Neolithic Martigues

The Nerthe range of hills stretches west fom Marseille. and shows evidence of human occupation way back into mesolithic days.  Here, at ‘Font-aux-pigeons’, a large  overhanging cliff providing shelter and protection, 300 mesolithic dwellers were encamped around 6,000-5,000 B.C.  They were hunter-gatherers with highly developed toolkits including large stone choppers for animal butchering and skinning to small micro-liths (plus bone) of awls and burins for the making of clothes.

The range of hills comes to an end above Martigues as they look down the Etang-de-Berre.  This small site at Mourre-du-Bouef was once inhabited around 4-5 millenium B.C.   By mesolithic hunter-gatherers or neolithic farmers?  Probably a blend of both.  Revolutionary anatolian agricultural techniques (re-sowing part of what you reap) had not yet swept this way.  But they soon would – to change the world.  They would arrive either by incoming migrants, or by cultural dispersal and infusion.  Therein lies a particular archeological debate.  Anyway, here, above Martigues, selective harvesting, plus the rearing of sheep and goats, was probably already engaged in.

Hill tops were safe places to set up camp.  Attackers could be seen from afar.  They were also good places to survey animal movements, either searching for prey or water, or following migration trails.  This was still a good while before the coming of the Celts and before the first site at Martigues was built on the banks of the Etang-de-Berre at ‘Tholon’.  At this time, coming down to the shores of the etang, for fish and shell-fish, was a risky business.  Wild animals and unfriendly neighbours were also in the area and could possibly attack.  Of course, the etang was slightly smaller in those days.  Waters were still rising after the last ice-age, which had trapped huge water resources in the northern ice caps.  Their retreat was a process that lasted several thousand years.   But by the neolithic period, beginning around the 4th millenium B.C.,  levels were not so different than they are today.


Several other neolithic sites in the area concurrently existed e.g.  the sites at Collet-Redon and Ponteau nestling on the plains.  They are each separated by several kilometres, which perhaps explains the separation needed to share out the natural resources between the communities.  Today, evidence of their existences can be found as a jumble of stones, the remains of foundation walls, semi-hidden amongst gorse and within a woody grove.  A lot of imagination, and archeological analysis, is required to picture the lives and hardships of the people who first gathered those stones and from them, created their lodgings.

The Celts arrived early first millenium and set up their own neolithic bases, rearing sheep and planting seed.  Protection continued to be an important consideration.  In choosing this rocky peninsular at Tamaris, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, the ‘Avatiques‘ who lived here chose well:


In fact, this is my favourite site.  The peninsular juts out into the Mediterranean – literally translated as:  ‘Middle of the earth’.  This may be a sea, and not an ocean, but it is still very large.  However, with a little imagination one can face east towards Italy and beyond, or west towards Spain, or south across the wide expanse towards north Africa and imagine the flimsy sailing boats of antiquity struggling against the waves and currents.  Sometimes they were shipwrecked, leaving their hulls and cargo deep beneath the waters.   Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans, Iberians, Carthaginians… sailing the seas for trade and exploration.


A hillside in today’s town of St. Pierre-les-Martigues was another good site for a settlement, being shaded amoungst trees, and built on rocky slopes.  Ramparts fortified the site, dated around the 6th century B.C. , making it an ‘oppidum‘ .   Like Tamaris, this site was also inhabited by the Avatiques.  Presumably, then, the threat came from pre-Celtic neolithic dwellers of the region – or possibly the Greeks.  My knowledge here is a little shakey!


The Greeks arrived mid 7th century BC and found a charming spot the other side of Martigues at St. Blaise.   This site stands on a hill top plateau, amoungst pine trees and is situated between two peaceful etangs. This idyllic site too had previously been occupied by Celts, but the Greeks ‘kind of took it over’ and it grew and grew, finally becoming a town encompassing 40 hectares.  Stone to build the site was chiselled out from the rock along the coast and transported inland.  Similarly was stone acquired to built the site of Marseille, 40 kms to the west.  The ancient chisel marks are still evident on close inspection.


