When travelling, we can easily become overwhelmed by the beautiful sights and become tempted to get as close to them as possible in order to experience them as fully as we can. While you may wish to touch, climb, go inside certain landmarks, it is more important to be aware of the history of these places and their significance to indigenous people.
It’s a clichéd phrase that we associate mostly with shopping, but ‘look, don’t touch’ is an important thing to remember when it comes to visiting certain landmarks. It is possible to have a fulfilling travelling experience whilst doing so respectfully and thinking about where we are and the meaning of beautiful landmarks we travel so far to see.
There are many ways people travel disrespectfully, from violating landmarks to violating indigenous people themselves. These are some key examples of how travelling can be done wrong and how you can be a more respectful and conscious traveller.
When you think of Australia, one of the key landmarks that probably comes to mind is Uluru, more commonly known as Ayers Rock, named by William Gosse in 1872 when he ‘discovered’ it. Uluru is in fact the Aboriginal name for the rock itself and the country where it sits, as named by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara people who have lived there for over 10,000 years. Despite their long history there, Uluru was officially known as Ayers Rock until the 15th December 1993 when it was given a dual name. There is a long history of disrespect surrounding Uluru, from colonisation to modern day beliefs that spread myths about the meaning of the name. If you go on a tour to Uluru you may be told that the name means ‘island mountain’ among other things. These are in fact false as there is no specific meaning to the name Uluru. Not only this, but despite the wishes of the Aboriginal people that tourists do not climb Uluru – there is even a sign at the site stating this – they continue to do so.
This all changed on the 26th October when a ban came into force meaning it was no longer legal for people to climb Uluru. Yet, when this ban and the reasons behind it were announced, a flurry of tourists came to climb the rock before the ban came into effect. Uluru has a great significance to the Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara people who still live there today. For them it is a sacred site, and tourists have blatantly ignored their protests for years and disrespected the site. Not only do they climb the site, which causes erosion, but they leave litter too. You do not have to climb Uluru to experience and understand it. If you ever get the chance to visit Uluru, appreciate the magnificent site, think about the history behind it and the significance to the aboriginal people who call it home. This does not ruin your experience; in fact it will enhance it by giving you a deeper understanding of what you’re actually experiencing.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Travelling disrespect doesn’t just come from climbing on or touching landmarks but our actions while we are there too. Machu Picchu was built in 1450, and in 1911 when it was ‘discovered’, the native Quechua people were living there. Similar to Uluru, Machu Picchu has a history of white colonisation and disrespect, such as looting and excavations and making the world aware of its existence, leading to the city becoming a popular travel destination. The popularity of Machu Picchu as a tourist hotspot leads to erosion and litter. For the indigenous people who live there the city has cultural and religious significance, as well as being a burial site for their dead. For the Quechua people, it’s not the fact that people visit Machu Picchu that is the problem, but how they act. Erosion and litter aren’t the only issues surrounding tourism at this site- in the past few years Machu Picchu has seen many people strip as part of the ‘naked tourism’ trend. The admission tickets now include specific rules banning nudity. Stripping at any public place, especially one that has such historical significance for the indigenous people who live there is greatly disrespectful. Although it is a small minority that do so, it is important when travelling to be aware of how you present yourself and how your actions might upset those for whom the sites are so important.
The disrespect for indigenous people from Western tourists in particular isn’t just towards the places but the people themselves. Ethno-tourism is supposedly aims to help tourists to learn more about indigenous people, but what it often does is exploit them. There is nothing wrong with the intention to learn more about another culture. When travelling in this respect it is very important to consider how you go about it. Some companies try to promote the view that indigenous people are ‘savages’ and there are companies that let you take pictures of indigenous people, but only at a cost. Actions like this exploit the indigenous people and make them seem more like zoo animals. This makes them feel dehumanised, and understandably so. Although you may wish to learn more about other cultures, it is more important to realise that just because indigenous people are different to you and lead different lives, they are not picture-proof of your ‘exotic holiday’.