Monday, July 24, 2006


The excellent BBC programme (see I can praise the beeb when they do something good) 'Tribe' returned for a second series last night. For those unfamiliar with the premise it involves the presenter Bruce Parry living amoung a pre modern tribal* group for a while, usually his stay revolves around a particular task or event, and interacting with them. One of the best aspects of the programme is that it doesn't pander to the idea that groups are only interesting if they are very similar to us, celebrating diversity by accepting that diverse cultures are diverse is a major breakthrough.

Yesterday's programme involved him staying with an Ethiopian group called the Hamar in the run up to a 'coming of age' ceremony which involved the young man jumping over a line of cattle and his sisters being whipped (see what I mean about diversity). Naturally the man is naked during the cattle jump which is possibly why Bruce Parry wanted to try it as well. Antway it is an excellent show but three things occur to me:
  • Isn't it possible that some groups are just taking the piss with their wacky customs?
  • Outside the developed world animal rights are not a big concern, as anyone watching the Hamar women bleed the cattle could tell you.
  • Parry is trying to have it both ways, simultaneously deploring the intrusion of modern life on traditional cultures but framing some of the less pleasant aspects of the culture (like woman whipping) as something which the more urbanised and educated population won't tolerate.
* The word 'tribe' is sometimes used inappropriately to describe large ethnic groups numbering millions who happen to live in poorer countries, often it makes no more sense to describe them as a tribe than it does to describe the Dutch as a tribe, however in this programme the usage seems fair enough.

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