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Lessons From the Lifestyle, Culture, and World View of the Tikar People of Cameroon

Very different cultures offer important lessons that can be used in our culture.

Key points

  • Our tendency to compare contributes to a sense of separateness.
  • Our relationship with others and relationship with something greater can help promote resilience.
  • Viewing life as experienced by another culture may help remove one's own biased lens.

I have been on an amazing journey with my wife, Freda, to her ancestral home in Cameroon. With DNA tracking, she has traced her lineage to the people of Tikar, a proud people in the northern part of the country. I’ve been taken by the warmth and exuberant connection with those we have met. They have opened their doors and their hearts to us.

Limitations of Comparisons and Lessons in Letting Go

We all tend to compare, and much of our marketing is based on this. It results in feeling less than or better than, but always contributes to a sense of separateness. This disconnection and competition are sources of stress. I am aware of moving in and out of comparisons, where differences are so obvious. It’s a great lesson in letting go: letting go of good–bad, right–wrong, and, most significantly, letting go of being in control and “my” way as the right way.

Thus, my first lesson is how my tendency to compare creates separateness and gets in the way of appreciating the beauty of these people and their culture — another lesson in letting go.

Here, with the Tikar, time is infinite. When I start looking at my watch and saying to myself, “We were supposed to leave an hour ago,” or “It’s going to get dark before we get there,” I must let go of my framework or be continually frustrated. As I let go of my way — my worldview — I gain a greater appreciation of how these people live. Without the comparison, I recognize a source of their resilience, and I can also relax.

Promoting Resilience

This appreciation includes what’s most important and how this promotes resilience in the Tikar. I have my nine pillars of resilience — a framework for handling stress and the complexities of life. With the Tikar, there is an emphasis on pillars 2 and 3 of my model: relationship with others and relationship with something greater. Extended family is a significant part of their experience. Intimate connections help them feel a sense of safety, belonging, and being cared for. These are all major factors in minimizing the impact of stress, as well as removing certain stresses to begin with. Separateness and comparison are replaced by connection and acceptance — two of the most important ingredients of resilience.

Spirituality is another hallmark of their way of life. We visited a local school supported by the organization that my wife belongs to, “Diaspora-One Tikar-One People.” The biology teacher told me that there has not been a single case of COVID-19 in their community. At this point, I should also note that we have not been wearing masks. No one — with very few exceptions — wears a mask. (The fact that I just had my booster helped me be comfortable with this reality.) When I asked what the secret of their immunity was, he said, “we are guarded by our ancestors and our indigenous medicines.” At the festival we already were given a special tea made of herbs that was advertised as “COVID immunity tea”.

Festival of the Return

The next day, we were at a major celebration, “Festival of the Return,” honoring people of the diaspora returning to their ancestral home. We were with six of the Kings of the Tikar people, along with many of the political leaders of the nation. One of the kings distributed, on a banana leaf, more indigenous immune protection. I ate it, not knowing what it was. Later I learned that they were fried termites!

Without the separation of comparisons, I am able to walk into their outdoor markets and be present with the people, what they are selling, and the entire gestalt of the scene. It is beautiful in its organic kinetic movement. I say to myself, let go to simply be — have no attachments, in order to appreciate.

I started out with an interest in comparing how people of a very different culture experience resilience. But this has taken me into a broader appreciation of seeing life through the lens of another culture. Instead of comparing, I have been cleaning my “lens” through which I experience — removing the veil of my own culture and bias to see more clearly. The results are powerful.

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