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Tribe wanted, reality check needed

Tribewanted.com aims to create a new model 'eco-community' on a Fijian island. It's actually just a time-share deal for thirtysomething narcissists.

Tara McCormack

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Do you yearn to make a difference? To be part of a community of like-minded spirits? Do you want to participate in the world’s first ‘eco-democracy’, and all in a totally carbon-neutral, ethical way? Then log on to www.tribewanted.com and check out the Tribe. It is seeking 5,000 people to sign up as Tribe members and help set up and run an eco-community camp on a remote Fijian island.

So far nearly 900 people have signed up. Once membership hits 5,000 The Tribe will officially come into being. Twelve ‘chiefs’ will be elected, each of whom will spend a month in charge. Other Tribe members have the right to spend between one and three weeks on the island, depending on whether they have bought ‘Nomad’, ‘Hunter’ or ‘Warrior’ memberships. At any one time there will only ever be 100 Tribe members physically residing in the island community. The other 4,900 will be logging on to Tribe TV, to be broadcast live continuously for three years. Members will also be encouraged to join online discussions and attend (non-virtual) gatherings. The entire Tribe will vote on organisational and infrastructural matters.

A cynic might suggest that this is just a cleverly reworked time-share deal being pitched to Western twenty- to fortysomethings looking for some purpose in their lives. However, beyond the description of the island as a combination of exotic adventure playground and luxury spa (and ‘a place where freshly caught seafood and island-grown fruits and vegetables are served daily’), the Tribe has much greater aspirations than giving people a couple of weeks in a faux-primitive time-share with a dash of Big Brother-style coverage thrown in for good measure.

This is not just tourism; apparently, this is ‘Fair Tourism’. Tribewanted promises to bring substantial benefits to the locals, and to Fiji more generally. Ethical business is, of course, big business these days. The Tribewanted website promises that the Tribe will make only a positive impact on the island environment and the local Fijian communities. As a sign of its commitment, there is a raft of experts on board, including a climate impact adviser, a social business adviser, and a sustainable community adviser. And participants are encouraged to make the whole project ‘carbon neutral’ through ‘offsetting’ their flights.

Ben Keene, one of the founders, says that when the three-year project comes to a close, it should be able to pack up without leaving any permanent trace of having been there. The real chief of the island seems to be looking forward to some more tangible benefits from the Tribewanted initiative. He recently told The Sunday Times: ‘This is a great thing for us…. All we have is fishing. Now we will have new jobs and it will keep young people on the island.’

The Tribewanted website goes even further, promising members ‘an exclusive role in a history-making adventure’, a chance to ‘build a new online and real community…to join a virtual meeting of minds that will generate a new kind of utopian existence, from the comfort of your own computer.’ For many of the members, having a nice holiday in Fiji is clearly the main motivation; but scroll through the profiles of recent joiners and you’ll be struck by the meaning that many are investing in the Tribewanted experience. Some wish to benefit local communities in Fiji, others to ‘be involved in something that makes a difference to the world’; for some the attraction is to be ‘part of a unique experience’ or to show future generations how to build a model eco-community.

Isn’t this all a bit delusional? Some of the Tribe will no doubt go to Fiji and have a nice holiday, and maybe some of the islanders will make money out of it, too. But it’s worth asking what the real long-term impact of this largely self-serving project might be. In the first place, for all the talk of benefiting the local community (the website states that part of each membership fee will be donated to a local community project) the emphasis on sustainable development and leaving little trace makes it unclear what that benefit might be. Fijians already have sustainable development. As the chief said, they have fishing but what they want are jobs.

What of Tribewanted’s high hopes to ‘make history’? Humans have always desired to change the world. But in the past those who joined political movements that sought fundamentally to change things understood that they had to fight and struggle in order to win real, meaningful change. Today it seems there are no actions too small, too isolated, or too self-orientated that cannot be interpreted as moral or ethical acts with global, history-making consequences, from wearing a coloured wrist band to buying ‘Fair Trade’ coffee. The idea that anybody’s two-week holiday and online chats will be the answer to Fiji’s developmental needs – let alone the first step towards a new model of global community – suggests both naivety and a large dose of narcissism. This looks more like an attempt to escape the world rather than change it, to hide from modernity and its complications in as remote a setting as possible.

Fiji is wonderful, and no doubt most of the Tribe members will have a great couple of weeks on the island. But that is all they will achieve. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a holiday and some blogs are going to change your life or the lives of any Fijians, let alone the world.

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Topics Politics

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