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The Maasai and the Lion King: Authenticity, Nationalism, and Globalization in African Tourism

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The Maasai and the Lion King: Authenticity, Nationalism, and Globalization in African Tourism
Edward M. Bruner

This chapter analyzes how the Maasai of Kenya are presented in three different tourist performances--postcolonial, postindependence, and postmodern. Each site tells a different story, its own tourist tale and version of history, with its own perspective on the role of ethnicity and heritage within the nation-state and in the world community. Using a method of controlled comparison, I expand the theoretical dialogue in tourism debates by departing from the monolithic discourse that has characterized so much of tourism scholarship.

Early work on the anthropology of tourism documented a variety of tourist experience in terms of a typology of tourism, including ethnic, cultural, historical, environmental, and recreational tourism (Smith 1989:4-6), as well as a typology of tourists, including explorer, elite, mass, individual traveler, backpacker, and charter tourists (Cohen 1979; Pearce 1982; Smith 1989:11-14). All tourism and all tourists were not the same, but scholars in the field tended to reduce the variety by seeking the essence of the tourist experience, as a quest for authenticity (MacCannell 1976), a personal transition from home to elsewhere (Graburn 1989), a form of neocolonialism (Nash 1977), or a particular type of "gaze" (Urry 1990). The typologies of tourism and tourists ordered the data but yielded few insights. Exceptions to the generalizations were common, rendering questionable their usefulness; one was never sure when or where the general propositions were applicable.
More recent field studies of tourism among particular peoples have tended to avoid typologies and monolithic generalizations, but still there is a predilection to homogenize local tourist displays. The Maasai are represented as male warriors (chapter 1), the Pueblo as female potters (Babcock 1990b), the Balinese as living in a magical world of dance and drama (chapter 7; Picard 1996; Vickers 1989), and the Tahitians as representing South Seas sensuality (Kahn 2000). In such cases, a single form of tourism becomes associated with one ethnic group in a given locality, similar to the effect that Appadurai (1988) observes for ethnography, where the connection between topic and place becomes the defining characteristic of a people, to the exclusion of other perspectives, for example, caste with India, lineage with Africa, or exchange with Melanesia. Tourism scholarship thus aligns itself with tourism marketing, in that scholars tend to work within the frame of the commercial versions of their sites. Grand statements about the nature of tourism in Bali or Africa or even more broadly in the "Third World" are sometimes the result, to the neglect of more ethnographically based and nuanced analyses of the variety of tourist displays within any one culture area.
My objective in this chapter is to open up the theoretical dialogue in tourism scholarship, and I do so by applying a method of controlled comparison (based on Eggan 1954), showing how one ethnic group, the Maasai, are exhibited for tourists at three different sites in Kenya.1 Although all three sites present a gendered image of the Maasai warrior (the personification of masculinity), a controlled comparison enables me to describe three ways of producing this image. Accordingly, I demonstrate how the breadth of meanings, ironies, and ambiguities in tourist performances emerges from a critical comparison of the processes of their production. For example, familiar concepts in the literature (such as authenticity, tradition, and heritage) are relevant in only certain touristic contexts. I emphasize the importance of the distinction--not fully appreciated in the anthropological literature--between domestic and foreign tourism2, as well as the wide ranging impact of globalization on the staging of local tourism. Further, I show that historically forms of tourism are parallel to forms of ethnographic writing. Finally, I examine the sites in terms of what I call the "questioning gaze," my reference to tourists' expressed doubts about the veracity of what they are seeing and the way their questions and skepticism penetrate the commercial presentation, undermining the producer's dominant narrative.3
Kenya achieved independence from Britain in 1963 and has a population of approximately thirty million divided into about forty-two ethnic groups. The tensions between these many ethnic groups have at times been severe. The Maasai, presented at the three tourist sites I discuss, are a seminomadic pastoral group with a total population of about four hundred thousand in Kenya; Maasai also live in Tanzania (Spear and Waller 1993).
