Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Favela Tour

Favelas are the shanty towns throughout Brazil with Rio having perhaps the most well know. If you have seen Children of God you understand what a favela is. On the tourist maps of Rio there are huge areas simply labeled "favela." No streets are indicated. This would be like having a city map of a major US city and then having a poor section of town simply labeled "poor" and marked with a separated color without any other detail. The problem is that just using the term "poor" does not capture a favela. The "house" pictured here is only misleading because it does not fully portray the cramped condition.

While favela are simple "areas" on tourist maps they have evidently become tourist attractions. You can pay to go on a tour. Evidently you can buy trinkets and paintings and there is some benefit to the people. On the other hand, there may be something a bit off-putting about touring to view poverty and misery -- first stop Copacabana, second stop destitution. My sense is that the people running the tours are well motivated but I am torn. Maybe every visitor to Rio, before dropping $200 on a meal, should be required to tour a favela. On the other hand, if they become an attraction does it mean the misery of some becomes a source of enrichment for others?


Greg N. said...

My friend June Arunga, who is originally from Kenya, often tells the story of her least favorite people: American tourists who would come through her neighborhood with cameras to capture images of the natives. They would talk about how "authentic" African culture is, and how the way she and her family lived was so much more pure than the superficial West.

Of course, the same people would soon get on a big airplane and head back to the U.S., where unlike June's Kenya, medicine and food are found in abundance.

She now works to promote free trade and free markets in Africa.

Greg N. said...

Off topic, but I thought you might be interested in this, if you haven't seen it already...