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The Impact of Human Safaris

by Madhav Srinivasan 1757 days ago

The ethical and moral implication of showcasing tribal communities for the purpose of tourism has often given rise to fierce controversy.Should these communities be made to expose their culture and lifestyle in return for money? The arguments are intense.

Human safaris basically refers to the practice of organizing tourist expeditions to areas inhabited by cut-off and isolated communities. The focus of these expeditions is the ethnic people and their lifestyle. There have been strong protests registered by various human rights and ethical groups over human safaris. The issue became the topic of fierce debate when it was revealed that tour organizers to the Andaman and Nicobar islands offered money to tribals living in the dense forests to perform their traditional dance for tourists. 




Reports also indicate that every often tour operators try and incite tourists to these human safaris by offering titillating accounts of the experience awaiting them. An article published in the Guardian, UK quotes extensively from brochures published by various tribal companies. Some of the brochures make for shocking reading. For example, the Guardian has republished an excerpt from a travel brochure exhorting people to take a tour to see the Bonda tribals in Orissa states, “The scanty dress of the Bonda women and the homicidal tendency of the Bonda males make them the most fascinating people.” Yet another brochure claims that the agency would show tourists “The lifestyle of tattooed, heavily beaded, nearly naked tribal people, their day to day activity and their extremely primitive way of living.”


Human rights activists and non-government organizations working for the welfare of the tribals have flayed the practice of human safaris. The main argument is that by asking tribals to dance and sing for the amusement of tourists is reducing them to a sub-human level. Such tours are against the very concept of human dignity.

There is also a danger that the exposure can do incalculable harm to the tribal’s lifestyle as well as their health. There have been instances when entire isolated communities have been totally wiped out once they were exposed to “outsiders” and “outside influences.” Continuing with the examples of the Andaman and Nicobar tribes, experts quote the example of the Great Andamanese. The tribe which numbered 3000 was wiped out once their traditional lands were encroached upon by timber companies. In fact, studies indicate that it is communities who fiercely protect their isolation who continue to survive.

The human safaris also pose a health hazard for the tribals. These areas have no medical facilities and the tribals are not immunized against diseases like measles and mumps. As a result, exposure to such diseases from the tourists who come to see them could result in serious health problems for the tribals.

But there is the other side of the coin too. There are critics who flay the policy of isolation that ensures that the tribals will continue with the present lifestyle. Their argument is that it is not right to deny the benefits of modern living to the tribals. The state or human right organizations, they claim, cannot decide how the tribals will live. If the tribals wish to make contact with the outside world and earn money by exhibiting their traditional skills, they cannot be deprived of this right. The choice about what kind of lifestyle they should lead should be a decision made by the tribals themselves.


Perhaps the best way to avoid the demeaning aspects of the human safari would be up to the tourists themselves. People visiting such areas should be sensitive enough to ensure that the dignity of the tribals is maintained and that there is no exploitation.

 

Human safaris basically refers to the practice of organizing tourist expeditions to areas inhabited by cut-off and isolated communities. The focus of these expeditions is the ethnic people and their lifestyle. There have been strong protests registered by various human rights and ethical groups over human safaris. The issue became the topic of fierce debate when it was revealed that tour organizers to the Andaman and Nicobar islands offered money to tribals living in the dense forests to perform their traditional dance for tourists. 

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