The three Kenyan field sites are Mayers Ranch, described in chapter 1, a privately produced performance organized by local entrepreneurs; Bomas of Kenya, a public production developed by the national government; and what a tour agency calls an "Out of Africa Sundowner" party at the Kichwa Tembo tented safari camp near the Masai Mara national reserve. Other chapters in this volume offer humanistically oriented descriptions of tourist performances privileging political complexities and local voices. My emphasis here is on the production and on the tourists, not on indigenous perceptions. My intention is to discuss each of the three sites so that the comparisons and juxtapositions between them become grist for the theoretical mill. What I say about any one site is designed to contrast with another. As such, I summarize material from Myers as a comparative baseline, as a superb example of postcolonial tourism that eventually gave way to newer modes of production, and devote more analytic attention to the other two Maasai sites.
A thumbnail sketch of each site follows. Designed for foreign tourists, the production at Mayers staged Maasai dancing in their warrior compound, chanting and carrying spears, proud and aloof (Figure 6, Figure7). The production hid all outside influences and manufactured objects, presenting Maasai as timeless and ahistorical. Mayers reproduced a 19th-century colonial narrative (Knowles and Collett 1989) of Maasai men as exemplars of an African primitive, as natural man. It depicted Maasai men as brave warriors, tall and athletic, men who, at least in the past, would raid for cattle, kill lions armed with but a spear, consume raw foods such as milk and blood, and (as "Lords of East Africa") instill respect and fear in others. The producers strived for tourist realism (the aura of authenticity), and the site was designed as a series of tableaux, set up for tourist photography. The tourists viewed the Maasai from a colonial subject position, as did early explorers and ethnographers. Mayers began in 1968 and flourished until the later 1980s but was eventually closed by the government as the colonial aspects were offensive to many Kenyans. I will discuss the relations between tourism and ethnography later, but I note here that the critique of colonialism within anthropology (Asad 1975; Hymes 1972; Marcus and Fischer 1986) was part of the same worldwide anticolonial movement that led to the closing of Mayers Ranch in Kenya.
Bomas is a national folklore troupe that presents the dances of Kenyan ethnic groups, including the Maasai, primarily for an audience of modern urban Kenyans. The mechanisms of production are prominently displayed. The dances are staged in an auditorium, with rows of seats and a bar in the back for the sale of refreshments. The theme of the production is Kenyan nationalism, to show that all the ethnic groups of Kenya are equally valued. Representatives of Bomas say that their aim is the preservation of Kenyan heritage, as if each ethnic culture is in the past and has to be recuperated in a museum-like setting. Bomas is an ethnic theme park for domestic tourists, a genre now found in many areas of the developing world, and the basis of chapter 8.4
The Sundowner presents Maasai men dancing in the context of an "Out of Africa" cocktail party near an upscale tented safari camp on the Mara reserve. The Maasai performers mix with the tourists, who are served drinks and hors d'oeuvres by uniformed waiters. Globalizing influences are apparent, as Hollywood pop culture images of Africa and blackness are enacted for these foreign tourists as they sip champagne, alternately chatting among themselves and dancing with Maasai, all the while on safari in the African bush. These are post-tourists (Feifer 1985; Urry 1990:100-102), beyond traditional tourism, who want a gracious African experience, all the comforts and luxury of home, and a good show rather than staged authenticity.
