Tourism in West Papua is an expanding industry but it brings with
it the potential to exploit indigenous West Papuans, both
culturally and economically. Virtually all tourists who come
to West Papua travel to the Baliem Valley in the highlands.
The main town, Wamena, draws tourists who are interested in
trekking and in the culture of the local Dani tribes.
Unfortunately, that interest in the culture is often exploitative,
and the Indonesian administration of the tourism industry is mostly
concerned with economic return.
Tourists are mostly Dutch and
German, with Australians conspicuously absent, probably due to
the minimal press West Papua attracts. Most tourist money goes
to Indonesians who run the losmen, hotels and small businesses,
While the local Dani people can only earn cash through petty trade
at the vegetable market or by haggling with tourists over
everything from the price of a photo to their occasional work
The indigenous people are treated as objects of
curiosity. Although the Indonesian administration has previously
tried to force them to wear clothes and live a more "civilised"
lifestyle, today they are happy if they go naked because it is
good for tourism. Nowadays, when villagers can afford it, the
custom is to sport modern dress, cotton shorts, t-shirts and
dresses. Government policy, the missionaries and now tourism
have taught the locals to see traditional dress as backward,
something to be ashamed of.
In the village of Manda for
example, clothed villagers are barred from the village
while near-naked tribes-people, well-rehearsed and divided
into two twelve-member teams, cook and dance in the traditional
way for camera carrying tourists. The tourists
pay for the food, the dancing, the photos, some handicrafts
and a night's accommodation. The next day, after the tourists
have left, the villagers climb into their clothes again
clothes bought using the profits of tourism.
all of this raises is: is this preserving or demeaning local
Biak, an island off the north coast, receives luxury
liners because it is one of the world's best diving spots.
A five star resort opened there in 1992, laying the groundwork
for direct QANTAS flights from Australia, with a golf course,
marine park and five luxury hotels.
Tourism can provide
opportunities for indigenous people to obtain cash and develop
their livelihood, while respecting their tradition. The village of
Dukun for example, man- ages its own co-operative venture formed
to profit from tourism, yet helps them feel pride in their culture.
Here, self-determination helps to sidestep the culture shock.
Tourists can stay in a village, completely built by the co-operative
to house visitors, for Rp 3000 (A $2) a night. The villagers will
dress traditionally, dance and have a feast for paying tourists.
Tourism can be in keeping with the dignity of indigenous people
and can help them to feel pride in their traditions.
You can visit
West Papua and discover for yourself the uniqueness of the
country's environment and people. Helpful resources are Kal Muller's
book Indonesian New Guinea, and John McCarthy's booklet, (plus
discussion guide, especially designed for educational use), Are
Sweet Dreams Made of This? (see Reference section).
"Control by indigenous
peoples over developments
affecting them and their
lands, territories and
resources will enable
them to maintain and
and traditions, and to
promote their development
in accordance with
on the Rights
People, The United
on Human Rights