Monday, August 24, 2009

Jarawa tribe under threat

Members of Jarawa tribe

Please note I have added another post regarding the current human safari disgrace facing the Jarawa Tribe here

Original post

We have it tough but others have it tougher.

"When the Jarawa tribe of hunter-gatherers began to emerge in ones and twos from the dense rainforests of the Andaman islands in 1997, it seemed that these mysterious, handsome people only wanted to take a brief look at the modern world and would soon return to the trees.

The majority of the Jarawa, thought to number about 250 people, remain deep in the forests, but some have learned bits of Hindi and regularly visit the port, the hospital or market place, says Sophie Grig, a researcher at human rights organisation Survival International who has visited the Andamans several times.

Integration has been partial and more or less at the Jarawa's own pace and volition. But now comes a threat that some anthropologists say could lead to the extinction of a tribe that has lived in isolation for millennia.

Barefoot India, a major Indian travel company, has just won a high court case that will allow it to build an eco-resort at Collipur, close to the designated Jarawa reserve. Other hotels are expected to follow."

Eco-cultural tourism - it makes sense but what about the experience from indigenous people overseas. What do maori have to watch out for?

"There are perhaps 100 indigenous communities around the world that have chosen to live in complete isolation, but the frontiers of tourism are being pushed ever forward by cheap flights and an appetite for extreme ethno-tourism fuelled by the natural instinct of man to be curious about other people.

The Jarawa are peculiarly at risk because they live so close to a holiday resort, but dozens of other extremely remote groups are also in danger. In the West Papua province of Indonesia, US expatriate Kelly Woolford of Papua Adventures offers - for $7,000-$10,000 - to take tourists and camera crews deep into the forests of the Mamberamo and Baliem valleys, where he says they are quite likely to meet "stone age" tribes.

Papua Adventures does not guarantee "encounters", but its "first contact" trek is advertised as a "full-on exploration" in areas where previously contact-free tribes are known to live.

Groups regularly stumble across tribespeople who appear to threaten them with bows and arrows, but who then disappear. Anthropologists and others who have seen photographs have accused Woolford of setting up these encounters, but he insists that the meetings are all by chance.

"Tourism can be a useful source of income, but most people would say it's pretty bad news for the local people," says anthropologist David Turton.

Turton has spent 40 years among the semi-nomadic Mursi in the Omo valley in southern Ethiopia, where some women have had their lower lip pierced and stretched so that a clay plate can be inserted. With the prospect of a giant dam flooding much of their lands, the tribe has enough problems, but it has been exploited by tourism now for 20 years.

Tour companies have presented the Mursi as the most primitive and wild people and the Mursi are fully aware they are being singled out as savages. The tourists arrive in four-wheel drive vehicles and the Mursi gather around them, asking for money in return for being photographed.

Turton has asked the Mursi what they think of these people, who only seem to want their photographs. He recorded this conversation in 1991:

Bio-iton-giga: "Why do they do it? Do they want us to become their children, or what? What do they want the photographs for?"

Turton: "They come because they see you as different and strange people. They go back home and tell their friends that they've been on a long trip, to Mursiland. They say, 'Look, here are the people we saw.' They do it for entertainment."

Komor-a-kora: "We said to each other, 'Are we here just for their amusement?' "

"They conclude that white people are thieves. The relationship is similar to prostitution," says Turton. "The Mursi know they are looked down on. But to them the encounter is a commercial transaction. They are short of everything and cash is important."

These days, tribes are regularly diminished in the name of economic advancement. The refugee Burmese Kayan women in Thailand, who wear brass coils round their necks, each year attract thousands of tourists, who pay to visit them in their camps. Their communities are disintegrating as alcoholic dependency grows.

Governments also act inhumanely to encourage tourism. The Botswana government is putting out to tender for safari companies to build lodges with bore holes in the central Kalahari game reserve at the same time that the Bushmen - who have lived there for millennia - are forbidden to even use the existing ones. One safari lodge will have a water hole less than a mile from the Bushmen, who will be made to walk hundreds of miles to collect water.

The worst destruction of indigenous groups is often invisible, done by governments and the tourism industry exploiting tribal groups for their land. "Indigenous peoples are often removed from their ancestral lands to make way for tourist developments or to create national parks where animals take precedence over people," says Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern.

But above all, land everywhere is being claimed at the expense of indigenous people for the construction of hotels and golf courses, and for the creation of national parks and reserves.

Successful ventures, such as with the Akha hill tribe in Thailand, Aboriginal cultural tours in Australia, the Garifuna tourism group in Honduras and the Il Ngwesi Lodge in Kenya, which is 100% owned by local Maasai, are invariably grassroots-led and community-based.

Grassroots led - let's call it flaxroots, and community-based. That is the answer to the exploitation of indigenous people and the successful development of ecocultural tourism.


Edward said...

Interesting post, this eco-cultural tourism has been going on for a long time, but this seems a step up in the wrong direction. The analogy of the relationship between middle-class white tourists and indigenous peoples as similar to prostitution seems, unfortunately, a fiting one. Expolitation of this kind is disturbing to say the least.

However, as you say eco-cultural tourism need not necessarily be like this, if the power is shifted to community-led indigenous organisations themselves. Short of that, I think it should be an offense to drag tourists through the jungle to make a quick buck off the people who occupy it.

I would also add that in NZ, there has been a movement (in my opinion at least) towards recognition of Maori ownership of Maori culture, but I don't think it has gone far enough, insofar as there is much profit made on Maori culture by the tourism industry at the expense of the people themselves. Ownership/stealing of cultural identity I guess you might call it?

Marty Mars said...

Kia ora Edward - nice points.

I have always seen ecocultural tourism as the answer to building communities and empowering maori, but this article has made me think about it again. I still think it is the way to go but we have to protect against exploitation and the 'entertainment' approach. Perhaps the best way to protect against this is to allow maori to develop these initiatives. There will be mistakes and errors but overall we will get something that can work because it has been made to work by maori. This doesn't mean that other people can't be involved, we need them to be but as secondary partners please.

it does seem to be an unfortunate aspect of colonisation that when others come and live here they bring their own baggage, which they transplant here, thus nuliffying the unique aspects of this place. We take people to wilderness, they impact upon that wilderness and before you know it - no more wilderness left.

Big dilemma. But a good one to work on.