At all three tourist sites, Maasai men perform for an audience, but there are important differences. These differences are evident in the modes of transportation taken by the tourists to each site, and I describe them here, as the journey to a tourist destination is itself an inherent part of the tourist experience. Mayers is located in the Rift Valley about fifty minutes by car from Nairobi. Most tourists reached Mayers over dirt roads as passengers in a minivan provided by a local tour company. Bomas is located on the outskirts of Nairobi along the public bus route, and a convenient way of going is to drive or to take a city bus. Kichwa Tembo safari lodge is located by the Masai Mara reserve. In 1999, to take one example in which I participated, a group of tourists on the Intrav agency "Out of Africa" tour first visited Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania, and then went by small charter aircraft directly from Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania to the Kichwa Tembo private airstrip in Kenya. The planes did not stop in Nairobi or go through Kenyan immigration or customs.5 They flew directly from Tanzania to Kenya, over nation-states, in a seamless journey from one game park to another, indeed a transnational experience. From the perspective of the tourists, there was no border crossing, as the "nations" of Tanzania and Kenya were not really experienced. The tour was above borders, traveling not just in airspace but in global space. Travel by van, public bus, and charter aircraft characterize the three tourist attractions.
First, I summarize briefly material on Mayers and then contrast these data with Bomas and the Sundowner. Although this study deals with Kenya, I suggest that the different contexts of production may be replicated in many other areas of the world where tourism is prominent. For reasons I explain in the conclusion, my claim is that my approach in this chapter has relevance beyond Kenya.
Mayers Ranch
The day after returning to Kenya in 1995, I learned that the performance at Mayers Ranch had been closed by the government in the late 1980s, and that the issue had even come to the attention of the Kenyan parliament. I drove to the ranch, and during lunch Jane and John Mayers explained to me why they had been put out of business, and they did so, of course, from their own perspective, as descendants of a white British colonial family. It was a combination of factors, they said, including local politics, but the primary reason was that the government felt they were exploiting the Maasai. The Mayers reported that an African American tour group visiting the ranch to watch the Maasai performance had objected strongly, complaining about its colonial aspects--specifically, that the Mayers lived in a big house whereas the Maasai lived in mud huts, and that the Mayers gave food to the Maasai as part of their compensation, which they felt was paternalistic. The Mayers's brochure said that the Maasai were a linguistic subgroup of the Nilotic, but other black American tourists objected strongly to the term subgroup, which they regarded as insulting. The key factor, however, according to the Mayers and others in the tourism industry with whom I spoke, was that many Kenyans felt the performance of Maasai warriors dancing in a European homestead was simply too anachronistic in modern Kenya.
After closing the tourist performance, the Mayers remained on their ranch and engaged in other income-producing activities. They missed the income from tourism, but Jane expressed a feeling of relief, saying they had felt "totally invaded" having 150 tourists come to their home on any given day. John felt their mistake had been that their admission price had been too low, suggesting that they had underestimated the value of their attraction and not appreciated the vast sums of money involved in international tourism. Jane acknowledged, as she had ten years earlier on my first visit, that a performance about tribalism and colonialism was indeed an anachronism and felt it would be best if the Maasai were producing their own performances. Some of the Maasai who had worked at Mayers went to the hotels in Mombasa and the coast where they found employment as performers in Maasai tourist productions, and a few became involved in the sex industry, catering mainly to European women seeking a sexual experience with a Maasai man.
Cultural tourism recreates in performance idealized colonial images and other representations of the past, the pastoral, the original, and the unpolluted. Tourism performances, throughout the world, frequently enact imperialist nostalgia (Rosaldo 1989) and regularly reproduce stereotypic images, discredited histories, and romantic fantasies. The past is manipulated in performance to serve the expectations of the tourists and to perform their master narratives about their destinations, stories already in place before they begin their sojourn.
Mayers Ranch was a brilliant postcolonial enactment for foreigners of the dominant East African tourist tale. It was Hazel Mayers who devised the idea of hiring local Maasai, some from families who had worked on their cattle ranch as herders to build a Maasai manyatta (compound) for young warriors who would perform their dances and enact aspects of their culture for tourists, after which the tourists would then go to the Mayers's lawn for tea and crumpets. The physical movement from the mud huts and brown dust of the Maasai compound to the lush green garden adjacent to the Mayers's main house crystallized the contrast between the primitive Maasai and the genteel British, evoking the broader contrast between the wild and the civilized. The tourists at Mayers experienced vicariously the wildness of the Maasai and, by extension, the wildness of Africa, only to return at the end of the performance to civilization, to the safety of the Mayers's cultivated lawn and the veritable sanctuary of a British garden. On the elegant lawn, the Mayers were gracious, telling stories about colonial times, while the black servants dressed in white aprons and white chef's hats, served tea and cookies. As white settlers, the Mayers themselves were part of the tourist attraction, nostalgic relics of a colonial era.
