The deportation of the four tourists who were convicted of committing an obscene act by stripping naked at the summit of Mount Kinabalu on May 30 by the Sessions Court in Kota Kinabalu on Friday has brought to a close this sad episode of cultural clash between the modern ‘West’ and the conservative ‘East’.
The impudent action of these tourists who with six others stripped naked at the summit against the advice of the tour guides is viewed by locals as a reflection of the decadence of the society they come from – a society where nothing seems to be sacred anymore.
While it is true that some in the western world see freedom of expression as a licence to trample on the sensitivities of other cultures or even that of their own which they deem as archaic and irrelevant to the modern world, it is wrong to assume that the whole society has lost its propriety.
Although the western press, especially the British tabloids, went to town scoffing at those who linked the action of the tourists and the devastating earthquake that shook the mountain on June 9, there were also opinions that it was wrong of the strippers to ignore and scoff at local beliefs and tradition.
Notably the parents of one of the climbers who pleaded guilty to the charge, Eleanor Hawkins, and herself expressed regret for their antics at the mountain.
The whole world is bound by the universal value of respect and no matter where a person travels it is imperative that local traditions must be observed.
This is best expressed in the cliché ‘When in Rome do what the Romans do’.
The young climbers and those who do not believe in the local Kadazan and Dusun belief that Mount Kinabalu is sacred and is a resting place for the ancestors should have respected that tradition despite their disbelief.
Laughing off this belief after breaking the taboo is adding insult to injury.
Every nation has places where visitors have to be respectful and observe certain decorum.
Would the climbers who stripped naked on Mount Kinabalu, think of pulling off the same stunt in the compound of Buckingham Palace or St Peter’s Square?
If they did they would certainly get a sterner sentence that a RM5000 fine and a three day’s jail which was a mere slap on the wrist.
It is a sobering thought that if the incident were to take place in the distant past they could have been sentenced to death.
Whether we believe the earthquake was caused by the nudists on the mountain or the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates, we should always respect the customs and beliefs of the land we visit.