Archive for November 30th, 2009

We were flipping around the dial last night and came across a show on the Travel Channel called Meet the Natives.  It was a reality show where a group of five tribesmen from the small island of Tanna in Vanuatu,  which is part of Melanesia in the western Pacific, travel to the USA to visit with five different families in different parts of the country.  Meeting our natives.  Last night’s episodes consisted of a visit to a large working ranch in Montana and then on to some time with a fairly wealthy Manhattan family.

At first, given the exploitive nature of most reality shows, I wasn’t too keen on watching but we thought we’d give it a few minutes.  I’m glad I did.

The five tribesmen come from a society that we would call primitive.  They live in the jungle, nude for the most part but for their nambas, which are penis sheaths.  They farm small crops and raise a few animals, primarily pigs and chickens, for their sustenance. They also hunt with traditional weapons made from the materials of the forest.  They enjoy celebratory dances and an occasional sip of kava, the traditional sedating beverage made from the kava root.  They have a system of beliefs very much tied to their environment and nature.

They may be the happiest people on earth.

The five chosen for this trip to the US, which follows an earlier trip to Britiain, were charming.  They were inquisitively open-minded and full of good humor.  The chief of their tribe was one of the travelers and made very astute comments about what he saw.  One, called Happy Man, was always laughing and joking, endearing himself to everyone he met with his smile and playful manner.  Another served as their translator, having left the tribe for a while to go to school where he learned English.

Their first stop was in Montana.  They were the guests of a family that ran a large ranch with about 5000 heads of cattle.  It was a surprisingly good fit for the tribesmen.  They were able to see equivalencies in the day to day life of the cowboys with their own, such as the care of the animals.  They also fit in well at the local tavern where they drank beer for the first time (“sour but nice”) and danced to a country western band.  They do like to dance.

An interesting moment came when they were out where they first encountered snow, which was somewhat comical.  They stumbled across a buffalo and scampered to higher ground where they watched it.  Their description of it was wonderful.

It looks like a cow but it is no cow.  It has the face of a devil and the hair of a man.

I can only wonder what the folks back home will envision when they hear their account.

They then went to NYC which was much more alien than Montana to the men.  While they were fascinated by many of the things they came across, the chief always registered a bit of sadness of how the people of the city lived, how they were so dependent on money for all their needs.  They encountered a homeless man in Central Park and were perplexed that such a thing should happen in a place with so much.

Happy Man said that it was obvious that no one loved this man.

Kind of sums it up.

There were a lot of things I could go on about the tribesmen.  They may live what we callously call a primitive existence but their intelligence and wisdom is anything but primitive.

If you get a chance, tune in.  You’ll look at our country with different eyes…

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