Cultural Differences

As we would all agree, Western and Pasifika cultures have some fundamental differences. This section will explore those differences more, and invite you to think about how the differences in cultures, lead to differences in what is valued, how decisions are made, and ultimately what drives their lives.

Before you start, check out the video where I provide a quick verbal overview of this section.

It is important to note that this section is NOT about which culture or system is better, but simply highlights how the cultures differ, and how they impact on your engagement with Pasifika peoples,

  • Individualism and Collectivism

Firstly, Western cultures are individualistic, and Pasifika cultures are collectivist cultures.

This means that Western cultures have a social outlook that focuses on, and emphasises the worth and interests of the individual. A person’s individual goals and desires are promoted and so what is valued is independence, and self-reliance.

Collectivist cultures, such as Pasifika cultures, focus on the greater and common good, rather than individual or personal goals or interests. How this has played out in traditional Pasifika settings is that they lived in villages or tribes, shared resources and ensured that their governance was focused on village or tribe cohesiveness.

  • Secularism and Spirituality

Secondly, Western cultures are secular cultures – spirituality is not included or kept separate from systems and governance.

As we know, Pasifika cultures on the other hand see spirituality as an integral dimension of who they are – it’s a part of them that is critical to their wellbeing, decision-making and lives in general.

  • Capitalism and Subsistence Living

Thirdly, Western cultures use the economic system of capitalism – where money is traded as value for services.

Traditionally, Pasifika cultures lived a subsistence lifestyle. This meant that they lived off the land – their own customary lands in a reciprocal relationship … they fed the land and the land fed them.

  • Democracy and Custom

Fourthly, in Western cultures the system of governance is called democracy – where citizens exercise power by voting.

In Pasifika cultures, governance was determined by custom – so these governing structures were passed down through generations often relating to chieftain titles and cultural hierarchies.

  • Written Instruction and Oral Traditions

Fifth – how were laws and regulations passed down?

Well in Western cultures – it was through written instruction – so they had law books, statutes and written regulations.

In Pasifika cultures, traditionally customs were passed down through oratory, stories or proverbs and adages – and from family to family, or through villages etc

  • Low-Context Communication and High-Context Communication

And finally, the last difference we’ll cover is styles of communication. And the difference here is, that Western cultures are what is called low context cultures, and Pasifika cultures are high context cultures.

Low context cultures rely on explicit communication.  So the message a person is communicating is interpreted through just the words and their explicit meaning. In other words, low context culture are black and white – for example if you ask me a question, you’ll get a direct answer: are you a supporter of Trump? You’ll most likely get a yes or a no and then an explicit explanation as to why.

High context cultures communicate in ways that are implicit and rely heavily on context. So if a question is asked about politics, an example of an answer you might get back is a proverb, metaphor or story, and to understand the gist of what the response is about you need to understand the cultural nuance that it is delivered from.

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