What is Tradition?

Tradition as described by Alice Horner is passing of the custom or thought process from one generation to another. It also refers the process of passing down of these things to another generation.

Tradition in Latin language means “something handed over”. Let us examine the origin of this concept of tradition in European world. This notion of tradition can be understood in only those historical settings where people were aware of change. Tradition was understood as cultural features which were to be preserved, and passed on to the next generation. In societies which experienced almost zero change, tradition played a main role. It was passed to the next generation as inheritance. Tradition for them was means of earning livelihood and provided people with identity and status. In societies which experienced change tradition was much more important for them.

Negative Valuation of Tradition
Europe underwent an era of enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Science and Industrialisation was the theme of this change. This change valued tradition negatively. Tradition was seen as hindrance for the development of society. It was considered carrier of backwardness and superstition. Customs, games and beliefs among rural lower classes were considered representation of earlier forms of society.

Change From Negative Valuation of Tradition
Negative valuation of tradition was challenged by two crises. The first crisis was during the middle of the 19th century. After Europe felt enlightenment, science painted Christian religion as a feudal tradition. Christianity was considered obstacle in the progress of science and society. The irony was in the fact that Christianity was the main thrust behind key social values like eagalitarianism, democracy, care for vulnerable sections and universal justice.

The second crisis that brought changes in the perspective how traditions were seen was the view point of certain anthropologists about the conquered people. They thought that customs of the conquered people were of equal or better than the so called civilized world. There was growing appreciation for arts and crafts of the colonized people.

Scientists and others began to look for and want to preserve these threatened ways of life. They started to value their aesthetic and functional values.

Guilt of Changing the Whole World in Homogeneous Direction
The European world expanded whole of Africa and Asian countries. European countries made colonies which served as markets for the factory made goods of the European powers. Manufactured goods replaced handmade traditional utensils as they could easily grab the market for being cheap. The skills of the native people were in danger. Few upper middle class Euro-Americans stressed on the need to preserve such a tradition. Techniques and materials such as basketry were seen as carriers of culture. Terms like “imperialist nostalgia” were coined to convey the regret of having destroyed the culture of native people and moving the world towards more homogeneous world.

Tradition and Modernity
Many people perceives tradition as opposite to modernity. But traditions are continuously created in the presence of modernity. The new phenomena are often quickly assumed to be age old tradition. Traditions are created during modernity. For an instance it was in 1970 that women were first admitted in Kings College, Cambridge. After few years the students began to assume that this is an age old tradition. Tradition for sure is not the opposite of modernity, it grows with modernity and strengthens modernity.

Values of Traditions
Europeans always looked to identify and collect many of the ingenious technological items and beautiful products of the native people right from the beginning. During the agricultural and industrial revolutions of 18th and 19th century in many European nations the local and rural cultures and tradition became the matter of inspiration and source of identity in many European nations. Value of traditions was also reflected in the fact that professions in folklore and archaeology gained importance. Folklore and archaeology are seen as collectors of tradition. Having traditions and a culture became indispensable for nations. French-Canadians of Quebec felt that their traditions were threatened so they thought to preserve their traditions by making museums and labelling.

Tradition as a Reservoir
Tradition as a reservoir is concept where tradition is seen as a source of identity which is defined historically. It is also considered a source of a sense of safety and feeling of specialness. There are certain problem with tradition as a reservoir. For an instance Native Americans have traditions like playing gambling, marry multiple spouses and practising local medicine. Does the real world allow for such traditions and let you live like a Native American.

The reservoir of traditions is never stagnant or static. It keeps on growing with activities and is filled by the creation of traditions. It cannot sense whether the traditions have been modified or newly added or whether it is old or new. But the reservoir of traditions knows that people are living strongly with the traditions and traditions themselves are strong. You can easily witness the struggle of native people to save their tradition in this world growing fast towards a homogenized world. Let it be Canadian Arctic fight for their language or the protest against Danification of Greenland.