Universiteit van amsterdam opleiding antropologie en sociologie der niet-westerse samenlevingen



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Living like an American

Exposure to tourism also has its social and cultural influences on local societies, for instance in the form of people's goals and opportunities (Abbink 2000, Beek 2003). If the local people living near the Tsavos and the Mara would have to tell in one sentence what they want, many of them would refer to a life similar as they perceive that it would be in America. Most of the people adore the United States, which is worshipped as the symbol of Western wealth, where there is no place for poverty or shortages and where consumption, opportunities, wisdom, honesty, civilization and democracy prevail.193 When I visit his compound, assistant chief Naurori proudly compares some of the features of his house to those of Americans, and asserts that in Kenya there are many resources, but that the problem is lack of management: ‘Otherwise we could live like an American’.194

What people want in the first place are means to secure and develop their livelihoods (see also KWS 1994: 2). Landownership is mentioned as most important for the local people living around Tsavo and the Mara. Second come infrastructure and facilities that in first instance would normally be supplied or facilitated for by the state: Good roads and public transport to travel them, clean piped water or facilities to catch rain water, better housing, electricity to run lights en radios, telephone network, good education and work. Ultimately, especially in the more exposed areas, Western style goods are valued highly, for their usefulness as well as status symbols. This ranges from shoes to Western style suits, from television to computers and from cars to watches.

Ironically, it seems as if the wealth of the goods and images the local people in areas of international tourism are exposed too, are often more difficult to reach because of the close proximity of tourism. The local people of the Tsavo and Mara areas feel that ‘[t]ourism makes a lot of money, yet we do not see that money.’195 Dennis Ole Mako, Maasai and secretary of Koiyaki Landowners Conservation Association and secretary of the Narok Wildlife Forum complains about billions of revenue the government receives from tourism. While ‘our roads are the poorest, our schools are the poorest.’ However, knowing the Taita area also well he says: ‘The people in Taita-Taveta are more oppressed than us, at least we are getting something here.’196

The local experience that ‘[t]he areas where tourism is good are the same areas where poverty is high.’197 is not only based upon the relative poverty people feel when they compare their own situations with the wealth of tourists and tourist facilities they encounter, but is also supported up to a certain extend by statistics on poverty and development. Although the poorest areas in Kenya are generally remote and receiving little visitors, the areas with high tourist profiles such as the Coast districts, Taita-Taveta, Narok and TransMara score below Kenyan average on many and important issues (UNDP 2005). Sinclair concludes 'that tourism is neither a cheap nor generally beneficial option for residents of developing countries' (1998: 40). What are the reasons?
Tourism as a local burden

The Taita and the Maasai experience an increased competition for resources due to tourism. A good example is the water of Mzima springs being used for wildlife, to fill the swimming pools of local tourism businesses and to pipe to the tourist beach destination Mombasa, while local people have a huge lack of (clean) drinking water. Also the land availability for local people is limited due to the success of conservation initiatives and tourism. For the growing populations of the Taita as well as the Maasai, landownership is very important to secure and develop reliable livelihoods. However, when looking at Taita (see map 1.3 and 1.5) one can see that the people are surrounded on all sides by protected areas. Hosting Tsavo, by far the largest national park of Kenya, several sanctuaries and 25 gazetted forests, Taita-Taveta province consists for circa 70% of areas which are reserved solely for wildlife (Njogu 2003: 104-116). With the little land for the local people to make a living on being divided among an ever growing population, local people continue to be encouraged by the KWS and conservation NGOs to reserve more land for wildlife.

