Decolonisation Vs. Cultural Preservation

By Kim Chham

I remember this conversation being brought up since the first week of this program. As a peacebuilder from outside a community, where should we draw the line between respecting local cultures/traditions and enforcing our beliefs/values? A question even more suited for me is, where should I draw the line between respecting my local cultures/traditions and enforcing my beliefs/values – given the fact that I’ve lived outside of my home community for almost half of my life?

On Monday evening this week, Pushpa talked to us about “decolonizing peacebuilding”. We touched on the concepts of ‘center’ and ‘periphery’ groups in our society.  An important lesson I learned there was that, colonizers tend to be in the ‘center’ group and everyone else is in the ‘periphery’ group. The center circle tend to be very small, most people are not in the center right now. And that tells us that we should something about it.

Having a colonized mind, which I think we all do to some extend, we idolize a certain group of people. Those are normally the people who belong in the ‘center’ circle now.

I’ve realized that once I’ve left my hometown, I can never look at it and the world the same way again. This is a typical realization I share with many who have left their first home too. The first few years of that time being away, I started to see so many problems and I spent too much time getting caught up in the new mindsets and cultures. I also idolized those new ones more than my own.

As I get older and experienced life a bit more, I have started to value the cultures that I grew up in, more and more.

Where I’m at now: I have a mix of cultures of my own, I picked what I like from home and other places that I’ve been to. What a privilege I have had!

So now, my work is to decentralize my thoughts – decolonize my mind. I need to utilize my critical lens while looking at any belief or culture. For instance, I know that I have a conflict in my mind about gender issues at home. I know I cannot compromise my belief in gender equality with traditional cultures. However, I know and understand why things are the way they are now, at home.  On the other hand, I’ve recognized the value of forgiveness that I learned from home to be a very important part of how I want to live my life. I value the collectivistic culture that I grew up in, where everyone cares and looks out for each other. At the same time, I value the independence of the individualistic culture that I live in now. First step of decolonization is to realize that no culture is better than the other; no culture is the superior or inferior one.

Having this in mind, I hope to find my place in peacebuilding at home. I know that I will face many conflicts with others and myself along the way. However, I believe that some of those conflicts will be productive ones; I will learn and grow from them. There’s a lot more work for me to do to decolonize my mind and the field I’ll enter. The world has a lot of work to do about that too. We all have to work towards a more equitable and equal world in every way, meaning reaching the state that all appreciates everyone at their best.

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