Cannibal Tours

Link to Movie “Cannibal Tours”:
It is an hour long movie but definitely worth watching. Enjoy!

“Cannibal Tours”
I was first introduced to this film in my tourism course this semester and I thought it was applicable to what we are learning about cultures and human beings, bearing some similarities with the other film, “Sights Unseen”. This film, “Cannibal Tours” by Dennis O’Rourke is about rich tourists who travelled on a cruise along Sepik River in Papua New Guinea to interact with the local people. It has impacted me to think about the influence tourists have inflicted on the local villagers and their ways of life as their culture is slowly eroding away because of the intrusion of tourists.

In the film, tourists are interacting with the natives by taking photographs and buying artifacts from them. Tourists have come to seek the exotic “Primitive Other” and experience the authentic and traditional lifestyle but locals feel negatively about their presence because of their bargaining behavior which portrayed them as rich but stingy tourists. With an increasing number of tourists visiting the place, social relationships between the tourists and locals have become commercialized. These rich tourists appear superficial when they use their money to foster these social relations and create a “buy and sell” atmosphere throughout the Sepik, which changes the culture in the region.

Natives know that tourists are rich and able to buy the artifacts from them. This encourages them to try to cater to the needs of tourists by changing their lifestyles to suit the tourists’ expectations and perceptions of them. This results in the dilution of cultures as tourism becomes increasingly institutionalized. Hence, mass tourism has caused cultures to evolve as natives create and recreate their cultures to accommodate the tourists. It is only a matter of time that these locals would lose their individuality as the richness of their culture is reduced.
With the advancement of modern technology and growth of tourism, we have the opportunity to travel and meet people from different cultures. But cultures are always changing because we, as agents make choices of what to reproduce – as shown by the natives in this film who are engaging in a transaction with the tourists as the latter exchanged money for photographs, artifacts and experiences. As a result, these two parties will always remain as a host-guest relationship and there is no genuine interaction between them. Hence in my opinion, with the intervention and intrusion of tourists into natives’ land, their cultures and traditional ways of life would soon disappear completely. So, what can we do to preserve their cultures and at the same time, allow interaction between tourists and locals to learn about each other’s cultures? Perhaps as we tour around native islands like Papua New Guinea, we should move away from being a tourist to becoming more like an anthropologist in which we immerse ourselves entirely into their culture and exchange knowledge between the two parties.

Lutkehaus, Nancy Christine and Dennis O'Rourke
1989 "Excuse Me, Everything Is Not All Right": On Ethnography, Film, and Representation: An Interview with Filmmaker Dennis O'Rourke, Cultural Anthropology 4: 422-437

More pages