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24 September 2014

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Bruce's Q&A Session 2

Below are Bruce's recent answers to a cross section of questions taken from the website responses.

  1. Robert Mitchell
    Firstly, what an awesome programme, about which I have about 83 questions, but will limit it to two. In the programme about the Hamar you referenced the fact that you had a very close feeling to the tribe and were not experiencing ridicule like you have with other tribes. Do you ever experience hostility from tribe members, other than upon initial meeting, which is edited out of the programme, or do you ever, in the course of editing, discover derogatory comments, gestures etc which you would not have been aware of at the time of your visit?
    I have never been aware of any hostility when visiting tribes in Ethiopia or elsewhere. You mention the moment of arrival and of course the Kombai in West Papua seemed quite hostile at first but to me this was just ritual and looking into their eyes (although quite nerve wracking) I never felt any real hostility at all, just nervousness and concern, but never hostility.
    Of course, sometimes, in the background there have been some quite funny comments from some members of the community who have something to say about me, but if it was ever perceived as anti-me in some way then others may say something like, "Oh, don't listen to him, he moans about everything and is always like that". This is the nearest I've ever come to what you ask and I suppose that every community may have someone a bit like that.
  2. Brian Gradner
    I am from Cape Town, South Africa living in London for the past 8yrs.I have always wanted to visit a tribe in Africa. What is the best way of going about this or contacting someone to talk about the possibilities or opportunities of visiting a camp?
    This can be a difficult one. The internet is riddled with adverts for eco tours and ethnic holidays, but you must be very careful. There is no control or institutional regulation on who can say what when it comes to "eco" or "ethical" trips. Some companies may say eco-tour when all they do that is eco is just use biodegradable detergent. Some of these tour companies can indeed cause a lot of harm. Whenever visiting with an organisation like this, always ask lots of questions as to where all the moneys go - where are the profits shared, what proportion goes to the communities, how is it distributed amongst the community etc .
    My advice is to find a reputable safari guide and make your own bespoke tour to relatively un-visited areas and get him to gain the permission of the locals first. Take a couple of well meaning friends to share the cost.
  3. Tony
    If the Nyangatom are surrounded by enemies as you kept on saying , where and how do they get the woven goods and the Ak47s and the metal objects from, i.e how do they trade.
    Most of the guns come from the young men doing a few years service in the Sudan in return for a weapon to go home with and as for other goods, many communities have travelling traders who can cross conflict lines. This has often happened in many historical conflict zones.
  4. Tracy Griffin
    Bruce, the one thing that has stood out for me is the generosity of these people to you. Sharing their lives with you albeit for a short period of time but sharing completely for that time. Was there any time though that you felt emotionally uncomfortable and unable to engage?
    We always pay our way with cash, goods or food, because not to do so would be exploitative (see my other answers to explain this more fully). When I move into a house we always recompense that family with enough food for my time and more as well to pay for their time. As for their time, well, we always wait for a family to offer to take me on, so it's always mutual and they get plenty of amusement out of me, The key thing is making friends - if I can do that then so I never really feel uncomfortable about being there.
    Of course there are some moments when one can feel awkward as a guest and it is appropriate to withdraw. On our very first filming trip for Tribe, to stay with the Babongo people in Gabon, there was a death in the village in the first few days of our arrival. We instinctively withdrew to allow the villagers the time and space to grieve - but interestingly they wanted us to show how they mark the loss of a loved one by music and dance.
  5. Fiona
    I was chatting with a friend at work about your programme, and we both wondered how you actually cope with returning home from the places and people you visit? It must be very difficult and quite depressing in some ways to see how people live in the tribes you have visited, and then to return home and see how materialistic people can be here. We wondered how you cope mentally with that kind of change, having spent so long with people who have very little materialistically, but are so welcoming and kind, to return home to people who are concerned over possessions, and often unkind to others around them?
    It's true that many of these tribal groups have so many wonderful community traits that we have lost long ago in some of our big cities for example, but it is also true that these peoples that I live with are still human communities and are capable of good and bad and jealousy and dislike too like any human community. We should be careful not to romanticize them too much. But having said that, of course, it can be difficult to return home and see some of the aspects of our culture gone wrong. There are aspects of our culture that I really like too, and so I am often happy to be at home. I've become quite philosophical.
  6. Ruth Magowan
    Is it not difficult not to get involved if you see people suffering, and do you carry an extensive medical kit for your team?
    It is always difficult to watch any other human suffer of course. We do carry an extensive medical kit and use when necessary and appropriate for the local community. There are however massive problems with this. Firstly, I am the best trained medic on all our trips and that is not saying much. I am no doctor and a misdiagnosis from me is potentially more dangerous than not helping in the first place. Second, I do not know the local susceptibility to the drugs I carry. Tolerances can be very low in remote communities. We have a duty of care to each other too which limits our use of our limited drug resources. Now I know that this all may sound very calculating competence and too often in the past well meaning visitors have done more harm than good. I generally only deal with acute problems and tend not to get involved in anything malingering or chronic. I do make exceptions though and right now I am treating an old man with an incredibly infected wound on his foot. I visit him every day and have given him two heavy courses of strong antibiotics. We bath his foot and I dress it daily. Sadly I fully anticipate him not to recover but I decided to get involved because I might be able to limit his pain to some degree. Also in this case the community is very aware of modern medicine it's just that they have no access to them. Had they been less aware I may not have intervened because his death during the time of my treatment could have been misconstrued as resulting from my intervention. It's never a simple matter.