The tourists told me they found the production fascinating, in part because it was so carefully edited and produced. The Maasai performers (or actors) were not allowed by the Mayers (the directors of the drama) to wear or display modern clothing, watches, or any industrial manufactured objects. The only souvenirs sold at Mayers were those handcrafted by Maasai. The entire performance was produced to achieve tourist realism, an ambience of authenticity, and the appearance of the real. The Mayers directed the Maasai to act as if they were what the foreign tourists regarded as 19th-century tribesmen, the African primitive. The rituals performed at the Maasai village were made to seem natural, as if the Maasai were dancing for themselves and the tourists just appeared there by chance. The constructedness of the site was masked. Some of the Maasai dancers had been to school and spoke English, but during performance time they remained aloof and mute.
The performance may have been brilliant but was nevertheless an instance of whites producing blacks, where the whites spoke, graciously, in a British accent, while the blacks were silenced. The show featured the tribal unchanging Maasai in a nation trying to develop its peoples into national citizens. Mayers Ranch catered to the darkest desires of the tourist imaginary, fixing Maasai people in a frozen past, representing them as primitive, denying their humanity, and glorifying the British colonialism that enslaved them.
Bomas of Kenya
The second attraction discussed in this chapter, Bomas of Kenya, constructs a different picture, for a different audience. Bomas, opened to the public in 1973, is a government museum of the performing arts, an encyclopedic presentation of the cultural heritage of a nation, performed by a professional dance troupe whose members are government employees.6 Their website says Bomas "offers Kenya in Miniature" (Bomas of Kenya 2000). Like Mayers, Bomas has regularly scheduled daily shows. The patrons pay admission, move into a 3,500-seat auditorium for the performance (see Figure 8), and then exit from the building to walk to the eleven traditional minivillages.7
Each village features the architecture of a particular ethnic group--Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Taita, Embu, Maasai, Kamba, Kissii, Kuria, Mijikenda, and Luo--and consists of a few houses typical of that group, or as the Bomas web site says "the original traditional Architecture . . . as built by the ancestors" (Bomas of Kenya 2000). Significantly, there is no claim that the houses are those of contemporary peoples. Handicrafts are available for purchase in each village. The crafts shown, however, are not restricted to those produced by the members of any one ethnic group but are representative of all Kenyan groups, comparable to the crafts that can be found in any souvenir shop in Nairobi. Nor are the sellers necessarily members of the same ethnic group as those in whose village the array is located. A Kikuyu seller, for example, might be found in the Maasai village. Further, no one actually lives in the villages; they are for display purposes only.
National dance troupes have been established in Uganda, Senegal, Mali, and most other African nations as part of government policy, just as performance troupes, ethnic village complexes, nations in miniature, and national museums have been established in many countries of the world. These sites differ, of course, but a general aim is to collect, preserve, and exhibit the art, culture, and history of a nation. To quote from a mimeographed information program distributed by Bomas of Kenya, "We specialize in traditional dancing and preservation of Kenya Cultural Heritage." The word preservation is a key. Whereas at Mayers the claim is that the Maasai are still living as they have for "a thousand years" and are essentially unchanged, Bomas talks of preserving, which implies that traditional ways no longer exist, that they are in danger of disappearing, that they belonged to the ancestors. Bomas makes a claim very different from the discourse directed toward foreign tourists. At Mayers, the Maasai occupy space in the ethnographic present; at Bomas they, and the other Kenyan groups, are in the traditional past.
