Myanmar’s mountainous Chin State only recently opened to foreigners. With thick jungles, mountainous terrain and rudimentary infrastructure, the region is one of the world’s final frontiers.
It’s also home to the Chin people. The Chin, best known for the practice of tattooing spiderweb-like patterns onto the faces of their womenfolk, are among Myanmar’s most persecuted minorities. The tattooing practice was outlawed in the 1960s, although in most villages you’ll see at least one or two older women with the markings – though every year there are fewer left.
Local stories suggest that this painful procedure (using a mix of soot and buffalo liver) was intended to make girls less attractive to raiders, but more likely it was as a mark of identity for the various Chin tribes.
Read more: The Rough Guide to Myanmar
While many of Southeast Asia’s nations are ethnically diverse, Laos is one of the few that is still visibly so – it is, in fact, one of the last countries whose minorities have not been totally assimilated into the culture of the majority.
In an effort at categorization, the Lao government officially divides the population into three groups. Which group an ethnicity fits into is determined by the elevation at which that ethnicity dwells; thus many unrelated ethnic groups may be grouped together if they reside at one elevation. This method of categorization may be seen as a tenuous majority’s subtle means of proclaiming cultural superiority over its sizeable population of minorities while at the same time trying to bring them into the fold.
Of course, it’s worth digging deeper – from lowland Lao to Mon-Khmer groups, few places in the world have such indigenous riches as Laos.
Read more: The Rough Guide to Laos
White Australians historically grouped the country’s indigenous peoples under the term "Aborigines" (although it is considered pejorative; "Aboriginals" is the preferred term). But in recent years there has been wider recognition that there are many separate cultures that are as diverse but interrelated as those of Europe.
Today, these cultures include, for example, urbanized Koorie communities in Sydney and Melbourne, seminomadic groups such as the Pintupi living in the western deserts, and the Yolngu people of eastern Arnhem Land, an area never colonized by settlers. If there is any thread linking these groups, it is the island continent they inhabit and, particularly in the north, the appalling state of health, education and opportunities they experience. Longevity too: the threads of Aboriginal culture stretch back some forty thousand years.
If you plan to learn more about the likes of bushtucker, Dreamtime stories and Aboriginal language, make sure you arrange the experience through Aboriginal-owned providers – and don’t expect to come away with anything but the most rudimentary grasp of Aboriginal Australian culture.
Read more: The Rough Guide to Australia
Wading into the political minefield of “ethnicity” and “race” is always a tricky affair in Namibia – as in other post-colonial states – since these socially constructed categories have predominantly come into being over the last two centuries. The arbitrary carving up of Africa by the colonial powers to demarcate particular nations cut crudely across peoples.
The Namibian government’s need to promote a unified, national identity for its estimated 2.3 million population has been an understandable post-independence response to all this. Yet census data no longer collects figures on ethnicity; rather numbers are imputed from information on first language use in the home. That said, however, many Namibians still identify with one or more ethnicities – historically, culturally, linguistically – at particular times, to differing degrees and for a variety of reasons.
The complexity is humbling. If you’re eager to learn more and are fortunate enough to go to Namibia, our author Sara Humphreys recommends a visit to the Living Museums, where you can both dig deeper into the subject of indigenous Namibia and support local people.
Read more: The Rough Guide to Namibia