A group of inhabitants moved out towards the shores of the Etang-du-Berre.  This is the site of Tholon, now under renovation.  It was the first site settled in Martigues.  Then ‘L’ile’ (the ‘island’) too became inhabited and grew in size and importance.  From here, the history of the town of Martigues truly begins.


Then the Romans arrived, stretching out across the south of France, creating a new Roman province (Provence), before stretching north and finally subdueing the Gauls.  In Martigues they dug out the swampy land between the Etang and the Mediterranean, making the first navigable canal.  Further north at Glanum they took over an impressive Celtic site over looked by the ‘Les Alpilles’ range of hills.  The site had been here since the 7th century B.C. when it was constructed around a water well where the Celtic god ‘Glan’ was said to live, along with his benevolant companions – ‘the Glanic mothers‘.  For a while, under the Greeks, it became Hellenistic.  It then became Roman under Emperor Augustus.


Festival fun in Provence.

It may not be possible to count all the festivals, carnivals, craft fairs, street parties, outdoor music events, firework shows, marching parades and processions, historical re-enactments, and corridas, in all the town, villages and communes of Provence … there are just so many.  So, whilst India is normally credited with being the country having the most festivals, in terms of density per square mile, Provence must be a good contender for that title.

I was informed of this, though in not quite so many words, by my friend Hubert Tabutiaux.  Hubert has photographed numerous Provence festivals and he exhibits them on his internet blog.  This is a perfect visual guide to the region and to the many events taking place there throughout the year.  Anyone planning a trip to Provence should consult his site in advance.

Hubert’s Photos of Provence

Summer is the time for most festivals, but the partying season really begins back in February, the month containing that religious period of abstinence known as lent.  Traditionally, only vegetarian meals are eaten during this time. Meat (‘carō’ in Latin; ‘carne’ Italian, as in ‘carnivore’ and ‘carnal’) is tabooed. Etymologically,carnival’ thus signifies the occasion when meat is taken off the meal time menu.

In our gregorian calendar, lent begins on ‘Ash Wednesday’. The day before is ‘Shrove Tuesday’ (‘pancake day’ in England), whose date varies from 3 February to 9 March depending on lunar movements.   Shrove Tuesday takes its name from the old English term ‘to shrive’, meaning ‘to confess sins and receive absolution’. Lent, this period of fasting and reflection, then lasts for forty days until Easter.

But astronomy and religious origins apart, it is difficult to think of ‘Shrove Tuesday’ without reference to the great ‘Mardi Gras(‘Fat Tuesday’) celebrations in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro – festivals and feasts taking place before the (‘lent’) fast.

In Martigues, my current home town in France, carnival day kicks off the summer season towards the end of March, not a month earlier as it perhaps should.  Ok.  So, dating precision has been thrown to the wind here to assure us of a few extra degrees of warm sunshine.  But then, further north still, London’s Notting Hill carnival (Europe’s largest) is put off even longer to take place on August Bank Holiday (Aug. 26th and 27th – in 2012). And why not?  Wet and windy carnivals are no fun.

And so, at the end of march, the Martigues’ streets become alive with cacophonic noise and disorderly ceremony as crazily-costumed carnival performers shuffle through a tunnel of neck-straining, photo-snapping observers.  Along the plantain-shaded avenue of ‘Jonquieres’; over the canal’s swing-bridge onto ‘L’ile’ (the island); across the following blue bridge and into the third town section of ‘Ferrieres’, then onto the town hall – with ‘oom-pa pah’s’ and big bass drums thumping out competing, often contradictory, beats; and with phalanxes of tambourine thwackers, handbell rattlers, castanet clackers, maracas shakers, congo and bongos drummers, shaking it to the left, shaking it to the right, samba style, as they dance slowly on through the watching crowds in their fancy dress innovations.

One can not attend such events without being stupefied by the colour and design of the costumes.  Nor, if one takes time to reflect, can one help but be astounded by the amount of work that goes into their creations.  For months, behind the scenes, cloth is being cut and sown, masks are being crafted and painted, headdresses of all shapes and sizes are being assembled, floats are being decorated, musicians are being instructed… etcetera and etcetera, by myriads of volunteers working late into the night to ensure success on the big day when it finally comes.

