The Bushman Brand in Southern African Tourism: An Indigenous Modernity in a Neoliberal Political Economy

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Many scholars have explained that the primordial image of Bushmen, in which
they are represented as the ‘authentic’ indigenous people of nature, is a significant construct that contributes to their contemporary marginalised status. This image continues in the post-independence and post-apartheid contexts of South African and Namibian tourism. In this industry, the Bushman image tends to be fortified in the context of a broader neoliberal political economy. This fortification has consequently created a setting in which images are commodified more than ever before, although this is of course the result of a longer historical process. This chapter explores how the image of the Bushmen has changed throughout history, where it stands today in tourism, and what the consequences of this are. The Bushman image is demonstrated to have become a brand, the ‘Bushman brand’, suited mostly to Western ideas about who these people are. Today, Bushmen show a strong dependence upon market forces if they wish to work in tourism, where they are compelled to invent and reinvent their traditions based on tourists’ expectations. This process creates an uncomfortable contradiction for those working in or supporting tourism: using the Bushman brand to adapt to the demands of tourism simultaneously makes this a product, which is generally considered ‘inauthentic’. However, although at first this might sound like an exploitative situation in which the Bushmen are victims of more powerful forces in the market, the author argues that in some cases the Bushman brand can provide for their agency, to be used strategically as a so-called indigenous modernity, in which ‘modern’ phenomena, e.g. the Bushman brand, are used to reassert and even fortify their identity as the authentic indigenous people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-250
JournalSenri Ethnological Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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