At the top of the Bomas program one finds "REF: NO.BK/15/11," a reference number, typical of government documents everywhere. Other evidence of a nationalistic emphasis is easy to find. For example, the performance troupe calls itself the "harambee dancers." Coined by Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, harambee is a powerful national slogan that means roughly "all pull together" (Leys 1975:75). In Kenya there are many harambee groups, sometimes called self-help or cooperative groups, and, indeed, there is a national harambee movement. The program distributed at Bomas consisted of six pages, including advertising, and described each act or scene in sequence--there were 22 in all. The last act, called the finale, was described as follows: "This is a salute in praise of His Excellency Hon. Daniel Arap Moi the President of the Republic of Kenya." Such statements render the performance of traditional dancing explicitly nationalistic.
The Bomas harambee dance troupe consists of members of many different ethnic groups, and any member of the troupe may perform the dances of any of the other Kenyan groups. At Mayers, Maasai performed Maasai dancing, but at Bomas a Kikuyu dancer, for example, could do the dances of the Maasai, the Samburu, the Kikuyu, or any group. Bomas creates an ensemble of performers from different groups who live together at Bomas as a residential community in a harambee arrangement, almost as an occupational subculture, apart from their extended families and home communities. The harambee dancers from Bomas are available for hire all over the world and have made overseas tours to the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, and other countries.
The troupe acts as a single functioning unit, detaching ritual dancing from its home community and putting it in a museum, a professional theater, or on the national or international stage. The troupe becomes an explicit model of the nation, melding diversity into a modern organization, disconnecting heritage from tribe. The implicit message of Bomas is that tribal dances belong to the nation. By separating cultural forms from tribal ownership, Bomas asserts that the multiethnic heritage of Kenya is now the property of all Kenyans. As an expression of nationalist ideology, Bomas speaks about tribalism as memory, in performance, where it is less threatening.
Bomas tells a story for Kenyans about themselves and appeals most to urban Kenyans. Their web site states that visitors can see "rural Kenyan life" (Bomas of Kenya 2000). On Sunday afternoons, Bomas is crowded with local families who come with their children. Whereas the Mayers were hosts to foreign tourists and, on Sundays, to a resident expatriate British community, Bomas is host to a few foreign tourists but mostly to urban Kenyan families.8 Businessmen meet there for conversation over beer or coffee. It is a place for Kenyans to honor their ethnicity in an urban setting, to see dances that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to witness. Bomas also arranges special shows for schools and educational institutions in the mornings, two days a week, highlighting their educational function.
For purposes of this chapter, it is important to understand how Kenyan tourist discourse uses such terms as tribalism, traditional, modern, primitive, and civilized. The six-page program of Bomas does not once contain the term tribal or tribesmen, and it uses the word tribe only twice, and then merely descriptively, as the equivalent of people or group. In contrast, tribal and tribesmen are crucial terms in tourist discourse for foreigners. The tourist brochures issued by private tour companies advertising trips to Kenya for an American or European audience use tribal with the implicit idea that the people so characterized are primitive and representative of an earlier state of existence. Significantly, the term used in the Bomas program is traditional (see Figure 9), which contrasts with modern. The Kenyan audience at Bomas consists of modern urbanites, and what they witness on stage are their own traditional dances, part of a previous historical era, reflecting on their own present modernity in composite ways. Although sometimes used in the Kenyan media, the terms tribal and especially tribalism have a negative connotation in contemporary Kenya, as they have in many of the multiethnic nations of the world. The Kenyan government has long acknowledged deep-rooted ethnic identifications as a serious national problem (Chilungu 1985:15; Okumu 1975).
In brief, tribal is a term for foreign tourists used at Mayers, traditional is a term for domestic tourists used at Bomas, and ethnicity is a more neutral term, used by some Kenyans and anthropologists alike to avoid the derogatory or misleading connotations of tribal or traditional. The terms have different associations in touristic, ethnographic, and political discourse. Bomas, in a sense, has taken the concept of the tribe, and put it in the archives or in the museum, where hopefully, it will be safe and out of the way.
