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The Concept of the Primitive in Texts and Images

From Colonial Travelogues to Tourist Blogs in Southwestern Ethiopia

Tamás Régi

Keywords: AFRICA; ANTHROPOLOGY; ETHIOPIA TOURISM; HISTORY; PRIMITIVE MEN; TRAVELOGUE; VISUAL REPRESENTATION

The question of the cultural Other has always been central in the anthropology of tourism. The predominant way in which the Other appears in writings about Africa is as a manifestation of primitiveness. But the concept of the primitive tends to be treated in this literature in general terms, rather than analyzed through specific case studies. This article presents an image-dependent historiographical case study of the concept of the primitive through an analysis of colonial travelogues, hunting stories, guide and coffee table books and tourist blogs relating to the lower Omo Valley of southwestern Ethiopia. The article investigates how the trope of the primitive has been used as a politically and culturally powerful ideology and argues that a visual-historical methodology is an effective tool to explicate the social history of the primitive, an idea that draws many Western tourists to visit remote corners of Africa and seek out exotic tribes. The article is based on an extended period of anthropological field research and an extensive analysis of secondary sources.

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