The Cost of Cultural Commodification

The Cost of Cultural Commodification

Dust shot into the air as my feet touched down. Stepping out of an old Landcruiser, I took of my old ball cap and wiped an engrained line of dust and sweat from my brow. I was nearing the end of my time in northern Tanzania, but had one more experience to check off the list, to visit the famous Maasai people.

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Even as I sit here and write about it, I still feel conflicted. To enter the village, we paid for access. In return for our payment, we had a stunning dance and song performed for us and were welcomed inside the village. Generally, this is not how I like to meet people. I want to connect on a human level, not an economic one. I understand that we all want to make money, but when we sell out our heritage and culture, what does it say as to what we value? And it isn’t hard to guess where the Maasai learned this trick.

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7 thoughts on “The Cost of Cultural Commodification

  1. They sell their culture to people like you as they need the money. They don’t value money, but rather their lives, and to live one needs money. Makes sense? You may be able to source your living elsewhere, but people in many parts of the world still struggle.

    • “They don’t value money, but rather their lives, and to live one needs money”…. which makes one value money. Technically, we don’t need money to survive. In the most literal sense, it neither feeds nor shelters us. We exchange it as a source of value for items that do, which were generally found in nature for free, until we commodified them. I’m in total agreement that people need to make money to survive and I’m aware that for most it is a struggle. I’m simply commenting on the unfortunate reality that in today’s world we are often forced to sellout, such as the Maasai. Others do it willingly, a la Justin Bieber.

      • Forced, yes. In this case by poverty! And you DO need money to survive in this day and age – food comes with a price label. If you feel uncomfortable, as I would, rather than paying for a tour, where most of the money goes to someone else anyway, befriend them and they will invite you to their homes and lives in a dignified manner. But don’t pay for it then look down on them, you haven’t walked in their shoes. You are the man with the first world dilemma!

      • I’m getting to something deeper. Money is one way to survive, with learning you could still survive off the land. As we moved into a world of conceptualized value, aka money, we had to commodify those things which we could access for free and assign them value. I’m certainly not looking down on anyone. And whether or not my concern over the rise of commodification of culture, heritage and in the end, ourselves, is a “first world problem” is irrelevant to me, as everything is relative. Thanks for your comments!

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