[FOUNTAIN]An unequal gift exchangeThe isolated Yanomami, living in the Amazon basin near the Venezuela border, are the last tribe on earth that preserves their indigenous culture. This belligerent tribe maintains its ties with other tribes through trade.
The Yanomami’s tradition of barter is unique. After providing a good, they demand reciprocity in goods, but they do not want immediate return. They accept whatever is the recompense at a later time. During the wait, they visit several other tribes to exchange goods.
For someone not familiar with the Yanomami culture, the goods received from them can be easily mistaken as gifts. But, there is no such thing as a gift among the Yanomami. Almost always they demand in return more than what they gave, according to “Yanomamo: The Last Days of Eden,” written by Napoleon Chagnon.
In studying the culture of the Yanomami, one concludes that giving gifts is contrary to human instinct. As civilization developed, the culture of gift-giving probably took root as those above others in a hierarchy demanded tribute.
Wise men taught us not to expect a gift in return for what we give. Aristotle said the best of us believe that giving a gift is more blessed than receiving one. The Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scriptures, state that a pure gift comes from the heart, with no expectations of anything in return.
Today, we need gifts more than ever. The most beautiful stories are those of hard-earned wealth donated to scholarship funds. These acts of philanthropy stand out for selfless goodwill as a growing number of schools close on Teachers Day to clear up the misunderstanding that part of the observance is presenting gifts to teachers. Such a practice erodes the true meaning of gifts.
Recently, credit card companies began selling gift cards, a sort of debit card. Samsung Card Co. sold 60 billion won ($50 million) worth of gift cards last year, and more card companies are entering the business. The cards come in 50,000 won to 500,000 won denominations; only the name of the purchaser of the card is recorded.
Because the gift cards can be used at any store that accepts credit cards, they are virtually cash. Card companies advertise that the gift cards can be used as allowances for children and gifts for friends. If the companies persist in calling them gifts, the cards are probably best referred to as presents the Yanomami would relish.
by Lee Se-jeong
The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.