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Voyeur vs. observer

March 15, 2010

Cairns, Australia:

Whew! I’m sorry for totally disappearing again — it’s really hard to find Internet here — but my hostels in New Zealand all have free WiFi so I shouldn’t leave you stranded anymore. There will probably be no post tomorrow as I leave for the airport at 7am and won’t get to my hostel until the following day but once I’m settled in, everything should be smooth going. Australia has been amazing but I’ve heard even more awesome things about New Zealand so I’m pretty psyched! 😀

Okay, so the question today: What’s the difference between a voyeur and an observer?

I spend yesterday in Kuranda and the Rainforestation Nature Park. Part of the reason I went there was because I’m really curious about Aboriginal culture and, unfortunately, it’s too far to visit any of their cave drawings or tribal sites. The park has rainforest tours, a tropical fruit orchard and a few activities led by members of the Pamagirri tribe.

A Pamagirri guide demonstrated boomerang throwing — I was terrible! — didgeridoo playing and spear throwing. Then six members of the tribe performed traditional dances.

It was interesting and different from a performance you would see anywhere else in the world. But at the same time, none of the dancers looked like he was enjoying himself. As they threw spears at a target in front of a camera-wielding audience, the guys looked almost bored, tossing the spears carelessly.

Edible ginger flower - delicious!

One the one hand, these men are being paid to “perform” at the park and make their living this way. On the other, things like playing the didgeridoo and tribal dances are part of their culture, not just shows for international tourists.

I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. It didn’t help that none of the performers seemed to want to be there. After one demonstration, I stayed behind when the rest of the group left to ask questions. Not being an Aussie, I was curious about what the different paint markings represented. Although he was nice enough, the man who answered me gave a short reply and then walked away, not stopping to elaborate or offer any more information.

What do you think? These tribe members choose to perform at the park and earn their living this way. But is it voyeuristic to go and watch them as a tourist, exploiting the culture they’ve had for thousands of years? Or are they merely exploiting themselves?

Then again, this is coming from the girl who grabbed one final opportunity to be photographed petting a kangaroo. Can you believe I came all the way to Australia and never saw one in the wild?!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2010 7:47 pm

    Hmm…very interesting topic. I thought for the most part the “performers” that I saw were kind of into it and wanted to share their culture, especially the people around Uluru.

    I felt similar when I went to visit Plymouth Plantation a couple of years ago. They also seemed to want to be there, but I felt like I was interrupting a private moment by being there though…I don’t know…

    Good luck on your trip to NZ! I actually liked Australia better but I think thats because I was there for longer 🙂

  2. March 15, 2010 10:24 pm

    Cool pictures. My mom is in New Zealand and your photos gave me a little taste of the amazing vacation she is having right now.

  3. March 16, 2010 12:14 am

    yeah, that’s a good question. i felt that way when i was in costa rica and we went to see this indigenous tribe called the bri bri (sp?) and it felt like they didn’t want to be putting on this show for us…i didn’t really know what to think!

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