In Maasailand the formerly communally owned group ranches are in the process or finished being subdivided and allocated, and many people now have a title deed to a piece of land on which they now live (Lamprey & Reid 2004). Some people earn a good amount of money from selling, or more popularly, subletting their land, especially if a large tourist camp lets its eye fall on the place.198 When a Maasai owns a considerable stretch of land in one of the joint conservancies this can also mean a good addition to the family-income. However, many feel that agriculture has more benefit' but have stopped farming ‘because of the expenses'199 induced by wildlife. This is supported by calculations made by Norton-Griffiths (1995, 2006) and Lamprey and Reid, who calculate that for the Mara area, income from livestock is about US$ 5-13 per ha per year, tourism generates US$ 10 per ha for the local people each year, while small scale cultivation would produce a yearly income of US$ 50-120 per ha, or more (2004: 999, 1023, 1025).

In general the informants in the Mara area do not support more land for conservancies because it would mean less land for them to graze their cows on and to use for cultivation. However, a lot of families have been evicted and continue to be evicted from their homes to make room for more conservancy areas. In Olare Orok as well as Koiyaki-Lemek Wildlife Trust, the families that still remain are pressured highly to leave their homes, even though they sometimes hold the title deed to their land.200 The push to reserve increasing amounts of land near protected areas solely for wildlife is great. Studies have concluded that the (former) groupranches surrounding the Mara are vital for the survival of wildlife. In addition tourism is doing well and changes in land ownership systems, land-use and population growth could threaten the wildlife in the area (Lamprey & Reid 2004, Reid et.al. 2003, Thompson n.d.). Near the Tsavos also efforts to set aside more land for wildlife continue, as these areas would form important wildlife corridors – especially for migrating elephants – which are threatened by the increasing population pressure. As a result, the government as well as NGOs, existing tourist camps and some local landowners continue to work on establishing new sanctuaries.

A consequence of tourism that is generally regarded as more positive is the influx of money into the local economy. As has become clear the revenue obtained through ownership over parts of (eco)tourism venues is important, but limited mostly to minorities of the population. Visiting tourists help bring in funds and donations of goods201 but mostly in the form of short-term projects or one-time donations, not providing structural, reliable long-term assistance. The tourism industry does bring some possibilities to work for wages and in rare cases the opportunity to get an education, for instance to become a certified tourist guide.202 However, the presence of tourism also makes living more expensive, as it drives up the prices of land and rents as well as virtually all products, including food, which is especially noticeable in Voi, the shopping centre of Tsavo, and in the shantytowns which have grown near the gates of the Mara. These are also the places where the negative socio-cultural influences of tourism (Abbink 2000, Beek 2003, Rutten 2004: 6, KWS 1994 vi) as experienced by the community are felt most. Informants point to smoking, excessive drinking, improper dressing, prostitution, and breakdown of cultural traditions and social relations as the result of exposure to tourists and the money-economy (see also Strom 2007: 7-8), which are indeed contemporary problems.

The state's lack of initiative in providing public services in tourist areas can be attributed to tourism in three ways. In tourism areas the state often has invested in generally very expensive infrastructure, such as roads, airports, water and energy provision, however, this infrastructure is often specific for the tourism sector (Sinclair 1998: 32) or only available to them. In addition, the tendency to invest (eco)tourism revenues in public infrastructure such as schools and dispensaries and than promote these as wildlife-related benefits – as the government and local people generally do – makes the state abdicate its general responsibility to provide this infrastructure (Mombo & Lemayian 2007). According to Otuoma 'such social amenities are the government's responsibility to all Kenyan[s] including those bordering conservation areas. Thus, it amounts to blackmail for KWS to consider such social amenities a wildlife-related benefit' (Otuoma 2004: 37).

Thirdly, some situations are also a result of the state's effort to produce an 'authentic' African image around well visited national parks. Anticipating on the demand of overseas tourists to experience African 'authenticity' (Beek 2003: 284, MacCannell 1973, Wels 2002), the state blocks possibilities for improvement of the situation of the local people which they feel don't fit that image. This image of 'authentic Africa' is deeply rooted in the colonial era,203 but still relevant for overseas tourists today (Wels 2002: 55, 62), and constructed from the mental picture 'of African landscapes in which its people have to blend [consisting] for example [of] huts with thatched roofs and African women with water buckets on their head' (Wels 2002: 55), excluding images of cosmopolitan cities with high rise buildings as 'not the real Africa' (Wels 2002: 55). This imagery, which is based on 'otherness', by contrasting Africa to the 'standard' of European and American societies, is the imagery tourism businesses make use of to attract clients (Wells 2002: 64), and so does the Kenyan state.

