The Noble Savage Reconfigured: Paradox and Mimesis on Safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

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Tourists to Africa covet close encounters with dangerous wildlife, revelling in the simulation of the primal risks of the savannah, and yet they expect to be kept safe. Similarly, many tourists wish to engage with exotic local people, but in ways that ensure they feel comfortable socially and physically. Safari guides in the Okavango Delta fulfil these desires by facilitating close encounters with wildlife during luxury camping safaris, while becoming objects of fascination themselves as they perform the role of the ecologically noble savage. The exoticness of a number of these Botswana citizens is, however, rendered familiar and comfortable for tourists through the fact of their whiteness. In this paper, I explore the paradoxes evident within Okavango Delta tourism, with a focus on the ‘familiar exotics’ guiding tourists through landscapes constructed around notions of ‘safe danger’. In making sense of this paradigm, I argue that mimesis is at play within white citizens’ embodiment and commodification of cultural values and practices normatively associated with indigenous peoples. This case demonstrates that within the tourism nexus, the ecologically noble savage trope evident in romanticised global imaginaries of indigeneity has largely failed to empower Botswana’s indigenous Bushmen communities, while perpetuating white privilege.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-191
JournalAnthropological Forum: a journal of social anthropology and comparative sociology
Issue number1&2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2020


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