The latest issue of Outside Magazine has an article
about the new thing in adventure vacations: a First Contact tour
. On these tours, run by guide Kelly Woolford, you get to trek into the rainforest of Papua New Guinea and make contact with a 'Stone Age' tribe that has never met people from the outside world before. Apparently such tribes do still exist (though obviously they won't for long if these tours get more popular). Michael Behar, author of the article, decides to go on one of these tours and see what it's all about. So in September 2004 he joins the tour and they set off on a boat down a river in Papua New Guinea. After cruising along for a few days they finally get off the boat and start trekking into the jungle. Four hours from the river they make contact. Unfortunately it doesn't go well. The tribesmen they meet (who are wearing black headdresses made from cassowary feathers), end up attacking them, and the tour flees back to civilization. But once he's back home Behar starts to doubt whether he really experienced a 'first contact'. He suspects that the entire encounter was staged for his benefit. Maybe Woolford had arranged beforehand for the tribesmen to be there. Anthropologists whom Behar tells about the contact support this suspicion, noting that the tribesmen appeared to be suspiciously free of skin diseases for people living in the jungle. Plus, why were they wearing those ceremonial headdresses? But Woolford insists it was all real, arguing that the tribesmen were free of skin diseases because they lived near a source of fresh water in which they could bathe, and that they were wearing the headdresses simply because they enjoy dressing up. So Behar is left not knowing what to believe. It does sound an awful lot like a Stone Age Tasaday scenario
to me. But even if it's not, the idea of a First Contact Tour is somehow very depressing.