How does an indigenous culture sustain, extend, and evolve nowadays? Probably, it mainly depends on the preferences of the tourism industry. Here is an example from the Mursi, one of the most famous tribes from Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia. In recent years the Mursi Tribe has became a major tourist attraction in East Africa, especially for Mursi women, known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings.
Supporting by TV shows and tour companies, the tribe has been portrayed as an exotic attraction, featuring primitive lifestyles and beautiful finery on their bodies. Purchasing different tour operators packages, from cultural to religious and adventure, thousand of tourists visit Mursi to take pictures with these “unusually attractive” natives. Five Birrs for a photo with little children, and ten Birrs for a photo with an adult. Posing in front of the camera became the main source of income for Mursi people.
In order to attract more visitors and make more money, the Mursi started to embellish their costumes and to exaggerate their adornments. They dress up themselves in a more exotic appearance for the arrival of tourists, cameras and money in their pockets. Some of the decorations are just made up for this touristic show, without any meaning related to their original habits, cultures, or lifestyle.
“We take horn from a death cow and put them on our heads so tourists will take a photo” a Mursi woman said during an interview for the documentary film Framing the Other.
Check the trailer of Framing The Other, which records the thoughts from a Dutch and a Mursi woman when they prepare to meet each other. It shows the complex relationship between the guest and the host, the rich civilized westerner and the poor primitive local, as well as their authentic and commercialized cultural exchanges.