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Human safari

In human safaris, parties of tourists are taken to isolated tribal communities for intrusive and sometimes salacious entertainment. The practice is far from new but the term has become widely known this year as a result of an investigation by Gethin Chamberlain for The Observer, a British Sunday newspaper.

The communities concerned are on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, particularly the Jarawa on the Andaman Islands. The tribe has long resisted external interference, but the building of a major road has opened up their tribal lands to outsiders to devastating effect. Though the Indian government prohibits any contact with the Jawara, including feeding or photographing them, the ban has been ignored and they have been exploited. The appeal for some tourists is their habit of going naked.

Though human safari has been known as a nonce formation for some years (in 2003 The Scotsman described a human safari through Bel Air and Beverly Hills to catch a glimpse of the homes of stars such as Keanu Reeves and Leonardo DiCaprio), the current sense and specific association with the islanders dates to an article of 2008 in another British newspaper, The Telegraph, in which it was said to be a humorous term used by the local tour guides and taxi drivers.

Video footage capturing the daily “human safaris” through the forest home of the islands’ recently contacted Jarawa tribe has provoked worldwide outrage. The footage, in which an off-camera police officer orders partly naked Jarawa women to dance for tourists in return for food, was described in India as a “national disgrace”.

The Observer, 15 Jan. 2012.

A charity has renewed its calls for a boycott of sightseeing tours in the Andaman Islands because, it says, they put the indigenous Jarawa tribe at risk. Survival International describes tours that use the Andaman Trunk Road, which passes through the tribe’s ancestral land, as “human safaris”.

The Telegraph, 1 Oct. 2011.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 18 Feb. 2012

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Last modified: 18 February 2012.