Tourism and the neotraditional: an ethnography of tourism and traditional culture in Vanuatu

2017-01-30T22:52:44Z (GMT) by Cheer, Joseph Martin
That tourism development imbues productive grassroots outcomes in less developed countries is widely contested. Proponents laud its economic impetus, while critics bemoan its tendency to be neocolonial, fostering monopolistic and oligopolistic interests and generally paying scant regard to local-level concerns. Malcolm Crick (1989) refers to tourism as “conspicuous consumption in front of the deprived” and captures the reality of the host-guest interface in Vanuatu. Assessing tourism’s efficacy is problematic, imprecise, complex and vastly neglected. Consequently, analysis of tourism tends to be contentious and premised on weak empirical bases, dominated by economic concerns and with little regard to non-economic matters. In Vanuatu, traditional culture exemplifies the essential character of people and place and as well as offering ni-Vanuatus fortitude, is a drawcard for international tourists. This thesis is an ethnographic examination of the tourism-traditional culture nexus as personified in the tradition-modernity binary. Kastom (tradition) and the kastom ekonomi (traditional economy) frame traditional culture and local socialities, give people resilience and in a classic Polanyian (Polanyi, 1957; Dalton, 1968) sense, is embedded in society and social relationships. The transition from the traditional to the modern is denoted as the neotraditional by Marshall Sahlins (2005). Sahlins’ (ibid., p. 23) theoretical notion developman, articulated as the “indigenous way of coping with capitalism” is applied in this thesis. In Vanuatu, tourism has significant presence within the kastom ekonomi and is a key agent in the emergence of the neotraditional. This research argues that establishing a harmonious relationship with traditional culture may make way for improved tourism outcomes. At a local-level there is tacit acceptance that the diminishment of traditionalisms is offset by gains made in the neotraditional. Reconciling the tensions of the tourism-traditional culture interface holds theoretical and practical implications concerning how tourism and other non-traditional industries may provoke more fecund and enduring grassroots outcomes.