Will Cultural Experiences Feel Commercialised?

Article from the series: Frequently Asked Questions about Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo

11mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO400

Quite some years ago I guided a group of tourists to Rwanda and Uganda for a Swedish tour company. They had a couple of “cultural experiences” as part of the program. They weren’t my cup of tea, to say the least, and most of my guests felt the same way. A few days later I added an experience prepared by the Gorilla Highlands team to our program: a visit to a Batwa community at the edge of Echuya Forest. There was an organised activity, of course — a guided tour through the forest — but it wasn’t a performance, it certainly wasn’t staged, and there was plenty of time for spontaneous interaction which seemed to be as enjoyable for the Batwa as it was for us.

In short, then: some will, some won’t. It really depends. Some of it is up to you and how you choose to behave in any situation you find yourself in; even if an experience feels staged or commercialised, there is usually room for genuine conversations and interactions. Partly it is about how and with whom you travel. A good local guide can make an enormous difference, helping you break the ice and ensuring real meetings with real people, not actors playing parts. But even when you run into the latter, try to be understanding. This is about both important livelihoods and cultural pride, and even if the execution sometimes feels a bit stilted or the interaction a little awkward … well, that’s not the end of the world, is it?

I’ve always liked this photo, because it was anything but a staged song-and-dance outbreak during one of our visits to the Batwa community I mentioned earlier. Singing, dancing and drama are important parts of many African cultures, so even if nothing is planned, chances are a visit to a local community will involve some aspect of at least one of those, as it did here.

Don’t miss our extensive interview with Marcus and head to his website for even more.