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.