The language of the Bomas program is revealing: Here are excerpts describing two of the Bomas acts:
The background to this item is the assassination of Nakhabuka, a young and beautiful girl of Abamahia clan in Bunyala, (Western Kenya). Her jealous boyfriend shoots her with an arrow at the river, because she has married someone else. Her great spirit enters the body of one of the villagers and demands that a wrestling dance be performed occasionally in her memory.
This item features a Giriama couple who are getting married. Unfortunately, the bride, having been bewitched just before the ceremony, threatens to refuse her man. It takes the skill of a famous medicineman to bring her back to agreement before the wedding can continue. The events of the wedding are heralded by the Gonda dance (performed mainly around Malindi on the Northern Coast of Kenya).
This is the genre of the folktale, indigenous stories. Embedded in the Bomas program are minifolktales, dramatic narratives about everyday life. The stories are culturally and geographically specific. They refer to the Abamahia clan or to a Giriama couple and to such actual places as western Kenya or the north coast. These are real places. There is none of the generalized language of much of the tourist discourse produced for a foreign audience with its vague references to the untouched African primitive.9 The function of such generalized references to tribesmen or to primitives is to distance the object, to depersonalize, to separate the tourist from the African. The Bomas stories, on the other hand, tell about the heritage of specific groups, ones with which the Kenyan audience can identify. That the stories tell about being bewitched, about a famous medicine man, and about spirits is part of the magical language of the folktale, but it also reflects a reality of Kenyan cultural life (Geschiere 1997).
Mayers was performed in a Maasai compound, and all Western objects were hidden from the audience. Bomas is performed in a modern auditorium that contains a restaurant and a huge bar. Before, during, and after the performance, members of the audience can order drinks. Mayers was characterized by an absence of signs; at Bomas there are signs everywhere, including ones that give the price of admission, directions to the auditorium, directions to the traditional villages, even signs that advertise Coca-Cola. Each of the villages has its own sign.
Bomas is professionally produced with such technical virtuosity that it seems like a Kenyan Ziegfeld follies, with professional lighting, sound effects, and with the performers in matching costumes. At Bomas, the performers are clearly on stage and they smile at the audience, whereas at Mayers the Maasai were preoccupied with their dancing. At Mayers, toward the end of the dancing, the audience was invited to come on to the outdoor stage to view the performers close up, and to photograph them, whereas at Bomas there is an unbridgeable gap between the actors and the audience. The audience at Bomas does not mix with the actors on stage. Bomas gives one the feeling of being at a concert or at a theatrical production, and, indeed, Bomas employed an American producer for a time.
Mayers had a close fit between the performance and the setting and that was part of the message. Bomas has a lack of fit between the performance and the setting, and that too is part of the message. The genre of Mayers was tourist realism. The genre of Bomas is nationalist theater. Although both are studiously produced, Mayers was made to seem underproduced, and Bomas overproduced. The aim at Mayers was to mask the artifice of production. The aim at Bomas is to expose the processes of production so as to create a discontinuity between the production and what it is designed to represent. Mayers denied change. Bomas highlights change. Bomas detaches culture from tribe and displays it before the nation for all to see and share, and in the process Bomas aestheticizes, centralizes, and decontextualizes ritual. Ironically, what Bomas represents is what British colonialism was trying to achieve, the detribalization of Kenya. The British tried, but eventually failed, to turn Kenyans into colonial subjects. Bomas succeeds, in performance, in turning Kenyans into national citizens. Disjunction at Bomas is a rhetorical strategy, whereas at Mayers the strategy was to stress continuity. Mayers was a Western fantasy. Bomas is a national wish fulfillment. Mayers and Bomas are equally political and each tries to present its own version of history. Mayers was not an accurate reflection of contemporary Maasai culture, neither is Bomas an accurate reflection of Kenyan traditionalism.
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