This enormous social effort involves hundreds of unpaid ‘man-hours’. There is no direct economic reward for peoples labour.  Rather, the reward is in the delight of all ‘pulling together’ to produce a spectacle for all to enjoy; spectators and performers.  When the events are historical re-enactments the attention to the minutest detail is exemplary.  Here, ‘authenticity’ is the key word and is striven for with materials, tools and techniques, for ‘processual history’ (another key term meaning actually ‘doing it’) is the means by which past cultures are better understood.  Hence not only costumes are reproduced, but also traditional crafts are displayed in being actively undertaken; food and drink is consumed which follow old times recipes; music and theatre is performed as our ancestors once did it, and, of course, the crowd-pulling battles are re-played with swords and shields, or spears and pikes, and smoke-bellowing canons to capture the thrill and the fright, of battles that have always occurred (sadly) since time began.

A further aspect to consider, if one takes the time to reflect, is that these occurrences (festivals, carnivals, fêtes etc) are non-hierarchical.  Sure, in role-playing scenes kings, serfs and servants may be chosen, but not to uphold some ‘real-time’ social hierarchy.  On the contrary, the underlying principle is one of social co-operation and reifying community spirit.


Those stunning Hawaiian cloaks (‘ahu’ulas) of half-a-million bird feathers, once made for royalty; those immense Egyptian pyramids and European medieval cathedrals; that China Wall, those Roman roads and aqueducts (the list is endless)…all served the establishment of hierarchical religio-political structures of power.  Not carnivals and festivals, though.  These are events of ‘the people’, for ‘the people’.

In fact, historically, both State and Church have held ambivalent sentiments regarding secular carnivals and festivals.  The State perhaps has worried about the policing of such affairs and for whose benefit they are being held – if not the state’s (see here).  Meanwhile, the church has often been suspicious of any ceremonial or ritual activity not under its control; ask any late Roman/middle-ages pagan (eg. see here , or here).  Famously, in Venice, to overcome feelings of oppression imposed by the Catholic Church, the wearing of masks began in order to guard anonymity and allow gambling, homosexuality and prostitution to take place without fear of condemnation. Here, in Martigues, with its strong Italian links (many Italians moved here as the town industrialized), and against its backdrop of Italian architectural styles, a Venetian carnival takes place once a year.  With beautiful costumes and masks the wearers (190 in 2012!) parade around town slowly, ostentatiously, flirtatiously; with eyes blackened behind the masks and keeping mute to hide their ages, nationalities and genders.  The people inside the costumes and behind the masks do not exist.  Only their exterior, flamboyant, exhibitionistic selves are seen, in public, swanking around town like proud peacocks.

On a economic/political note, Martigues has a communist town council.  That’s not uncommon down here. Taxation in France, like anywhere I guess, is a complex and sometimes contentious issue. Some money goes north to central government for redistribution and some is retained by the local council.  Actually, quite a lot is retained by the local council – especially the money obtained from taxing local industry and the ports; which adds up to a tidy sum.  But, in keeping with communist ideals, the inhabitants of Martigues do receive benefits from this revenue.  Free local bus and library service, for example, plus a wealth of summertime events such as mentioned in this blog.

Two major firework shows, within a week of each other, light up the skies in July – not to mention the smaller ones taking place on local beaches.

France’s ‘fête de la musique’ is now internationally renowned as an event taking place throughout the country, but throngs do flock to Martigues for the event where they can enjoy fairground rides, bars and restaurants, and the town itself.


Then, in mid-summer, the town invites traditional folk musicians from around the world to perform at its annual ‘Festival de Martigues’.  Just to give an example, the festival in 2012 included musicians from Cuba, Papua New Guinea, the Philipines, Ireland, Russia and a forty-strong male voice choir from Wales!   Some events are for ticket holders and held in a temporary stadium built along a canal, other events are held on the streets and are free.

But Martigues is only one example of the many.  Perhaps, due to its finances, it holds more festivals than others, but not a weekend goes by (in summer) where somewhere, something exciting is going on.

