#CulturedAF: How to be culturally sensitive when travelling

2018-02-12 14:41 - Saara Mowlana
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Cape Town - With the broil in the media surrounding the inappropriate and irresponsible vlogging behaviour of American YouTuber, Logan Paul, earlier this year, many have come forth to discuss the issue of cultural sensitivity. Paul had vlogged him and his friends entering the sacred Japanese forest, Aokigahara, also referred to as the 'suicide forest' due the high rates of suicide that occur there annually.

SEE: #SAHeritage: SA's 10 most endangered cultural heritage sites revealed

The issue arose when he had included footage of a person who had recently committed suicide via hanging and filmed close ups of the body. He and his friends made poor jokes and laughed about their discovery in a sense of pride and self-acclaimed heroism.

While Paul had blurred the face, many had still called the act disrespectful and a complete disregard for the family of the person. The vlog later showed a person in charge of the forest warning Paul and his friends that they should not have been in that section of the forest as it is restricted. 

CHECK OUT: #ShockWildlifeTruths: Major SA hotel group continues to promote lion walks

This is not the first time a well-known name has been irresponsible and unconscious with their fame and privilege. While doing PR for the movie Passengers, during an interview with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt on The Graham Norton Show, Lawrence had admitted to scratching her butt on sacred rocks in Hawaii- where filming took place. 

Lawrence had laughed as she recalled the tale of almost killing one of the sound crew members when her butt had loosened one of these sacred rocks causing it to tumble down the mountain slope. Matters had only gotten worse when she admitted she knew that these rocks were sacred.

"There were … sacred … rocks — I dunno, they were ancestors, who knows — they were sacred," explained Jennifer. "You were not supposed to sit on them because you weren’t supposed to expose your genitalia to them."

Nationally and locally, South Africa is a boiling pot of various cultures, religions, customs and beliefs. From sacred traditions regarding the coming of age- such as the initiation in isiXhosa culture, religious and traditional tribal body paints and sacred land such as the Holy Forest, Thathe Vondo, in Soutpansberg Limpopo. While the broader forest is open to the public, the burial ground area called the Sacred Forest is off limits to public.

ALSO SEE: #SAHeritage: SA's diverse cultural traditions unpacked

So, how does one end up avoiding becoming another headline scandal while travelling abroad or locally?

Ask, ask, ask

People are more willing to answer your questions than to have poor or misinformed assumptions passed around. If you see something that's new or unfamiliar to you and your 'norm', ask what it is about before disregarding it or trivialising it into an aesthetic new shot for Instagram with the hashtag #CulturedAF slapped in the caption. 

Some cultural traditions are so sacred that even casually talking about it or photographing it is restricted. So always think twice and ask really nice. 

Framing your curiosity correctly can be self-saving

If you do ask questions, make sure you're doing so with care and consideration. As mentioned in the previous point, some cultural traditions are so sacred that even speaking about it is disrespectful. So the way in which you ask the questions you may have are important and also who you ask is important. If you don't wish to talk to any one person on the street - find out how to contact a cultural figure head in the community to feed your curiosity. 

Consider how you'd like to be asked if you were the person ascribing to the culture and its traditions and then make it even gentler than that.

READ: #SAHeritage: Khomani World Heritage Site officially launched with plans for new camp

Read the signs

Literally and figuratively. If it is sacred ground - there is undoubtedly signs up to let visitors know and to restrict access to certain areas. If there aren't any signs, there would be verbal warnings beforehand. Read the social signs and queues regarding people. You can see whether a person is comfortable or not by your staring or spontaneous photography.

No need to vent, if you first get consent.

Research

If you aren't into talking to people head on about their culture, but still feel entitled to snap it, do your research beforehand. Find out what's appropriate and what's not. Find out about the cultures and their customs of ahead of your visit. Don't be unconscious - preparation is better than an apology. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

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Keep quiet and avoid a riot

If you still haven't done any of the above to prepare yourself, avoid disaster regarding the diverse and new cultures you might encounter on your venture, by keeping your camera lens closed and your mind open and your assumptions sealed.

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Save yourself from embarrassment and talk to people, ask the questions, get permission and learn from all of the beauty this world has to offer.

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