Of Cannibals, Tourists, and Ethnographers

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

In what he calls imperialist nostalgia, Rosaldo (1989) notes that colonialism frequently yearns for the "traditional" culture, the very culture that the colonialists have intentionally altered or destroyed. But it is precisely this traditional culture that the tourists come to see, and as it no longer exists, the culture must be reconstructed for them. Tourists long for the pastoral, for their origins, for the unpolluted, the pure, and the original (Bruner1989), and in New Guinea they see themselves as exploring the forest primeval. The irony is that tourism seeks and occupies the ethnographic present, the very discursive space that colonialism mourns for and that ethnography has long since abandoned. Much as we may try to deny or evade it, colonialism, ethnography, and tourism have much in common, as they were born together and are relatives (Crick 1985; Graburn 1983). Colonialism, ethnography, and tourism occur at different historical periods but arise from the same social formation, and are variant forms of expansionism occupying the space opened up by extensions of power. From the perspective of ethnography, tourism is an illegitimate child, a disgraceful simplification, and an impostor (de Certeau 1984:143), and we strive to distinguish ethnography from tourism, for tourism is an assault on our authority and privileged position as ethnographers. Although for us tourism is an embarrassment, from the perspective of native peoples who are sometimes confused by the social distinctions that are apparently so important to us, what we label as colonialism, ethnography, and tourism are experienced in a comparable manner. The colonialist, the ethnographer, and the tourist are similarly foreigners with great wealth and power who have come to New Guinea, each with their own particular demands and idiosyncratic requirements. To the native peoples, we are the Other.

This brings us to the most recent of these foreign visitors to New Guinea, the German, Italian, and American tourists and the one who represents them, the Australian filmmaker Dennis O'Rourke. (Bruner, 439)

About the Author

Edward M. Bruner, is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "In all of my research since the late 1940s there has been a continuity of focus on encounters, change, mobility, and process. In my dissertation (1954) I studied Native Americans: why and how they changed, why some individuals changed more than others, who left the reservation for the city, and which aspects of culture were more persistent. In 1957 I began fieldwork in an Indonesian village among the Toba Batak of Sumatra, studying kinship, change, and urbanization in the city of Medan. My last visit to Sumatra was in 1997.For me cultures were never static, enclosed, integrated entities but were always in process; we all enter society in the middle. Persons have active selves and select among alternative courses of action. With Victor Turner and other colleagues in the early 1980s we broke with previous anthropological paradigms in two edited volumes, The Anthropology of Experience and Text, Play and Story. Both books showed how the emerging postmodern perspective actually worked in ethnographic practice. At about the same time in the early 1980s I developed a deeper appreciation of the concept of performance and a continuing interest in narrativity and story telling. While leading a traveling study abroad program in 1983-1984, I realized that although I was an anthropologist, I encountered tourists, backpackers, and locals at every site visited. I began a systematic series of studies of tourist performances in Kenya, Ghana, Lincoln’s New Salem, Masada, Bali, and an Indonesian theme park in Jakarta. This work culminated in a 2005 book, Culture on Tour."

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