As has been argued above, Maasai pastoralism generally has a positive influence on the savannah biodiversity. It is therefore regularly brought forward 'that the importance of keeping the Maasai and their herds out of the protected areas is not due to the threat they represent for the environment, yet it is a result of tourism because tourists come to Kenya to see wild animals, not cows’ (Strom 2007: 5-6, see also Monbiot 1994, Rutten 2004: 15). It is also believed that one of the reasons why there is still only a dirt road – which is regularly washed away during the rainy season – leading to the Mara area from Narok town, is that tourists like the red unpaved track because it fits the image of true African wilderness. Moreover, people will not easily drive the dirt road themselves and tourist operators more easily sell a package tour including accommodation or charge heavily for organising transportation. And although most tourist like the idea that there is only a dirt road leading to the Mara, they rather not make the long uncomfortable trip over it, and opt for a more expensive fly-inn, landing on the busy airstrip right on the edge of the reserve.

A similar problem exists regarding housing. Traditional Maasai houses are semi-permanent, and therefore well suited for the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Maasai, who in some places around the Mara up till today, move their boma about every five to ten years (see also Lamprey & Reid 2004). The houses are also suitable for a woodfire which is used for cooking as well as for warmth, as opposed to modern gas. Even more importantly, young and sick animals are easily kept inside. However, these houses are also very dark, smoky and leak when they are not plastered when it rains. Therefore, many Maasai have build, or like to build, one or several permanent concrete houses in their village, especially when they own the title deed (see also Monbiot & Arbib 1994, Strom 2007). Besides a status symbol and a good place to receive guests, the permanent houses are drier, lighter, far better ventilated, more spacious and equipped with iron sheet roofs, which makes it possible to collect the rain water and have a valuable clean stock right next to the house for cooking and washing (picture 4.3) However, the Maasai are often ‘not allowed to build other than the traditional houses, because the tourists in the area don’t like to see the more permanent iron-sheet [ones]’204 The government tries to prevent the Maasai from building the Western style houses because it would clash with the ‘genuine’ experience of the Maasai-world tourists pay for and expect to see out of the window of their four-wheel drive (Strom 2007).

It can be argued that tourism is a burden upon local people in many ways. When this is added up with the daily burdens of wildlife, the violent law-enforcement by the government and the lack of benefits earlier described, it is not surprising that the Maasai and the Taita are actively looking for opportunities to support their families and achieve higher standards of living (Reid et.al. 2003: 130 , Smith & Kasiki 2001: 433). Poverty and the continuing rising population pressure on their land make them search for alternatives, and following the push and promises of international NGOs and the state, these are often focussed upon tourism.


Maasai as charismatic mega-fauna

In the Taita area, there are not many people with a (good) tourism related income. Even though through the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) (see TDC n.d.: 15) and Wildlife Works some tourism related projects have been set up, and there are camps which hire a considerate percentage of local Taita labour (i.e. Rockside camp). Even the once promising Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary – despite being celebrated in the travel press – provides 'minimal opportunities ... for the host community' (Lemaiyan & Mombo 2007). Employing only 0.3% of the Lumo members, not empowering them sufficiently, the private investor owning the most important facilities is 'denying the community a fair share of the revenues' (Lemaiyan & Mombo 2007).

