Ethnographic Comparison


In this work, one compares two different cultures that were developed independently from each other and did not receive any influence on the development of their traditions, customs and religions. The cultures in this analysis are Indian and Cherokee; they are located in different continents and have different histories which do not unite them up to the discovering of the new world. In fact, it is a good attempt to provide the anthropological analysis of the cultures which did not have any contact.

For this analysis, it was decided to choose religion as the main aspect of cultural comparisons. Religion is the best indicator of culture because traditions, views, world perception and cultural orientation have a tight connection with this aspect. Hence, if one wants to analyze a certain culture, it is better to start with religious views. India represents four main religions which are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. However, this analysis will be concentrated only on Hinduism as it is the most widespread religion in India and was not adopted from another culture like Buddhism. The Cherokee’s religion views are mostly presented by natural forces, supernatural powers and even magic.

The analysis of two cultures with independent backgrounds and development will help to evaluate the similarities of people’s behavior. Hence, one could estimate what relative aspects of religion exist in cultures without distinction of their location and contacts. This analysis will help to find out how the perception of the same phenomenon is viewed in different cultures, what similarities and differences are presented and how it can be applied to the development of human behavior in anthropology.

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The Background of Societies

India is a state in the South Asia, which is the second most populous country in the world. India was a trade center for ancient civilizations and the cradle for the development of the world religions, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and others. Hence, the variety of religious views in India is wide and even today religion plays a significant role in people’s lives. Religion has a great influence on the society´s division in classes (castes) in India. Four castes that exist in India predetermine duties and rights of those people who belong to one of them. If a person does not belong to any caste, he or she automatically relates to outcastes and has very limited rights and obligations. As a rule, there were those people who have broken a serious law in his/her caste, mentally-changed people or lepers. Every caste has its own privileges in religion; for instance, the supreme caste has a right to visit a temple before other castes and all others could pray only after this caste.

Cherokee occupied the territory of modern Virginia, Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. Cherokee as well as many Native American tribes have the specific social structure which was more relative to the commune rather than to the western or eastern model of society. They did not have the monetary system and committed all trade operations via barter. The absence of money excluded the social division basing on wellbeing, but still there were three main classes which are the chiefs, who rule the tribe, warriors whose main function was war and the protection of people in the tribe, and women who cared about children and home. The Cherokee did not have a God like Christians, Muslims or Buddhists. They believed in the natural powers and lived in harmony with the nature because it gave them everything they needed.

As one can see, the social structure of these two cultures is quite different, despite the fact of the social division which exists in every society. Nevertheless, the religion plays different role in the societies; Indian’s religion is used for the division of the society in castes, while the Cherokee’s religion predetermined people’s behavior and attitude to the nature and each other. More detailed analysis of the religious aspects of these cultures will help to estimate differences and similarities.


Despite the fact that Hinduism does not have the founder of its religion, there are three main gods like Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Shiva (destroyer). All these gods were introduced as humans, but their skin and some other visible features differ from the features of ordinary people; hence, the Hinduism’s gods were humanlike. The Cherokee did not believe in one or a few gods; their religion was based on a belief in natural power. Their main object of worship was the sun; they prayed to the sun asking to make their crops wealthier and their health better. Besides the sun, Cherokee paid special attention to the moon festival every new moon.

The second aspect is the praying and communication with gods/supernatural forces. Indians built temples where they come to pray; if they asked the gods about something, they brought some gifts to them. These gifts consisted mainly of food and money; in this way people wanted to please the gods and provide necessary help. The Cherokee did not use temples; the communication with nature was committed via the fire. They believed that the fire has a connection with the sun and the smoke helps to send a message to it. Hence, if one wanted to speak with the sun, he made a fire and the smoke sent a request or desire to it.

The third aspect is the belief in the life after death. Hinduism has such specific feature of religion as karma, which includes all good and bad actions that a person did during his/her life. After the death, a person arrives in heaven or hell, depending on his/her life. A soul spends some time there, receiving revenues for a moral life or tortures for bad actions. A soul that made many bad actions may be rescued by the gifts provided by its relatives and received a second chance. As a result, a bad soul reborn in a new body and received an opportunity to find the way for self-consciousness. The Cherokee did not believe in reincarnation, they believed in seven heavens for those who behaved well and a bad place full of tortures for those who lived his/her life badly.


Despite the differences, one still may find many aspects that are similar in both cultures. For instance, people of both religions believed that they had to live their lives well or they would be punished after death. However, if they lived their lives according to stoical and moral laws, they would receive revenue after life. Both religions have the specific social caste, which is responsible for serious religious customs and ceremonies; for Cherokee, they are shamans and for the Indians, they are babas.

Indians use meditation as a specific state of mind and body when they want to relax and find answers to their questions. Cherokees also use meditation as a means for trance. However, they use specific smoke to get into this state, but not the body positions like Indians. Nevertheless, both cultures use some mantras which help them to come to the state of full relaxation.

Another specific feature of Cherokee that unites them with the Indian culture is the importance of tribal belonging. As it was mentioned above, the Cherokee lived in tribes which are similar to the Indian division in castes. Every tribe had its own specific religious features, though in general the beliefs of all Cherokees were almost the same. One may outline the similar phenomenon in the Indian culture - religion becomes one of the main features which separate people from different castes.


As a conclusion, it can be said that the absence of contacts between the chosen cultures show that the significant difference exists between Indians and Cherokees. However, these differences are not bigger than the difference between Christianity and Islam, though the last had a very tight connection during the entire history of their existence. The similarities in religious customs and perception of the supernatural forces indicate on the similarities in the human developing perception worldwide. People used religion as the main instrument which helped to regulate the relations in the society. This mechanism of religion was simple; if a person acts well, he/she will receive revenue after life, if he/she behaves badly, he/she will be punished. According to this fact, it can be sad that all religions are similar because they use fear and reward as two main instruments of influence on human behavior. In addition, religion helps to separate people on social groups like castes and tribes. In this way, the division in social classes predetermines the better control over the population.

Despite the beneficial impact of religion on the creation of stable and unite society which is divided according to hierarchy, there are also some disadvantages. For instance, if a person betrays his/her religion or does something that contradicts one of the main religious canons, he/she might lose his/her social status. A person who does not belong to any social class becomes an outcast and social laws and rules do not apply to him/her.

Thus, despite the geographical location and the tight contact or the absence of any contacts at all, one can state that religion develops in the similar way in the introduced cultures. Despite the differences, the main mechanism was the same; it was the introducing of control over the population and establishing the social norms and code of morality.

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