Last weekend, my friend Hubert invited me to a festival in ‘Pernes-les-fontains. It was superb!  The whole town, from young-to-old, took to the streets in old-style period costume of one hundred years ago: Stone masons, blacksmiths, farriers, policemen, serving maids, washer-women, wheat-threshers, cyclists (on ancient racing bikes, penny-farthing and motorbikes), drapers, post-office workers, mid-wives, shop keepers, babies in prams, boys chasing girls, grandfathers looking hot and bothered… Everybody, it seemed, from the town, was involved in some way, however small, however central.  Social co-operation and the display of the community spirit at its utmost.  Despite the humungous crowds, I was over-whelmingly impressed.

There are still many more Provence festivals for me to see and experience, and perhaps Hubert will lead me to some of these. I know there’s several lavender festivals, wine festivals, and the summertime transhumance festivals (celebrating an old custom of the leading of sheep from valley floors to mountainsides) that I would still like to see.  Plus, I still haven’t seen the gypsy festival at St.Maries-de-la-Mer… or the one in Arles to crown the new Arlesienne queen… or the truffle festival in Uzès.   There’s just so many…!

Alternatively, like anyone reading this and interested in Provence, I can visit Hubert’s site and find a good festival to visit that way.  Here it is again, in case you forgot:

Hubert’s Photos of Provence

Thanks, Hubert.


Why Travel?

 So – there’s this guy, a member of the Travelers Century Club and a friend of the family, who has travelled extensively around the world visiting more than 270 countries. I recently asked him whether he could summarize ‘in a nutshell’ what he thinks ‘makes people tick’.  Admittedly, that was asking a bit much,  for how can a simple one-liner sum up the entire human race?  Yet I felt that his insight, after so much travel, might shine particular light on ‘the human condition’.   A week later I received a reply, saying:  ‘The need to survive’.

I reflected upon this reply, seeing how it fitted in with my past anthropology studies – in particular Bronislaw Malinowski who believed that culture, by definition, itself was a survival mechanism designed to fulfil ‘Man’s’ biological needs. I’m not sure that’s exactly what my family friend meant, but he seemed somewhere in the same zone.  Anyway, I  then fell upon various internet sites discussing travelling per se. Why travel? That was a question occassionally raised. It took me back to my family friend who once stated in a newspaper article:

‘I guess a little part of me says: I’ve been there, done that, sent the postcard, smelled the coffee, worn the T-shirt. That’s how I am.‘ (Financial Times. 2010)

I can go along with that, along with getting the photo.  But now, with a little digging and browsing, I see that this question has been examined not only by bloggers, but by anthropology academics too.  The following is thus an attempted resumé of some ideas floating around this question:


Worldwide, a billion tourists are predicted for 2012, generating nearly 1 trillion dollars .

Travel is big business and it’s growing.



A trillion dollars!  That’s an awful lot of bucks!  I could buy a million super yachts for that – or a billion Skodas.

A billion tourists! That’s a huge amount of people needing an awful lot of ships, planes, coaches and trains to move them around – as well as an unimaginable quantity of pillows in an enormous number of hotels to put them all up.   But do they constitutes a cultural unity in any way?  Can they be defined as a single group holding certain values and behaviours in common?  Despite different motivations, is the urge to travel a universal human trait, something deeply embedded within our Homo sapiens psyche?  These are just some starting point questions; let’s see where this leads:


Firstly, traveller or tourist? What’s the difference?  ‘Travellers’ – as cultural inter-actionists vs ‘tourists’ – as passive cultural consumers?  Do you agree with that?  Or maybe that’s too simplified, ignoring intermediate categories?  Ok.  So, how about stating that voluntary aid workers, eco-tourists,  overseas holiday camp leaders, student exchange visitors, and global trotting language teachers etc. veer towards the more active end of the travel spectrum, whilst seekers of  ‘sun, sea and sex’ clog up the other end – as they do in the Spanish resorts; now little more than giant nightclubs encouraging the young to get drunk, high, laid, and vomit (see here).  And between these two extremes are the independant explorers travelling just for ‘the hell of it’ and the ‘culture vultures’ soaking up the grand architectural works; historical monuments; art, sculptures, music, and theatrical performances, on show around the world.   How does that sound?  Yes, I agree – categories blurr and overlap.


Moving on:  Chris Guillebeau, on his site (see here), is quite clear in stating his ‘whys’ we travel:

Because when you leave behind the familiar, you’re changed by the foreign.

