Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Misunderstandings/ False Images

juliagrace's picture

Not to destroy anyone's fond childhood memories but The Lion King is not Africa. I know some people are thinking "Duh" and I used to think that went without saying...until I went there, set up an internship tracking animals for this summer, and came back. The misunderstandings range from the minorly annoying idea that all Africa is a jungle or the constant shock people feel when learning how "brutal" the animal world is. A point I find endlessly ironic, but I won't go into that. What was most surprising to me, however, were the reactions I got when I described my internship. I was asked if I would be working with "natives" and if I was nervous about it. The same person asked if I would be hiking through the game reserve in order to track the animals. I was stunned by the implication that I "should" be more nervous about working with the people who live there (who by the way are awesome, hilarious, and if I can learn 1/10th of what they know I will be beyond thrilled), then the animals I'm tracking. To give a little perspective there is a saying that Ben, the tracker I met in Ngala, eventually translated into English for me after 20 minutes of valient effort (and a fair amount of laughter) to teach me how to say it in Shangaan. The saying is this "You don't have to be the fastest--you just have to be faster than one other person". If I were indeed to wander around a game reserve by myself I can think of at least 15 ways I would die, only 5 of which involve predators. The idea of being "safe" amoung people in Africa seems harder for people to grasp than some image of animals singing together. Another shock came when someone asked me about poaching. I was telling them how awful it is (I'll spare you the rant), when they suddenly expressed surprise that poaching was bought and funded (and often carried out) by outside sources. 

I am by no means an expert on any of this and I don't mean to sound above anyone else, these were simply reactions I got that stunned me and since we briefly talked about people's misconceptions of Africa last class I thought I'd share my experience with that situation. Granted, my experience is focused more on the wildlife, but I still was surprised at how much people didn't seem to understand--and how none of them were ashamed of their thoughts or particularly cared about the real answers. It really upset me that such misconceptions have become so mainstream that they are not seen as bad because "that's what I heard" or "well everyone says that".


Riley's picture

I like that you brought this

I like that you brought this subject up using The Lion King, Julia. Disney's profit of stereotypes is a conversation for perhaps another day...heh

It's true that these are some of the only images of Africa in the media and pop culture. As I'm sure some other 360 students might understand as well, I've been getting a lot of questions from friends and family about wildlife, too...and every time I'm asked if I went to any wildlife preserves or saw any giraffes, I stop and think to myself, "I didn't see too many animals besides goats, really...and I didn't even think about that while I was there!" I'm a little surprised by myself, actually, because of course I had to teach myself to not think singularly about Africa and about Ghana and about education and literacies in general. But I think the conversations we've had in class have helped us avoid that kind of singular thinking.

Where were you in Africa? You should talk about your experiences in class more often! I'm sure we'd all love to hear about your travel experiences in relation to ours, which I'm sure were very different, but also maybe similar in interesting ways.