Ed's Note

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The word “explore” has an interesting history. Etymology site etymonline.com claims that the Latin explorare was “originally a hunter’s term meaning ‘set up a loud cry,’ from ex ‘out’ + plorare ‘to weep, cry’.” This seems plausible when you consider how people are apt to make a noise when they unexpectedly discover something delightful or repulsive, as the case may be: in a landscape, in a person, or even in themselves.

The use of the ordinary meaning “to go to a country or place in quest of discoveries” was first attested as recently as the 1610s. Now the seventeenth century was when things started getting very interesting, perhaps too interesting, all around the world, as C15 and C16 voyages of discovery were consolidated by settlement, trade and armed robbery. There were so many places being “discovered” and “explored” by various agents in service of various crowns, mostly seated in Europe. Chapman’s Peak, for example, was discovered and explored by Chapman, who claimed it in the name of the British King James.

Of course, none of these places were being explored for the first time, for the simple reason that other people had been there before. This did not stop our heroic European explorers from maintaining otherwise (in the case of Australia, to maintain the fiction that the island continent was “terra nullius”, or an uninhabited land, the Aborigines were conveniently dismissed as non human). Settlers and colonists imported their own mental furniture and landscapes and imposed their own values on the countries they had explored, explaining to the subjugated peoples that it was all for their own good. Today, however, the people are having none of it. In fact, it is clear that only the extremely deluded cling onto the reassuring assumptions of the past. People have been looking at each other differently for some time. People are exploring what it means to be alive at this present moment in time, in the place they happen to occupy, and what relations truly obtain between themselves and others.

The relevance of this to tourism is simple. Travelling to an unfamiliar region, country or continent cannot be treated as consumption: an experience obtained at a certain price. Instead, travelling means examining one’s own assumptions, not only about one’s destination, but also about one’s place of origin, and how one is likely to be changed by the journey.

A concrete example of this can be found in the form of the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. It’s a place which, simply by existing, enables the story of African art to be told from within Africa, rather than by museum curators in other countries. It facilitates the process whereby travel initiates self-exploration.

Enjoy exploring yourself in Africa this summer.

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