– Because comfort zones become constricting zones over time.

– Because the world was meant to be experienced, not imagined.

– Because you’ll meet people who are different than you.

And his article has elicited numerous supportive responses.  I cite a few:

“It’s that desire to expand, expand, expand and not grow complacent.”

– “Travel inspires me through art, architecture and landscape.”

– “Going to a café next door can be a travelling experience.”

 – “Getting lost can help you find yourself.”

I agree, feeling that there is no single answer to why people travel.  But I’ll add a few more responses of my own –  all of which may be encountered at different times in our lives.  Presumably reasons why we travel change as we age.  Young people setting off on long ‘gap-year’ trips with rucksacks and shoe-string guide books, differ from the older, retired voyagers who prefer something more sedate:

1. Simple curiosity: The grass is greener, fresher, and different – elsewhere.

2. Flying the nest: Experiencing independence.  Was certainly true for me at 19 years old.

3. Adventure: Experiencing life to the full. Travel’s a buzz!  Exploration a thrill!

4. Becoming ‘exotic’ by entering the ‘exotic other’: Even David Beckham had his ‘sarang’ wearing moment.

5. Understanding ‘self’ by being in different settings: Existential awareness building and testing.

6. Genuine interest in other cultures: Fascinating – the food, music, architecture, countryside, people etc.  

7. Competitiveness: Traveling one-upmanship in ticking off destinations visited. Maybe, for some?

8. In our blood: An inherent survival mechanism we’ve never lost.

9. Getting away from it all: Blissful breaks from work, beat the winter blues, visit a friend overseas.

10. Business: The professional travellers, sports people, musicians etc.


Having drawn up this list I now find two underlying elements.  The experiential and the cultural – which seems pretty evident since we’re discussing travel.  But I’m stressing the personal and individual experience, even if we travel as part of a group.  For Spanish resort young clubbers (12,000 Brits per year in Magaluf alone) it’s reportedly (see here, again)  an unrestrained, individual rite of passage into adulthood.  For the more sedate coach loads touring the sites, cities, and stunning views, it’s the ‘spiritual pilgrimmage’ element.  Then again, let’s not forget the package tourists managing to fit in an organized cultural fix at least once within their yearly routines, mainly to towns with a beach and a few ‘local dish’ restaurants – and the more distant voyagers getting their kicks from completely disappearing off the screen of westernized life.  The travel/tourism experience is personal and individual for them too (by changing their time/space identities), in different doses.

This underlying element, to spice it up, I’ll call ‘living on the edge’ – in referring to the risks we take in going outside our normal, known, safe environments.  Sure, we take precautions and may not stray too far off the well-trodden tourist tracks, but the enticement to explore just round the corner and view the unknown is, to varying degrees, at heart of the travel impulse. We can’t ignore the heart-flutters that accompany travel curiosity – remember how it killed the cat?

Yes, if there is one thing that unites the one billion tourists and travelers it’s this ‘living on the edge’ factor.  Who does not feel that tingle of excitement in going off to a foreign land?  The professional, perhaps, for whom flying is more akin to commuting.  But for the rest of us, the adrenaline flows as we approach an airport, mentally preparing to fly.  It does for me anyway.   Then, as the plane takes off and we enter the blue skies above to look down upon white, fluffy clouds below, the horizon is far, far distant.  Yet, we are heading towards that horizon, and beyond!

Actually, not being a well-seasoned flier, myself, taking a plane has not reached the level of the mundane like that of taking a bus or a train.  And I’d venture to suggest that’s  true for the global majority.  In fact, I suggest that the flying experience, for the majority, isn’t that far removed from a religious experience.  It’s certainly an efficient means of transferring us into an ‘anti-structure’ (‘liminoidal’) time and place beyond our ordinary working lives.  Ok. I’m employing an anthropological concept here (Turner.V. 1967) to define ritual transition zones and the experience (eg. rites of passage, for Turner) of passing through them. But traveling, in the sense that it changes our outlooks and appreciations of the world, too can be considered as a ritual passage.  Perhaps the word ‘pilgrimmage‘ does best join the two concepts (religion and travel), and though seeped in sacred sentiment, in a secular context, by observing the routes to the ski resorts and beaches blocked by traffic in winter and summer, I see that the term has particular poignancy.

