The trend of adventure travel is evolving in recent years from the pure search for adrenaline to inner transformation, learning about other cultures and experiences that fill the soul. Indigenous tourism, also known as ethnic or tribal tourism, is a particularly rapid growth trend.
For people like me, who have had the immense luck of living this type of travels and experiencing a significant interaction with other cultures, these tours have been impressively rewarding.
However, with the rapid increase in travelers in recent years, it is important to define how to make visits to indigenous tribes ethical so that they become positive consequences for the preservation of lifestyles, native traditions and their economical sustainability.
First of all, indigenous tourism travelers should be aware that their commitment to local communities must be genuine and, no matter if the experience lasts one or more days, they should make a true cultural immersion instead of simply making specific stops in the native villages just to take some photos as if it were a human zoo.
In fact, on my trip to Namibia to visit the extraordinary Himba tribe, I understood firsthand the great importance of making an effort to leave a positive impact on their community and how the way you approach and treat the natives becomes a life-changing experience for them too.
After four days of travel through one the most amazing and diverse landscapes on earth, our group camped in tents next to a small Himba village, located in Himbaland in northern Namibia, very close to the border with Angola. From the first moment, we mixed with the locals and showed them our interest in learning their culture and traditions, as well as letting them know that we would love to tell them about our way of life if they were interested. The experience was even more amazing than we thought. For three days, each of us became friends with different members of the community. While some of us learned to extract water for consumption, others learned to make crafts, to use mud to cover our faces, to care for cattle. But not only that, we were able to establish sincere dialogues on how we think about transcendental issues such as education, religion, climate change or marriage, and all this from deep respect and mutual admiration.
We also had time to celebrate together, organize firelight dinners and perform traditional dances. We taught each other how we dance, how we cook, and even how we have fun!
And with that confidence they told us that until the moment we arrived they had a very different impression of foreigners. They saw them as people without empathy and disrespectful who just wanted to take pictures and did not even approach them to have a simple friendly conversation.
What is the difference between the impact of our trip and those of other travelers?
Clearly, we reaffirmed to them the importance of their traditions and their way of thinking. We made them realize that we are equal and at the same time that our differences make us unique. They learned how rewarding is respectful intercultural exchange. But, above all, our visit was a real economic impact for them. The simple fact of paying for the goats we shared, bringing them basic food or buying their handicrafts was a great help and a hope for them to find a new way to make a living. Logically, a single group of tourists will not change their lives, but if it becomes a controlled flow, they could find a sustainable way of life that will take them out of poverty, help them have access to decent health and many other positive effects to their daily life.
When someone raises the dilemma of whether visiting indigenous tribes can help them or contribute to their exploitation, we should think that in many communities the only alternative for locals to make a living is usually labor-intensive agriculture or depending on the government and NGOs -and when this happens in countries affected by extreme poverty or climate change, this is no longer even possible-. I would say to them that "doing the right thing" is traveling with operators who follow a strict code of conduct as Nomadic Tribe and its partners on destination. In this way they ensure that payments go directly to the indigenous peoples and their trips are ethical, responsible, a true cultural immersion and most likely a unique and memorable experience for the traveler and the indigenous community.
Photos: Javier Salinas Copyright: Nomadic Tribe