Pros & Cons
of tribal tourism
What positive effects can it have ?
Tribal tourism can have a lot of positive effects. Done sensitively, it can help people learn about and appreciate different ways of life. For indigenous communities, it can facilitate cultural exchange and celebration. And for those that are struggling to maintain their livelihoods and traditions, it’s also a way of educating others about their situation, earning some money and playing an active part in the maintenance of their culture.
And what about the negative aspects ?
Tribal tourism can cause immense damage – and sadly, more often than not, this is the case. There are profound economic, environmental and cultural effects of this kind of tourism, with each usually worsening the other.
These issues are complex, and you should make sure you know what’s going on before participating in any sort of tribal tourism. The Mursi tribe in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley are one example. Following forced resettlements and depletion of the resources on which they depend, they have been forced to use tourism to help make ends meet.
Vehicles full of tourists will arrive in Mursiland, then briefly stop to take photos before heading back. There’s no meaningful exchange, and most Mursi do it grudgingly. Aware that these visitors don’t want to emulate their way of life, to learn about them or to get to know them – they just want an exotic souvenir – this makes many of the Mursi feel frustrated and exploited.
The irony is that many of the Mursi’s adornments aren’t part of how they usually dress or decorate themselves, but have been added to better fit the images tourists have come to expect. It’s hardly an enriching experience for either side.
But what about when it’s a true wilderness experience, not on the tourist trail?
You may come across tour operators promising to show you uncontacted or little-contacted tribes, but this doesn’t mean you’re having a pure, untarnished encounter. In fact, these cases are usually even more damaging; in the worst-case scenario, you could bring diseases which can devastate entire communities. Even if you don’t, you may be diluting their culture, infringing on their land rights and putting yourself in a very dangerous situation.
Often these experiences turn into unsavoury “human safaris”, as with the Jarawa in the Andaman Islands, India. The Andaman Trunk Road cuts through their territory, and despite committing to closing it, the Indian government has not yet acted. The road has opened up the Jarawa reserve to poachers and settlers, but also to tourists.
As well as concrete threats to their livelihood and even lives – there have been reports of Jarawa people being attacked and abused, as well as outbreaks of disease brought by outsiders – visitors sometimes treat the Jarawa like animals rather than humans. Tourists are promised a look at the Jarawa, and some especially unscrupulous tour guides and even policemen have taken bribes for ordering Jarawa to dance for tourists. Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated case.
Are Tribes Gaining or Losing Benefits from Tourism? Are tribes getting the maximum benefit from existing visitor traffic? Is attracting more visitors part of their overall economic development strategy? Are they making as much revenue as possible from those already visiting? Are they creating products to increase those revenues? Are they developing new visitor products that, at the same time, will improve the quality of life for tribal members? Are they conveying a clear, strong sense of the people and place to visitors? Do they have community and tribal leadership support for tourism development? For many tribes, the answers so far are “no.” What resources exist that could help turn this situation around? What can tribes do for themselves to turn the “no” answers into “yes” answers?
Nearly every tribal community tourism success story emphasizes the importance of community involvement from the beginning, before developing new tourism opportunities or attempting to expand existing tourism.
Why is it so important?
Community involvement provides reassurance there is a plan to:
- Protect people, lands and culture from exploitation
- Balance visitor entertainment with well-planned education to break down
- Tell your own story your own way (less reliance on outside sources and more from • tribe)
- Create tourism programs whose benefits flow to tribal people–financial, environmental, social.
Community involvement also helps:
- Accomplish more through volunteers
- Get political/tribal leadership support
- Bring all talents and skills to bear on projects
- Secure outside funding (most funders require it)
Positive Aspects of Tribal Tourism
Tribal tourism can have many positive effects. Done sensitively, it can help people learn about and appreciate different ways of life. For indigenous communities, it can facilitate cultural exchange and celebration. And for those that are struggling to maintain their livelihoods and traditions, it is also a way of educating others about their situation, earning some money and playing an active part in the maintenance of their culture.
Negative Consequences of Tourism
However, studies have reported the consequences of reckless tourist activities in tribal areas. These include exploitation, objectification and humiliation. While tourists are made increasingly aware of the need to consider the environment when they travel, they are rarely informed about their impact on indigenous people.
In the past decade, many tourism companies have mushroomed offering tours in tribal areas that do not take a culturally sensitive and ethical approach to tourism. They run their businesses and do not bother about social consequences. There are profound economic, environmental and cultural effects of this kind of tourism. Some express that tourism is a competitive, resource-hungry industry and by its very nature, exploitative. Many studies highlighted that unbridled tourism has resulted in the worsening quality of life of tribes and tourists are becoming often unwitting collaborators in the exploitation of tribes.
Some disturbing aspects of tourism in Tribal areas are:
- Exhibiting tribes like museum pieces and often being insensitive towards their values and feelings. It is not just the private tourist operators but the government tourism departments are also observed to be indifferent towards the exploitation of tribes.
- Promoting tours by using derogatory terms such as ‘primitive’, and advertising their ‘nakedness’, shows a clear lack of respect.
- Tourism has been a serious threat to tribes as it is leading to non-tribes settling down in the scheduled areas for trade, contracts, establishing entertainment and hotel industries thereby displacing the local tribal communities from their lands and resources.
- Building lodges, restaurants and other such amenities in most cases are by infringing the land rights of tribes and depleting resources like water and forests.
- Their sacred places of worship have been taken over by the government and converted into either tourist spots or religious places of tourism. In some f the places they have been further subcontracted by the Tourism Department to private contractors or companies where tribes including their priests, who were owners of the lands and religious places, are now converted to casual labour. The revenue and incomes from these commercial activities are not shared with the local communities or used for local development activities in the areas.
- Eco-Tourism is also causing destruction of forests for building huge infrastructure such as in Farhanbad, near Mannanur (Srisailam) in the middle of the protected area and in Araku, Borra and Anantagiri (Visakhapatnam). While tribes are prohibited from entering these forests for their survival needs, tourism is being encouraged causing a lot of degradation.
- Increase of alcoholism and environmental pollution are being perilous to the health and livelihoods of tribes.
- Tourism has been forcing tribal women into various forms of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
- Adverse effects of tourism are observed among the tribal youth.
- Tribes feel that they are not in a position to protect themselves, their cultures or their natural resources and the government rather than trying to safeguard their rights, are serving non-tribal and industry interest groups.
- The globalization of tourism threatens indigenous knowledge and intellectual property rights, their cosmovision, technologies, religions, sacred sites, social structures and relationships, wildlife, ecosystems, economies and basic rights to informed understanding — reducing indigenous peoples to simply another consumer product that is quickly becoming exhaustible.