Travel, as Turner discusses with ritual process, feels tinged with danger.  Rationality tells us flying is the safest way to travel, but the heart beats faster as we board the plane because it’s taking us away.  Religious experience too requires daunting steps into unknowns – perhaps a slight fear of facing supernatural forces or coming close to an Absolute deity.  The only difference is that religious experience requires not a scientific rationality, but irrational ‘leaps of faith’ – whilst employing enculturally infused ‘awe’ for their efficacity.  However, in both contexts, there are hostesses/priestesses and the pilots/religious leaders organizing the event and guiding us every step of the way as we leave our known, comfortable, safe existences to explore other domains.   And thankfully so, for we can feel our safety more assured with their guidance.  And when we reach the other end, having transited an experiential reality, we arrive at a different place than from where we started – either spiritually or geographically/culturally.   For religious observers, spiritual enlightenment is the first step of a long, lifetime journey.   For travellers the flight out is just the beginning of a cultural journey from which one  changed.  And I’d say the same for tourists, to lesser extents.

Yes, of course, these days package tour trips to sunny resorts usually involve staying in hotels surrounded by familiar voices and other homeland cultural artefacts – from the bars and restaurant food, to the TV on the wall.  And they are far less adventurous than Himalayan trekking.  But then, not everyone is ready to go the whole hog in absorbing a completely new and different cultural experience.  So, in this travel context, home comforts are retained.  And anyway, who doesn’t enjoy the special treatment awarded by hotel staff or airline crew waiting on us hand-and-foot.  Indeed, perhaps some people travel solely for that reason:  To be pampered. And why not?  After a year’s hard graft at work we deserve it – although the commercialization of travel (tourism) with troops of holiday-makers swarming around the markets and complaining about the heat, the flies, the food, and the locals – can be rather annoying; as Monty-Python once explained (see here: from 2:00).     Yes, just a touch of adventurism, from a safe ‘experiential’ distance, may be prefereable to jumping in, feet first, and completely submerging oneself in a very different, even bizarre, culture.  Each to their own.  We’re not all Blashford-Snells!

‘Living on the edge’:   Adventure, to whatever degree we chose to take it.  ‘Living on the edge’:  Dabbling with the unknown and potential dangers, whilst retaining varying degrees of comfort and security.  ‘Living on the edge’:  Exploring social marginal zones – safely, in large tour groups from where we can observe, or as solitary integrating outsiders; welcomed in, but still outsiders nonetheless.  Yes, as a travel experience, marginal status itself can be a buzz.  Accepted within a new social group as outsiders we become the exotic and hence treated differently, even reverentially, than those belonging to that group.  Of course, cultural faux-pas are then easy to make and dealing with that risk, and their consequences, is elemental to ‘living on the edge’.  But with experience we learn to avoid them, or blunder through them, like unsocialized children, through fun, tom-foolery, and social conviviality, thereby presenting no danger, ourselves, as invitees, to our hosts.

             (image borrowed from travel tale site – see here)

Of course, marginalization of ethnic minorities into new cultures presents a whole different experience and discussion.  As travellers, or tourists, our inclusion into new cultures is transient.  Ex-pats and refugees (economic or persecuted) go through periods of exclusion and integration.  That is a different lived reality, or a perceived different lived reality anyway.  And that’s a different story.

The polemic to this discussion, though, is that whilst we bask in the sun, check out the local markets, dine on exotic cuisines, and view the sights, simmering under the superficiality of fabricated life is the effect tourism has on local communities: That is to say, how the influx of tourists and capital may change the infrastructure and politics of communities.  It does, you know.

