Annual Meeting edition:51 location:Chicago, USA date:13-16 November 2008
Recognizing the extraordinary advances in knowledge of Africa over the past fifty years, this paper takes the intimate linkages between popular cultural representations of and international tourism to sub-Saharan Africa as an analytical entry to assess the influence of African Studies outside academia. The various ways in which African peoples and places are pictured and documented in mass media have an immense impact on how tourists imagine and anticipate their future African destinations. Based on archival research and ethnographic fieldwork, this paper illustrates the dynamic processes of cultural tourismification in northern Tanzania. In many parts of the world, famous nature documentaries, mainstream Hollywood entertainment, and semi-biographic films about this region have become fashionable icons for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, often reinforcing a nostalgic vision of the black continent as an unexplored and time-frozen wild Eden. While tourism representations have overwhelmingly focused on wildlife, a growing demand for meet-the-people tourism is increasingly bringing ethnic groups into the picture. Interestingly, these African people are commonly represented and presenting themselves while engaging in vibrant rituals or in staged poses wearing celebrative costumes. This paper illustrates how the romanticized image of the virile Maasai warrior, dressed in colorful red blankets and beaded jewelry, has led to a true Maasai-mania that is profoundly affecting the daily life and culture of Maasai and other groups. The paper discusses the role of African Studies in cultural tourismification and reflects on the responsibility of Africanists in publicly correcting stereotypical images, discredited histories, and romantic fantasies of Africa.