Each year on August 9, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is celebrated all around the globe. This special day was declared by the United Nations in 1994 with the aim of facilitating international cooperation around efforts to solve the problems faced by indigenous people. These efforts focus on socioeconomic development, environmental conservation, the preservation of cultural heritage and improving basic human rights for indigenous people and their access to healthcare and education.
As the UN’s World Tourism Organization has acknowledged, tourism can play a vital role in promoting cultural understanding, tolerance and respect, which is why the theme “linking cultures” has been chosen for the 2011 World Tourism Day (to be celebrated on September 27). Often, in an area with indigenous populations, or people who are original to the land, one of the greatest assets is traditional culture. Through mindfully operated cultural tours, indigenous groups have something a great deal to offer – and to gain! – from exchanges with tourists.
Here we share a roundup of some of our favourite indigenous culture tours found in the whl.travel network of local tour operators.
Visit the Embera Indigenous Community of Panama
In a world faced by rapidly paced globalisation, sometimes it becomes necessary to take a moment, close your eyes and just breathe. If you are searching for a place that lends itself to breaths of truly fresh air, a place where you can break from modernity and ‘progress’, you will have much to learn from contact with the traditional Embera indigenous tribes and their playful children. In Panama, the Embera maintain a careful distance from global influences and a deep respect for their environment. They use palm trees and natural fibres as construction material; they wear only simple multicoloured woven cloth garments; they practice corporal painting and have dances for all occasions. Complete with flowers in their hair, they are just as their ancestors before them were.
To start a memorable day with the Embera, your hosts paddle you down a river in a traditional dugout canoe to their community, where the village warmly welcomes you. During your day, you witness traditional dances, feast on typical foods and learn local crafts. A walk through the village and the botanical surroundings further helps you understand the wild diversity of their natural environment. At the end of the day, you leave with tender memories of a remarkable cultural exchange with the indigenous Embera, a uniquely beautiful community.
Explore the Malekula Island People of Vanuatu
Visitors to the Malekula Island of Vanuatu are always intrigued by the history of cannibalism on the island. The belief system of the island’s indigenous Namba population included cannibalism until about 100 years ago, when the practice became obsolete (on the Malekula). These days, however, among the indigenous Namba, other tribal practices continue to thrive in full colour, such as matting, dancing, face painting and vibrant costumes.
As part of a special seven-day island safari, whl.travel local partners John and Silvana Nicholls include a visit to Malekula and a taste of life with the local Namba people. The tour begins in the capital city of Port Vila and then proceeds to Malekula, where you stay in the locally operated Nawori Seaview Bungalows for three nights. During that time, you follow local guides on excursions to nearby tribal villages and even take a canoe trip to ex-cannibal Rano Island. Another highlight is a visit to the Big Nambas tribe, which is distinct from all other tribes in Vanuatu; their red-dyed textiles are a highly prized and much photographed artifact of indigenous Vanuatu island life.
Trekking to the Hilltribes of Northern Thailand
Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand and part of the Golden Triangle travel loop of Southeast Asia. It is also the gateway for tours of the hilltribes of northern Thailand, fascinating encounters in sharp juxtaposition with the pace of contemporary urban life. On a trip into the lush scenery of rural northern Thailand, you reach the mountainous region near the border of Myanmar and encounter the small communities of several different tribes, like the Lahu, the Karen, the Hmong (or Meo), the Lisu and the Akha, each with its own distinct costumes, language, traditions and livelihoods.
You can arrange a trip to the hilltribes of northern Thailand through Hilltribe Holidays, a tour operator dedicated to exploring areas near Chiang Mai in a respectful, culturally sensitive and sustainable way that creates enriching and mutually beneficial exchanges for everyone. You can take in the scenic mountain passages, waterfalls, breathtaking views and local tribal ways of life. Sharing home-cooked meals and ancient customs with the local communities is one powerful way Hilltribe Holidays creates a safe and constructive context for cross-cultural understanding.
Discover Angel Falls with a Pemon Guide in Canaima Park, Venezuela
As one of the highest waterfalls in the world, Angels Falls is the major attraction at Canaima National Park in Venezuela. The waters of Angels Falls plunge 2,648 feet (807 metres) from top to bottom, inspiring photographers and filmmakers alike with its roar and mists set against lush green forests and glistening gray rock faces. Because of its remote location, though, reaching the famous cataract takes some doing. One travel option is a five-hour upstream trip in a traditional dugout canoe.
If you’re looking to experience Canaima Park beyond a glimpse of Angel Falls, a two-day tour led by an aboriginal Pemon guide takes you deep into the natural wonders and everyday customs of the indigenous populations. (The local language of the Pemon people is Cariban, spoken only by an estimated 15,000 people.) During the tour, the Pemon guide explains the indigenous people’s symbiotic relationship to the land. Over dinner, he shares some of the myths and beliefs of the tribe before you retire to sleep in hammocks under a brilliantly starlit sky and within earshot of the roar of the Angel.
Experiencing the ‘Teranga’ of the Bassari People of Senegal
In Senegal, the Wolof word teranga describes the warm welcome that Senegalese people are known to bestow upon their guests, something the whl.travel local partners in Senegal are determined to share. One way of doing so is to lead you outside the hustle and bustle of the country’s urban areas and head straight into the heart of its local villages, some of which are inhabited by people indigenous to the land.
Tours like the 12-day Great Unknown Senegal or the nine-day trip to Park Niokolo Koba and the surrounding area take you inside the daily life of several villages in Bassari country near the border with Guinea. The Bassari are subsistence farmers who speak a local language from the Tenda family and adhere to a belief system that is, at its root, animist.
Both tours, run by Réalirêves, the whl.travel local partner in Senegal, spend several days in remote villages outside Niokolo Koba National Park. Lodging is taken in a village encampment and the daily activities focus on time spent with the people. Lucky visitors arrive in time for to witness an initiation ceremony, the most common kind of Bassari celebration. On the way out of the area, the tour passes through a Bedick village, home to another tribe similar to the Bassari.