One of the neat things about Indonesia is how many different local tribes and cultures there are, each with their own unique customs. Gadling has a post up about some of the most interesting tribal cultures in Indonesia, encouraging readers to visit groups like the Sea Gypsies (more properly, the Moken or the Mogen), the Batak, the Baliem Valley Tribes, the Tana Toraja and the Dayak Tribes of Borneo.
Certainly, a huge part of the charm of any foreign travel is seeing how people live in other parts of the world and experiencing local cultures. And often, your tourist dollars are a boon to the people you’re visiting, providing money for food, schools and other necessities that we take for granted. However, too many tourists can also interfere with traditional ways of living, and there’s something inherently disrespectful about treating living, breathing people like zoo exhibits.
For example, in an article from the Expeditions website describing how the lives of the Moken have changed since the outside world became aware of their existence after the tsunamis:
“In spite of government protections, more and more tourists come to gawk at the Mogen. They bring with them outside cultural influence and a dependence on cash.”
The dependence on cash and government regulations have interfered with the Moken’s traditional “Sea Gypsy” lifestyle. On the plus side, they now have access to medical care and education. However, they stand to lose their language and culture.
If you decide to visit indigenous cultures in Indonesia, make sure that you go to learn, not to gawk. Also, do your research and try to find resorts and/or tour companies that are dedicated to helping local people instead of just profiting off them. Although I thought the Gadling article made most of the indigenous tribes featured sound like sideshow attractions, the jungle resort they recommended in Sulawesi is actually run by an anthropologist and focuses on generating income for people in the surrounding villages.
Remember, to visit Indonesia you do need an Indonesian visa. You can apply for your visa on arrival or you can apply in advance, before you leave the US. To see what you need to apply, check out Indonesian Visa Requirements for Tourists.
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