Local interviews underline this. The members, who started their involvement with Tsavo Park Hotels to build Lion Rock Lodge (picture 4.4) because their sanctuary itself was not bringing in enough money, are being denied access to visitor numbers and earned profits by the private investor and/or local board. The sanctuary has induced conflict and division between members and non-members. In addition, people who have invested their land, labour and money in setting up the area have not yet received any of the promised dividends or community projects, as the community still pays off its debts that are the result of the investments. Many community members hope for the best, but feel they 'are entangled in a partnership that they cannot disentangle themselves from' (Lemaiyan & Mombo 2007), as the contract with the investor lasts for five years. However, despite the setbacks, some Taita continue to try setting up tourism related businesses, such as a planned new conservancy near Mt. Kasigau, on land that is now rented out to Somali herdsmen.

Concerning wildlife and tourism the Maasai have gotten more foothold than the Taita and increasingly find jobs or secure some ownership over tourism related businesses (own observations, see also Bruner 2001: 894-896). For a long time only people from other tribes and areas were working in the tourist camps and hotels, but more and more Maasai find an additional income there. First they only worked as low paid dancers/entertainers or as askari (guards) to keep the wildlife out of the camps day and night. Important reasons for initial difficulties for Maasai to get good jobs in tourism are that their formal education has been on a very low level for a long time and that prejudices around their reliability and uncivilized, wild nature have been widespread.

However, nowadays the Maasai are slowly integrating themselves in the tourism industry (Ritsma & Ongaro 2002). It has become more and more popular for camps to have ‘real’ traditionally dressed Maasai on staff (instead of the earlier custom to dress up people from other tribes in a Maasai wardrobe for the tourists) and camps aggressively advertise their participation in community projects and the percentage and positions of the Maasai they have working for them.205 It is common to see Maasai work as (driver-)guides and some even make it into management positions (own observations, see also Bruner 2001: 895, Honey 1999: 313, Strom 2007). The Maasai also engage themselves in other economic activities than wage-labour, from selling artwork to owning tourism businesses such as small (camp)sites,206 from earning money by reserving some of their land for wildlife conservancies to building cultural villages in response to tourist demands for visiting Maasai homesteads. Doing so, the Maasai often strategically play upon the fact that '“Maasai culture” has become a commodity' (Strom 2007: 7, see also Rutten 2004: 7), and the practices and prejudices that earlier prevented their integration into the tourist industry now facilitate for their participation (Bruner & Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1994: 448).

The Maasai are only one of 42 ethnic groups in Kenya (Bruner 2001: 882), but their image is often used to represent 'a global image of African tribesmen' (Bruner 2001: 893) even the symbol of Africa itself. As ‘the ideal mental conceptualisation of the Western European idea of an African ‘noble savage’’ (Ole Kantai n.d.: vii see also Wels 2002) the Maasai are ‘often seen as the symbol of an unchanging Africa’ (Strom 2007: 7, see also Hodgson 2001). Ultimately represented as male warriors (ilmurran), the wildness of the Maasai can be extended to the wildness of Africa (Bruner 2001: 884). In the Garden of Eden, as Africa has been approached since colonial times, the Maasai is the 'untouched African primitive' (Bruner 2001: 889) that blends into the landscape. As '“our primitive ancestors” who have not yet eaten of the tree of knowledge that is “modern civilizations” ... the Maasai [are characterized as] shepherds whose flocks live in harmony with their predators’ (Bruner & Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1994: 438).

As symbols of Africa and its inhabitants, the Maasai have come to be regarded one of the main tourist attractions in Kenya (Bruner 2001, Honey 1999, Sindiga 1999, Urry 2002, Strom 2007),207 only 'secondary ... to the wild animals on the reserve' (Bruner 2001: 896). As van Beek notes, 'a strong and colourful culture [can] give [sic] rise to a tourist attraction' (Beek 2003: 286). The way the Maasai are approached by tourists and the tourism industry is similar in many regards to the approach of charismatic mega-fauna.208 As with the wild animals, Maasai images are constantly used in advertising Eastern Africa as a tourist destination (Duffy 2002, Ritsma & Ongaro 2002, Urry 2002, TDC n.d. 10, 30, 36). As a result, around the Mara, locals have become a tourist attraction themselves (Strom 2007: 7). Charismatic mega-fauna as well as Maasai people are objects of the tourist gaze (Bruner 2001), their bodily presence essential for commodification (Desmond 1999: 251). Wildlife as well as the locals are approached as unchanging, authentic, ideal, wild and natural (Bruner 2001: 254, Corbey 1989, Desmond 1999: 254). An encounter with the Maasai 'is an adventure. It is exciting. It is similar to the excitement of the safari game run in the parks' (Bruner & Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1994: 455).