Or, to anthropologize the process:  How the influx of tourists looking for the authentic ‘other’ changes the meaning of ‘authenticity’ itself.   In other words, how tourism in today’s postmodern world involves observing ‘creations of authenticity’, wherein false representations of local affairs (events put on as side-shows for the tourists) transform local communities in such a way that these fabrications become the realities.  This process is referred to as the ‘coca-colonization‘ of native ways of life, which, interestingly, also induces bilingualism, as locals take up jobs in the home tourist industry (waiters, tour guides etc).  Furthermore, the influx of visitors, whilst not always appreciated by locals, is more appreciated by those ‘milking’ the trade, finding work within tourism, and gaining in income and social status.  Hence, socio-cultural change is effected, but not necessarily in a bad way.  (Rapport, N & Overring, J.  2007)

For the good?  Well, when coastal dwellers are banned from there own beaches, fishing communitied denied traditional access to coral reefs, pastoralists expelled from traditional grazing areas, agriculturalists ejected from their lands for hotel construction, water resources depleted by tourist demands, when inquisitive eyes become intrusive, when western ways (drug use, prostitution etc) are emulated to induce a ‘polluted’ moral degredation, when locals complain of ‘apartheid’ (themselves becoming second-class citizens)… then resentment can flourish and tourism seen as a curse not for the good. Worse still when locals see their traditional cultures commercialized and degraded.   For the good?  Well, when local economies are revitalized and flourish due to the tourist industry – yes, then for the good. It can be a positive element when controlled.  Obviously it’s a political question. (MacClancey, J. 2002).

Yes, today’s postmodern world is increasingly synthetic and tourism plays a large role in this – for better or worse.  Cultures blend and merge through a borrowing, adapting, and mixing of symbolic forms which are globally spread and enter into our own cultures as daily seen images and designs; especially in advertising.  Don’t you just love those multiple Shiva arms emblazoned on a silver pendant?  It will look cool to wear that at some multi-cultural festival.   Yes, global heterogeneity is revelled in for its creative potential; even if the symbolisms are then lost as the aesthetics components alone are swiped or subverted.  But what the hell?  Sod the deeper meanings and just get off on the designs – man!   Those aboriginal dream-time designs look great on t-shirts, just as the didgeridoo goes great with a thumping electric bass.  And don’t those Amazonian Indians with their nose piercings and perokeet headresses, when adorning environmental posters, subliminally help eco-warriors ‘save the rain-forest’ campaigns. So let’s not consider our carbon footprint left in the skies as we jet off to the jungle, or the life-changing events imposed on ‘native others’ by joining a ‘first contact’ tourist trip turning tribes into tourist attractions? (see here).  Such considerations would be frightfully boring and frightfully uncool.


Don’t get me wrong!  Personally I’m all for global exploration – when it involves a sharing of humanity and learning from our fellow ‘Man’, however distant (geographically and conceptually) he (or she) may be.   Yes, it’s enriching, mind-broadening and even mind-blowing.   Done ethically, it helps break down cultural barriers and those sterotypical concepts of ‘otherness’, so that ‘others’ become not so distinct and different from ‘us’.   The same, but different, shall we say?   Like a granny smiths and a golden delicious apple?  And I’m all for protecting the planet and its indigenous cultures by whatever means.   And when the tourism industry helps bring health, wealth and happiness to places where disease, poverty and distress exist, then surely tourism is a good thing – isn’t it?

So no – I don’t wish to sound too cynical.  Who doesn’t enjoy jetting off to a foreign destination to get away from the daily grind, if only once a year – or less?  But consider the question of who benefits most from all this tourist trade that’s now generating, annually, a trillion dollars.  Consider whose standard of living is substantially improved?  African villagers?  Pacific island atoll dwellers? Burmese highlanders?  Bedouins?  Inuits?  City traders?  Hotel owneres? Directors of travels agencies – in the west?  Corrupt native officials?  Ah, now we’re getting the picture and can see where a touch of cynism may creep in.  Our innate urge to travel is making some people very rich as much of that trillion dollars finds its way back to western pockets.   I leave it at that, although maybe someone would like to respond?

Just a few personal reflections before I jump on a plane to my own summer holiday Xanadu. And as usual, personally speaking, the act of writing is my route to gaining a deeper understanding – even if no-one should read my words.


Macclancey, J (ed)   2002       Chicago      Exotic no more: Anthropology on the Front Lines

Rapport, N & Overring, J  2007   Routledge   Social & Cultural Anthropology:  The Key Concepts

Turner, V   1967      Cornwell     The Forest of Symbols:  Aspects of Ndembu Ritual