Last chance to see: Cultures on the brink

Last chance to see: Cultures on the brink
By admin

Every 14 days a language dies. National Geographic also predicts that by the year 2100, more than half of the estimated 7000 languages spoken on Earth – many of them not yet recorded – may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain.

One recent case is the extinction of an ancient tribal language of the Andaman Islands, known as Bo. The last fluent speaker of the language, who lived in this island chain off India, was a lady named Boa Sr. She died in 2010 at the age of 85.

Bo, which took its name from a now-extinct tribe, was one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages, believed to date back 65,000 years to pre-Neolithic human settlement of South East Asia. Sadly, the language and the beating heart of this culture is no more.

""All to often man's mark on the world not only leads to the alteration of the environment, but to the extinction of species or pressures on fragile cultures. Regrettably, Japan became a victim of this phenomena recently. Countless villages were obliterated and thousands of people perished following the earthquake-triggered tsunami in July 2011, but the situation was compounded by widespread radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that forced thousands of residents to leave their homes in towns such as Okuma and Namie.

The 20km exclusion zone where such towns were located is proving difficult to decontaminate and it's unlikely residents will be able to return during their lifetimes.

But while stories like this are tragic, there are many cultures and communities around the world where actions have been taken to save them from destruction, thanks to the help of public and private organisations, dedicated individuals and the tourism industry itself.


One of the worst natural disasters in recent Thai history was a series of mudslides in the area around Khao Luang National Park in November 1988, following weeks of torrential rains. Deforestation of this area in southern Thailand was the underlying reason for the catastrophe, which claimed 700 lives and wiped out several communities. The disaster prompted the introduction of a logging ban the following year.

Ban Khiri Wong was one of the villages affected, with the damaged Khiri Wong Temple serving as a local memorial to the events of 1988. But the fact that this place is even on the tourism map today is testament to the work of its residents. Ban Khiri Wong, in fact, is hailed as a pioneer of community-based tourism in Thailand. Having the magnificent backdrop of Khao Luang (the tallest mountain in southern Thailand) is certainly a tourism drawcard, but it's the variety of activities offering insights into the local way of life that have enabled this hard-working community to get back on its feet and attract visitors.

Residents make a living selling produce from their fruit orchards, having passed down through the generations a technique known as Suan Somrom – the practice of organically growing several kinds of fruits in the same plot, such as durian, mangosteen, coconut or banana trees.

Visitors have the opportunity to take a stroll among the fruit trees, and enjoy a relaxing dip in the river and waterfall. They can also check out several handicraft co-operatives to watch demonstrations such as the making tie-dye cloths and the weaving of jewellery from cords and natural materials. And those with a penchant for peaks can try climbing the 1835 metre high Khao Luang, with the trek to the top taking around three days.

Getting there:

Thai Airways currently operates 38 flights a week from Australia to Bangkok. Ban Khiri Wong is located in Nakhon Si Thammarat province and can be reached by bus, train or plane.


For those with a thirst for adventure and a strong interest in military history, the Kokoda Track is a rite of passage that's up there with Gallipoli. Australia has a strong connection to the track, our soldiers having fought alongside local troops during the bloody World War II campaign of 1942, with many making the ultimate sacrifice.

The tourism industry around the Kokoda Track began to boom back in 2004, however many of the profits from the trekking industry were returning to Australia via Australian-owned businesses. And while some local men who lived near the track were able to benefit from offering portering and guesthouse services, the women were being excluded.

The Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF), a not-for-profit organisation, stepped in and began its Pawa Givim Meri initiative in 2008, to find a way to connect women to the trekking industry so that more of the profits remained behind in the local communities and could be used for educational, health, and social purposes such as paying school fees.


"The Foundation was established to lend a hand to our nearest neighbour and to repay the debt that is owed by Australia to the great Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels by helping to improve the lives and livelihoods of their descendants. It supports 40 communities along and around the Kokoda Track in the important areas of education, health, community development and microbusiness," KTF executive director Genevieve Nelson said.

Through Pawa Givim Meri, the organisation runs small business workshops, literacy classes, and cooking classes with 11 women's groups along the Kokoda Track. The groups have all established permanent shopfronts from which they sell their fresh, nutritious snacks and meals to passing trekkers.

This year, the women have also started selling solar lights (via the foundation's Lighting Up The Track initiative) as well as selling their services to conduct simple maintenance on the lights and to change batteries. "For the first time ever, women along the Track are now earning a regular income and are using their profits to pay for expensive school fees, church and community projects, and to purchase staple items for the homes such as cooking oil and soap," Nelson said.

Getting there:

Air Niugini flies twice daily from both Brisbane and Cairns direct to Port Moresby and twice weekly direct from Sydney to Port Moresby. 



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