According to Desmond 'the heart of the [sic] industries of cultural tourism and animal tourism [is that] each represents a vision of a world in harmony, a vision that is at once nostalgic, utopian, and futuristic – a vision of Edenic pasts as prototypical futures' (Desmond 1999: 251), where 'all people and all animals coexist peacefully' (Desmond 1999: 257). Maasai culture as well as African wildlife represent a more natural and harmonious world, something which has been lost by the overseas tourists (Desmond 1999: 255). Connected to this is the 'salvage paradigm' which 'assumes that that which is most natural is in need of saving' (Desmond 1999: 254). The idea that indigenous cultures such as that of the Maasai need to be saved (Bruner 2001: 887) has strong parallels with the saving of (Africa's) charismatic mega-fauna. Both are thought to be historically unique, dating from the timeless era before the arrival of whites, and in danger of dying out (Desmond 1999: 313).


Maasai cultural manyattas

The Maasai in turn exploit their overseas fame and popularity and manipulate the discrepancy between their own life-styles and the tourist image (Bruner 2001: 895, Hodgson 2001: 148-150, 272-278). For their work in the camps, many of them dress up every day in garments that would normally only be used for ceremonies. In their conversations with tourists they largely go along with the ideas the visitors have from them, emphasizing the savage, alien and wild nature of their people and their customs, downsizing modern influences that contradict tradition. As Desmond argues, a 'conception of a nonhybrid, “essential” culture is necessary to [its] selling [and] consumption' (Desmond 1999: 255, see also Bruner & Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1994: 447, Hodgson 2001: 271).

This is for instance clear during supposedly intimate but professional and orchestrated interactions around the campfire at one of the tented camps on the border of the Mara Reserve. After a presentation of ‘traditional’ singing, dancing and jumping in which the tourists were involved, some of the Maasai on staff would usually start conversations with the guests. Recurring narratives were (exaggerated) details about the Maasai’s harmonious coexistence with wildlife, including the taboo on hunting wild animals, and (inflated) descriptions of ‘traditional’ Maasai ceremonies, polygamy and violent raids upon women and cattle. In addition the general average amount of education the members of staff had had before becoming guides was downplayed. While the tourists get drunk on their holiday they feast upon their ‘authentic’ taste of wild Africa. The Maasai in turn, use their own culture as a valuable commodity and have clear ideas of what the tourists want to hear and see, exploiting notions of ancient traditions, a timeless unchanging past and alien customs. The exact, complex and nuanced truth is less important than selling the customer what he wants.209

According to anthropologist Signe Therese Strom the dances, beadwork and possibly all cultural information given in the tourist business by the Maasai is quite ‘corrupted’.210 That is, they are presented as ancient and traditional, while actually being largely modified or created entirely for tourists.211 The approach used by the Maasai is widely used in the tourism industry and can be referred to as ‘staging tourism’ (Desmond 1999, see also Bruner & Kirshenblatt-Gimblet 1994, Hart 2005), in which situations are put down as genuine but are actually created for consumption. MacCannell would speak of ‘staged authenticity’, a situation where 'tourist settings are arranged to produce the impression that a back region has been entered [to] support the [tourists'] beliefs in the authenticity of their experiences' (MacCannel 1973: 589). In both cases the Maasai strategically create 'authentic' products and experiences to protect their privacy, or to accumulate better profits from tourist's visits (Strom 2007).212

