Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 40 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Cows, owls, dogs and cultural context matters


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 40 seconds

So this make cycle of clmooc is about creating memes. I hadn’t really heard of the term before, but they explained it pretty well and linked to this cool infographic that explains what it is pretty well.

My good friend & colleague Shyam Sharma (and co-founder of EdConteXts) wrote a brilliant blogpost highlighting, among other things, how using the “owl” as a symbol in a meme can be problematic. It has the cultural connotation of wisdom in North America, but symbolized evil and even death in other cultures.

No one ever claimed that memes are not culturally specific. In fact, they make very little sense outside their cultural context.

But I thought I’d take Shyam’s lead and talk about different cultural connotations of animals. He already talked about owls. I’ll talk about cows, dogs, pigs, pigeons, and spiders! Oh, and I’ll put in a good word for the non-animal, rhizome 🙂

We all know cows have a special (sacred?) place in India (I do not presume to know the details of this) while they are raised for food in other countries. In both Arabic and English, calling a woman a “cow” is an insult. In Arabic it has connotations of overweight and stupid, in English I think it’s more than that. Funny enough, the English expression “holy cow” revokes in me a story in the Quran (which may have a biblical equivalent since it involves the Jewish people). The story is told in the longest chapter in the Quran which is actually named “The Cow”. It is of a special cow that the Jews were told to find and slaughter, in order to use its tail (or some such), which awakened a young boy from the dead in order for him to say who murdered him (or some such thing). Eerie stuff. Anyway, this story does not make Muslims respect cows in any special way or anything…

Dog is man’s best friend, right? Loyal, loving, intelligent… I loooove dogs. I fail to understand why, then, the female dog, the b$@ch is a swear word. Ok, i do understand, sort of, in terms of behavior, but really, a female dog is as loyal as a male dog to her human owner, right? Lots of folks have usernames with the word dog (as i have been noticing recently), each with a different story. But of course no serious woman would name herself a b$@ch as a username. Hmm. No fair.
Of course, in the Muslim world, dogs are less highly placed. People still own dogs and many people love dogs. However, there is this thing about having to wash well after touching a dog or coming in contact with its saliva, that its saliva makes one unclean to pray. It’s not a big deal for the most part (I mean, it’s more hygienic to wash your hands after touching any animal, right?), but some people take it to the extreme of not allowing dogs into any place they are (not just places of prayer) and never touching them whatsoever. Many people are afraid of dogs without ever having been bitten by them or anything.
Then there are people who eat dogs. And that’s revolting to those of us who love them as pets.

People eat pigeon in Egypt. I know they do elsewhere, too, but I was in France once and a Frenchwoman told me they considered them unclean (unsure how widespread that sentiment is). I, for one, love my pigeons alive and cannot eat them because I like them alive 🙂

This is an obvious one, since most people know Muslims (and Orthodox Jews) do not eat pork and consider them unclean. I remember as a child growing up in a British school in Kuwait that the word ‘pig’ was blacked out from all our library books. I always thought this was ridiculous, because, you know, just because we aren’t gonna eat it, does not mean it does not exist! It’s not like reading the word is a sin or anything. This means, though, that I missed on some really cute nursery rhymes like “This little piggy” which my daughter loves. She also loves her “piglet” stuffed toy. Egypt is much less silly about these things, and we have enough of a Christian population and enough tourists that this is not even an issue.

There’s another nursery rhyme, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and I wrote a few weeks ago about how the English seem to not consider spiders unclean. Then again, there are negative connotations associated with the black widow spider. But interestingly, though we hate spiders where I come from, there is a chapter in the Quran named “the Spider” (which refers to a female spider’s home being the weakest, most vulnerable of all homes, and uses it as a metaphor). There is also a story of a spider that built a web in a way that ended up protecting the prophet Muhammad. You’d think Muslims would be nicer to spiders, but no takers 🙂

ANa, this one’s too easy. Most garden rhizomes are, apparently, annoyingly unkillable and pop up again to spoil your garden. On the other hand, when we talk about rhizomes as in rhizomatic learning, we mean it in the best way possible (to us anyway!). Ok, i cheated on this one 🙂

[i know, this was a blogpost screaming to have images on it, but no time to find images, must do some work; have posted some meme images on twitter though].

Added later (I finally got around to creating a graphic for this post using PiktoChart  see below)

Animals in Context


  1. Pingback: Make Cycle #2: Reflections and Connections — #clmooc

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