Criticism of explorer Benedict Allen, rescued in Papua New Guinea, raises an important question: when is it legitimate to travel to remote communities?

An anthropologist, an explorer and a tourist walk into a bar. They’re each clutching a spear. The anthropologist describes how it was presented to her on her seventh fieldwork season by the elders of the tribe. The explorer regales them with the tale of how he won the spear upon completing an initiation challenge the tribe had set for him, filmed for a documentary. The tourist explains that he paid $10 for his at the market, and needs to get back now otherwise the cruise ship will leave without him …

The media attention about the misadventure and recent rescue of British explorer Benedict Allen from Papua New Guinea, and the debate over whether his exploits are culturally appropriate in a post-colonial world, raise a question that’s at the heart of anthropology itself. Why do we travel to other cultures? Who, if anyone, gives permission? Are only some reasons for travel valid? And once you’re there, what understanding do you hope to achieve?

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Source: The Guardian

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