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Not on Our Land: Banning Tourists from Traditional Villages

In a remote village close to the Amazon river in Colombia, 800 indigenous people are striving to uphold their culture and tradition in the face of tourism pressure. Nazareth, located deep in the jungle, is a 20-minute boat ride from the nearest town. The area is an ecotourism attraction because of the diverse flora and fauna – including monkeys and pink dolphins—as well as the opportunities to witness ancient indigenous culture. However, the community recently decided to limit tourism only to those who have received permission from the villagers themselves.

Tourists seeking to visit the village of Nazareth are now greeted by tribesmen who stand guard with sticks and ask for identification and a permit to enter. Yet even though the village has been off limits to tourism for the past two years, tourists still come in droves, according to an article in the Daily Mail. Last year, the small village experienced an influx of 35,000 visitors.

The villagers decided to ban uninvited visitors because they were tired of being viewed as curiosities without seeing any benefits from tourism.

“This was a decision taken at an important assembly of the inhabitants,” Juvencio Pereira, who stands watch at the guards’ cabin, told the Daily Mail. “What we earn here is very little. Tourists come here, they buy a few things, a few artisan goods, and they go. It is the travel agencies that make the good money.”

The Ticuna Indians make up 80 percent of Nazareth’s population and are one of the most endangered communities in the world. According to the United Nations, only about 30,000 Ticuna Indians remain in the world, and tourists pose a threat to their ancient culture and tradition. In the past, locals said, tourists took photos, asked intrusive questions and left litter behind.

In other remote parts of the world, local communities also feel culturally threatened by tourism development. In late 2009, the residents of St. Jacinto Island in Goa, India, took a resolution to oppose any plans by the government to allow tourism on the island, according to Garlic Chop, a website reporting news in Goa. Specifically, islands felt that a recently constructed bridge from the mainland to the island posed a threat to the people on the island. “We have preserved the pristine beauty of the island, which is the only remembrance of our ancestors. At any cost, we do not want this island to be utilized for tourism-related activities,” Dr. Natalina Rebello said in the Garlic Chop article. Given Goa’s popularity as a destination, how much control the islanders will have over tourism activities remains unclear.

Not all opposition to tourist activity is initated by local villagers or tribesmen. The Indian government created a buffer zone to protect the Jarawa tribe from tourists carrying diseases. Tourists are now banned from resort areas on the Andaman and Nicobar islands inhabited by some 350 tribespeople. The Jarawas are protected by a reservation inside a 400-square-mile tropical rainforest.

“The Jarawa are pretty isolated, the majority stay in the forest, hunting and gathering. Each time they make contact with tourists they risk contracting diseases they have no resistance to, especially so from tourists from long-haul flights,” Sophie Grigg, a senior campaigner for Survival International, an organization working for the rights of tribal peoples, said in an article in the Telegraph.

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