A good example of this are the cultural manyattas. The word manyatta was originally used to refer to the village of the Maasai warriors (ilmurran), who in the tourist gaze are 'the quintessential Maasai' (Bruner & Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1994: 437). Quite some Maasai have built a village circle to receive paying tourists and show and tell them about their culture. The cultural manyatta has been characterized as a place where 'tourists ... visit them [the Maasai] in their “native habitat”' (Bruner & Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1994: 456, see also Ritsma & Ongaro 2002: 129).213 To support the idea that a back region has been entered, often the Maasai or tourist operators imply or claim that this is the village the Maasai live in (for example TDC n.d.: 36, see also Strom 2007: 9) even though they generally only go there for work.214 The Swahili word used to refer to the village is maendeleo, which means progress or development,215 as for the Maasai it is a place of making money.

Everything, from the welcome-ceremony to the house that is for ever half built as it has to show the inner structure and construction process of Maasai huts, is put there in a way that makes it convenient for the tourists to photograph and film.
The tourists are made to feel that they are watching... the Maasai in their natural state, not that they are watching artful theatre.... In the performance and in tourist discourse, the Maasai are wild savages, but in their personal relations with the tourists, the Maasai are professionals. They are cooperative and composed, and they pose for pictures (Bruner & Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1994: 457-458).
The Maasai 'know what the tourists want to see and hear and consequently they act and perform to give them exactly what they expect' (Strom 2007: 7), mainly producing a 'confirmation of their prior image of Africa' (Bruner 2001: 894). Often the Maasai involve the tourists in the performance, for instance by inviting them to dance together with them (own observations, Bruner 2001: 891). Instead of remaining as static viewers and outsiders, the tourists actively participate and achieve a deeper level of embodiment of the experience (Desmond 1999: 252-253). What is striking is that the formula for the materials and activities displayed and enacted in the many widespread Maasai cultural manyattas is practically identical.216

The cultural manyattas of the Maasai, as cultural tourism more generally, can be seen to reinforce the hierarchical relationship between developed and developing countries, white and black (Desmond 1999: 256-266, see also Corbey 1989: 161).217 As with the community conservancies, also these businesses can lead to division within the communities (Ritsma & Ongaro 2002: 133, 135). Moreover, the Maasai generally do not have total control over the business. As in most tourism related businesses run by locals, marketing is the most important problem (see also Ritsma & Ongaro 2002: 132). In the case of most cultural manyattas it is generally a tourist operator or hotelier that sends the tourists, or a driver-guide who brings them. These 'partners' generally make most of the money, the amount for drivers often being US$10-20 per tourist, while the people of the manyatta are left with Ksh 300 (US$ 4.5) per vehicle218 and the opportunity to sell souvenirs.

However, it is the Maasai people themselves who have organised the exploitation of the image that exists of them to obtain an (extra) cash income (see also Strom 2007). In general, the Maasai have captured a dual capacity in the Kenyan tourism industry, being 'part owners, possibly partners, and certainly beneficiaries [but] also performers in a touristic drama' (Bruner 2001: 896). These two roles are complexly interdependent, reinforcing and limiting each other as a result of local, national and international developments. Instead of being produced, the Maasai more and more have a hand in producing themselves.219 The cultural manyatta gives them more freedom and control than wage-employment, as they can stage tourist encounters more on their own terms in their own facilities (see also Desmond 1999: 264). Enpiraroi Kipira, the Maasai chairman of the cultural manyatta in Koiyaki-Lemek, proudly tells how the 70 people and 130 children of his cultural manyatta divide the Ksh 1000 to Ksh 2000 (US$ 15-US$ 30) that is made every day, and use it to pay costs of schooling for children, hospital bills and necessities such as food. He states that ‘the cultural manyatta brings a lot of revenue for the Maasai. It helps them to stay with the wild animals.’




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