The Cost of Cultural Commodification

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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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When You’re Challenged To A Jump Off By A Maasai Warrior

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When You're Challenged To A Jump Off By A Maasai Warrior

The bright colours of the Maasai people guided us towards their small encampment. After having just spent a week in the dust covered plains of the Serengeti, the Maasai robes stood out. We wrestled our moral qualms with disingenuous tourism into submission and forked over 50 dollars to visit one of their villages.

First off, we were welcomed with most unusual throat singing and dancing. Then the rest of my group was guided into the village for a tour but I stayed behind. I had noticed a few of the Maasai guys sizing me up. Before I knew why, I was being challenged to a jumping competition to which I graciously accepted. For some reason that still alludes me, as I handed over my camera, I was handed a wooden stick to hold while I jumped up and down. I learned that my height (almost 6’7) was a hot topic of conversation among the locals and the growing crowd wanted to see if the rumours were true. I crouched down and leapt into the air, bouncing up and down. But as I looked over at my jumping partner, suspended in the air above me, I knew I had been outdone. With a heavy heart I confirmed their suspicions, white boys can’t jump.

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