Human Safaris: Unethical Adventures?

Yesterday, when I was reading the news, an article that got my attention was Human safaris may be banned, but still tourists flock to Andaman Islands  The Guardian (From the article … “There is widespread agreement that this volume of interference with the Jarawa’s nomadic, largely insular existence can only hasten their demise.”)

Humm… Human safaris, I had heard that term before – and actually, I might have been a part of this bunch of tourists trying to learn from indigenous tribes, visiting their towns and paying a few dollars in order to “get immersed in their culture as they live in their natural habitat”. Wait, I thought that was different, wasn’t that called “ethno-tourism”?

I’ve been scammed in the past. When I went to South Africa, a local friend was trying to get  me understand and see what Zulu people lived like today. After driving for hours, we ended up in a very fancy hotel on the outskirts of Durban, where we entered to a park and observed a couple dances with many people holding cameras, feeling true explorers, even when everything felt so plastic. It was a show.

Zulu dance. Durban, South Africa. Dec 2011
Zulu dance. Durban, South Africa. Dec 2011

On the other hand, in my home country, Mexico, it is common to visit indigenous communities in southern states, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas. Tourists visit their real communities, eat their traditional food in their homes and even observe how they make the crafts they sell. Tourists often buy what they sell, since they feel attached as they observed the making process. Indigenous people that manage these businesses generate benefits for the community, as all the money that enters, stays there.

Then I continued asking myself, where is the delicate line that separates rural/adventure tourism from human safaris? What is the main difference?

From my perspective, the problem comes when other people and not indigenous communities get more revenues from these tours. When tourists know this and continue with their visits. It becomes an unethical choice when visitors go on safaris looking for these tribes, making local people feel uncomfortable, at risk. Or even worst, when visitors threaten their survival, just like the Jawara tribe.

I would like to know what my readers think of this topic…

(Andrea Arzaba, September 2012)

2 thoughts on “Human Safaris: Unethical Adventures?

  1. As you know, I’m on the fence with this topic: I don’t like looking at people as if they were an exhibit at a zoo or museum. These kinds of “come see how I live” tours make me uncomfortable on a persona level, but for some communities who run these ventures, it is helping them preserve their customs, as the young people in the tribes notice that who they are and what they do is considered interesting, worthwhile and worth paying to see by outsiders, and thus “cooler”, they also start taking pride in their heritage and culture. Still, I think it is not the type of tourism I enjoy myself.

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