Cultural ecotourism as an indigenous modernity : Namibian Bushmen and two contradictions of capitalism

Koot, Stasja


So-called indigenous 1 people, such as the Bushmen of Namibia, are often seen as ‘traditional conservationists’. Based on their indigenous knowledge of nature, they are frequently imagined and positioned as primordial people who belong to nature and therefore protect it better than anyone else. This kind of representation also creates the impression that they are still in need of development, as if they are ‘not yet modern’. Today, such images flourish in what I call ‘cultural ecotourism’ and its marketing strategies. Such cultural ecotourism also generates an expansion of neoliberal capitalism to the world of indigenous people, which creates two contradictions. First, through ecotourism, ‘authentic’ indigenous people earn money and adapt to an ‘inauthentic’ modern life in a capitalist world. To do so, it is necessary that they remember or reinvent their ‘traditions’ and thereby continue to act as ‘authentic’ people of nature. Second, ecotourism is supposed to ‘develop’ indigenous people, but the values of this ‘development’ are based on neoliberal capitalism, the system that creates many environmental problems today. Therefore, ‘developing’ people based on capitalist values might add to global environmental pressure. At first glance, these contradictions might create the impression that indigenous people are victims of a more dominant political economy, due to their limited economic possibilities. Yet, in cultural ecotourism, they can also take up a more active part in modernisation, creating ‘indigenous modernities’ in which indigenous people bend aspects of modernisation to their own benefit and strengthen their indigenous image.