, the expression “nayra mara” – which would mean “last year” – can be translated as “front year.”

The Aymara in Bolivia. Photo credit © Juan Karita.
The Aymara in Bolivia. Photo credit © Juan Karita.

The Papuan of South East Asia.

For the Papuan in New Guinea not only the present is present but also eternity. Following their believes, the human is unseparable of the world of their ancestors. The closer this connection is – for example by sleeping on your ancestors skull – the larger is your wellbeing.

An Asmat tribal man sleeping on a human skull. Photo credit unknown.
An Asmat tribal man sleeping on a human skull. Photo credit unknown.

The Aborigines of Australia.

The natives of Australia don’t believe that occasions are strung together. Instead they interweave past, present and future to a single spiritual purpose: The connection to the “Dreamtime”. For the Aborigines this is the origin of all living beings. It resembles a mirror of all that was, is and ever will be.

Aboriginal dancers in Australia. Photo credit © Penny Tweedie.
Aboriginal dancers in Australia. Photo credit © Penny Tweedie.

The San of Africa.

The San Bushmen are one of the oldest peoples on our planet. As hunters or gatherers, some tribe members are still crossing the Kalahari desert today. Humans who live like this, don’t need a precise calendar or timer. They don’t divide day & night into minutes or hours but specific occasions like regular rituals or the daily hunt.

San hunters in the Kalahari desert. Photo credit © Ariadne Van Zandbergen.
San hunters in the Kalahari desert. Photo credit © Ariadne Van Zandbergen.

The Tibetan of China.

Buddhist people, like the Tibetan don’t feel that time is a linear stream of expiring events, in which the “being” has a beginning and an end. They rather believe in a circulation of life, death and reincarnation until they break into the nirvana. How each and every one is reincarnated depends on their way of living.

Tibetan monks. Photo credit unknown.
Tibetan monks. Photo credit unknown.

My personal opinion.

Well, what can I say? We could really learn something from these cultures. I think that we westerners are simply too focused on time & its meaning in our lives.

I mean really, what is time anyway? There are so many expression like “time is running out” or “the clock is ticking” & I hate them because it’s a burden to our way of living. I see it everyday with my friends or family. One might think: “Damn, I’m turning 32 next month, and I still don’t have any children…my clock’s ticking.”, or someone else’s thought might be focused on this:  “I’m 26 years old, and by now I should know what I really want out of my life…my time is running out and I have to get a grip.” I do understand that time is important (and I get that we can’t just stop focusing on it – why should we?)…but (again this is a big but) I also think that shifting down a gear from time to time wouldn’t be such a bad thing for all of us.

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“Time: Why Are We So Focused On It?”

  1. Thanks so much Hildi! Hope you and John are ok. Really would like to see you again some time ;)

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