Most tourists travel with the intention of soaking up as much culture as possible from their destination. From going to galleries and visiting famous landmarks, there are many ways to explore a new country and get a feel for its culture. However, a more controversial way to experience a country’s diverse heritage is to go on a ‘human safari’, a trip that takes tourists around remote areas inhabited by tribal people.
In 2012 the Observer released an article that exposed these ‘human safaris’ as shocking and exploitative. Whilst these tours bring in a lot of money to a country’s economy, activists argue that the impact of diseases and invasion of tribal homes, is simply not acceptable. The release of a video showing semi-naked women and children from the Jarawa tribe being pressured into dancing for the tourists brought outrage to many and the issue of ‘human safaris’ into the limelight. Stephen Corry from Survival International, discusses the disrespectful nature of these tours in his campaigns on behalf of tribal people. He says, ‘tribes are not cultural relics nor should they be treated like animals in a zoo… promoting tours by using derogatory terms such as ‘primitive’ and advertising their nakedness shows a clear lack of respect.’
Theses tours have been going on for many years, yet the negative press they have had recently has shed a whole new light on these controversial safaris. One of the most talked about tours of late is the Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands in India. In 2013 India’s Supreme Court banned the use of the road that runs from Port Blair to middle Andaman and the North Andaman Islands, running through the middle of the Jarawa tribe.
It was argued by the Andaman authorities that the road was essential for connecting the capital, Port Blair, with these Islands, allowing for those living on the far side to access medical services quickly. For this reason, the Andaman authorities have refused to close the road even though the use of the road has been banned and its constant use by tour buses has brought their justification of the road into question. As a result, these tours still continue to run daily which means that during the peak tourist season it is estimated around five hundred people use the road every day. However, progress is being made to deter tribal tours that are sold in an ‘obscene manner’ the national government of India has said. Three tour operators have been charged and two men face up to seven years in jail if they are convicted.
Yet, some argue that it cannot be down to the country itself to prevent these tours from occurring, but that tourists need to be warned against them and look for tours that seek to benefit the tribes not exploit them. One question that is echoed frequently regarding the issue is ‘do the tribe want me to visit them?’ Indeed, this question should be on the forefront of any traveler who desires an ethical cultural experience. In this sense it seems more ethical to participate on tours that the tribe themselves have provided consent for, or even organized. It is with this in mind, that whilst ‘human safaris’ offer a chance to see a completely different way of life, one should actively seek other ways to explore culture on a holiday. Learning a language abroad or enjoying homestays are all excellent alternatives that should be considered in order to avoid ‘human safaris’.