Tribal Tourism and The Pull Toward It


Tribal Tourism, otherwise known as Ethno-tourism or Ethnic Tourism, is where tribal communities allow tourists to visit their villages. This the tourists do for the purpose of being exposed to a culture that differs vastly from their own. Benefitting from this imparting of knowledge are the tribes that are sought after by the tourists as it sheds light on the indigenous people and their challenges faced. Financial opportunities are also a benefit of this type of tourism as the monetary gains are experienced by more than one tribe. Embarked on for recreational and educational purposes; for some, Tribal Tourism is purely voyeuristic as the foreigners are interested in seeing people that greatly differ from them in both way of life and looks. It sits quite comfortably under the umbrella of Cultural Tourism which is the act of travelers visiting particular destinations in order to experience and learn about a particular culture. It can also be a tourist’s cultural immersion with the local people, their language, customs, cuisine etc. Cultural tourism is not a new concept. According to the literature, as far back as the 16th century, the sons of nobility were sent on European tours to experience the remains of classical antiquity, among other experiences intended to make them more knowledgeable about the world.  


The pull toward Tribal Tourism is understandable, especially its educational aspect. Couple that with travel and you’ve got yourself an interesting trip with an all-around authentic and very memorable experience with indigenous tribes. The thing is, an astonishing amount of people find the ancient ways of life quite fascinating, some even see it as having romantic appeal. Responsible Travel says that “In today’s world of concrete, supermarkets, fashions, celebrity culture, stressful jobs and lack of community spirit, the ideal of people living together close to nature in the same way that they have for centuries is extremely appealing. For many, there is nothing like bridging centuries of modern development and making a connection with people whose lives are so very different from our own. And those of us privileged enough to have visited, and listened properly, will have discovered that traditional communities often have far more to teach us about our society and our lives than we can teach them about our world.”  Ethnic Tourism is also a helping hand in cultural exposure as it can facilitate both a cultural exchange and celebration. For those experiencing a tough time and evidently struggling to maintain their livelihoods and traditions, this tourism type it is also a way of educating tourists about life in the tribe, a way of earning some money and just a general way of playing an active part in the maintenance of their culture. 


Like most things in life, there’s both a good and bad side. The good that comes out of Tribal Tourism includes knowledge gained about the tribes sought after by eager tourists. Tribal Tourism lends a hand in the creation of jobs and provides economic independence to the tribal population in any region. It is also a unique way of restoring the culture of the region. Some would argue that tourists being exposed to tribal culture and being granted access to the everyday runnings of indigenous life,  has produced negative effects. According to Tribal Tours India, negative aspects can include “unsavory 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. In addition to the obvious concrete threats to their livelihood and even lives – there have been reports of Jarawa people being attacked and abused, as well as outbreaks of diseases 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. 


Across the world, you can find ethnic pockets of people, some of whom subscribe to voluntary isolation. Their dwelling grounds are scattered worldwide in isolated patches; however, they stick out prominently as “pockets of human civilization that haven’t evolved over time.” As frequently observed, once a tribe has set up shop, you can expect a jungle close by or even surrounding it. In fact, it is their preference to stay close to nature. To be noted is that the lure of a modern civilization doesn’t have much impact on them, which can be chalked up to two things: Genuine shyness, fear or heavy suspicions about society today i.e our buildings and technology, or they simply possess no interest in anything that threatens their level of comfort.  

Tourists with a penchant for the way different tribes get along and live can check out the following destinations that are Tribal Tourism friendly: tribes in East Africa in places such as Tanzania which is home to 120 tribes, and Kenya. Papua NewGuinea, the Andaman and Nicobar islands (India) which the Sentinelese people made their home for over 60,000 years. North East India which has been touted as a prime place for Tribal Tourism, Borneo, the Amazon, Odisha, Myanmar and South Africa.


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