Friday, October 28, 2011

Time in the Tropics

Well it's getting towards Halloween here in the subtropics of Florida. Driving around you see a few people who have decorated their houses with Halloween paraphanalia; the pumpkins, hay bales, chinsy ghosts and witches hung from the palm trees. It's too weird. What meaning can a fall holiday that marked the final harvests mean in a place that has no real autumn, no real harvests (Florida is for cows and citrus, and little else, and what other crops are planted, they're still being planted now), and a bunch of suburbanites that don't have any real connection to the seasons anyway? We get the same food in winter that we get in summer, only the prices change some. I figure most of the people decorating for the holiday are transplants from up north.

Which got me to thinking. Holidays like this are how we mark the year and its seasonal changes. Here in the subtropics, there isn't much of that kind of change: it cools down in the "winter," maybe even getting some frosts for a few weeks in December and January, but it's sandals-and-shorts weather most of the time, and the seasons are more about rainy season and dry season than anything else. So the old holidays, while observed out of tradition, mean even less down here than they did in the northern cities, where people are still divorced from the land but at least still have the seasons.

I was wondering how people in the tropics proper mark the year-- do the tribes in the Amazon or the South Pacific have holidays in any way reminiscent of those of northern Europe? I wonder if they don't mark the year at all, and whether their sense of time is moreso one of constancy than change. I can't even get my head around it. And could this be why paradise is so often associated with the tropics, a place of seemingly no change? The prefect weather the same every day, the sun always high in the sky, never seeming to "die" or leave for the south.

If this is the case, that they don't see the world as going through a life and a death or dormancy, than it must greatly affect their cosmology. A people who know winter will end up with a cosmology of salvation, a sun god who dies and returns. Such a cosmology would probably be largely unintelligible to a tropical people, who don't see the world in this life and death struggle that needs saving.

I say this because you can look at the religions of the Middle East, clearly shaped by the empty desert and it's single, austere, harsh god, and compare it to the lush and fertile India, with its endless count of gods, its cyclical, constantly returning cosmos of no end, Brahman's dream. And then to China, a temperate land of seasons, summer and winter, with a strongly dual concept of yin and yang. Where people live can really affect their understanding of the world. Not that it's the only thing, and let's not get carried away here, but it's an interesting thing to think about. I don't know much about tropical peoples and their basic beliefs, I wonder if this is true.

Is this why I'm so uncomfortable here in Florida? I mean besides the awful heat and oppressively strong sun, of course. I keep expecting, subconsciously, a shift that never comes, a cool down, a time of rest and silence that is winter, and it never arrives. I'm a man of the North, so that makes sense. But I wonder what it'd be like to be a man of the South, or more precisely and less Northern-Hemispherecentric, a man of the Equator.


  1. You knew I'd chime in, didn't you?
    Environment does affect the religious, mythological and cosmological elements of a culture.

    Although there are the same Halloween/harvest icons decorating office doors and houses here in Hawaii, it's all imported, just like Christmas trees.

    The indigeneous religion of the native Hawaiians is not, as I understand it very seasonal, and involves mostly obsserving stars, tides, currents, and volcanic eruptions; these all have sacred significance. The islands themselves are the "bodies" of gods, Pele is the volcano goddess. You might find this interesting reading:


    In Hawaiian culture, though very sea-oriented, the land is also consered to be very sacred.

    I think you are right about the idea that there is no "salvation" in the cosmology in the tropics; but there is a lot of appeasement. The sun and moon are more predictable than that volcano.

    I do know what you feel though, waiting for that first frost, something to make you feel like you're going back to school, to get a certain energy moving. And from here, watching this first snowstorm in the northeast makes my husband very nostalgic. He forgets what it's like in the mountains in Febrary. Not me.

  2. And this:

    Most of the Hawaiian people I know still hold these ideas about the amakua and the legends very close to their hearts. Mana (something like prana or Tao) is as important as Aloha.

  3. And mone more...

    "the core values of the society: respect for the land, sea, waters and one another, care and stewardship of plants and animals, and striving for balance, structure and unity."

    Maybe this comes more naturally in "paradise."

  4. Just to follow up on the first point the Baroness made, the study of geography and how it interacts with culture is fascinating. Things like mountains/lack thereof, climate, amount of water, wind, growing seasons, etc. shape every civilization and often in ways one wouldn't know unless you study it!

  5. Maybe it does come easier in the tropics, baroness. In the north where you have to fight to live, work all summer to have food and wood for winter, you want an easier life. In the tropics, there's always food. That must really affect worldviews.