  7. Jane
    I wondered if the BBC paid the tribes to be filmed and allow you to live with them, or offered any gifts for the privilege?
    Of course not to pay any community in gifts, cash, food of whatever would be exploitation. We take great care to get this payment correct according to expert advice and the services rendered. This is always done in conjunction with the community and always spread fully throughout the community. No big payments are made to chiefs for permissions nor local authorities over the heads of the villages visited. Often even adjoining villages are in some way recompensed in order not to upset the local balance too much or cause excessive jealousies.
  8. Tina Bentham
    Do you envy any tribe people's way of life? They seem so content.
    I do envy much of what I see in these communities. Their family values and community spirits are especially appealing to any visitor, yet I try not to do so in too romantic or patronising a way. I used to have a very rose tinted view of life in such places, but that was in the days when I just used to visit such peoples. Nowadays, having actually lived their lives I have seen how hard that can often be, I am less romantic. Of course I am generalising here and each community I visit is very different, but the sad truth is that I would never be able, nor want, to swap my life for theirs.
    They seem to have so much of what it is that we look for, yet in return we have much of what they want too. In the end contentment only comes from within and for better or worse I have tasted a very rich and rewarding life in the west and I like my exciting, vibrant lifestyle. I could not get that living in a tribal community even though I know that in the long run the riches of community far outweigh the riches of materialism. A tribal elder who had lived before first contact said to me once, "We were happier back then, but now that we have seen the other side, we want more. There is no going back for us". I guess that I like my Ipod, clean sheets and varied foods too much to trade them in.
  9. Dee
    Love your programme, but how do you deal with situations that go against your beliefs, morals or ideals? I know you struggled to understand the whipping of the women by the Hamar, reading ahead I see you came across female circumcision with the Dassanech, how did you deal with that ?
    The biggest change in my life to date has been the challenging of all my childhood preconceptions and beliefs. I have questioned all of them and due to my good fortune at having had so much time to travel, meet other cultures, talk and read I have come up with many new conclusions to my former views. But my God it was a tough journey. What that has taught me is that many of the things we hold so dear are indeed just preconceptions, based on little or no personal experience and generated from family or peer indoctrination at a formative age. I don't mean that it is a malicious indoctrination, far from it, it is often very well meant, but the end result is often ideals which people believe in very strongly, enough to fight or even die for which are just the result of us accepting what we were told when young. Of course, most people also discover things for themselves later in life, but forget that journey of discovery and become fixed in their new ways. What I've learnt is to try and understand WHY something is like it is looking at culture from the perspective of its living people, its history and geography.
    Female circumcision is a very difficult question - I have come to understand how important it is for communities to define themselves by such practices - but I have also seen the terrible suffering this causes women in many societies. I never like to judge another culture but if I am pressed I would certainly say that it will be a good thing when women no longer have to endure female circumcision. Of course in many parts of Africa women themselves have been challenging this custom for themselves and I believe it is likely to die out in the future.
  10. Kerrie Hill
    I don't have any real treat that I take along that I can't do without. Maybe I should. I am paid to do without home comforts and so I just get on with it even though it's bloody hard sometimes (I feel I earn my money on occasion). The truth is though that this is the secret of the series. I'm often asked by the tribe, "Don't you want to go and eat with your friends, their food smells very nice", In return I lie that I'd much rather eat boring old sago or potatoes every day with them. They love this and this is the start of our bonding. "Wow, Bruce is only going to eat with us" etc... It hurts a lot sometimes and I get ill and skinny but it is what makes the programme work. Usually I dream of rejoining the crew and eating with them and sleeping in a tent. The thought of being at home is just too far away. When I finally get back home I usually start with baked beans and a sausage roll (Cos it's quick!) then when I get back to my home in Ibiza I have a mojito on the beach. (Not too bad, eh?)
  11. Roger Redford
    How do you reconcile it in your mind when you return to a spoilt, comfortable and increasingly risk-free UK, and listen to the whingeing that goes on here about how hard life is? I know it irritates me when I return from my travels...And what do you think is the secret to a happy life? Do you think it is stripping away all the trappings of a Western lifestyle and getting more in touch with the earth? If so, where's the best place to sell my TV and stereo?!
    I try not to get irritated because I find that doesn't work for me. I guess we are all entitled to moan a bit and all things are relative. I used to get worried about a bad knee until my then girlfriend nearly died of cancer and I realised that my complaint was trivial, then a year on I found myself being worried about the same old knee again. Human nature I suppose.
    Of course, some people take this to extremes, but again it doesn't irritate me, I just feel grateful that I'm not a moaner. Provided it doesn't manifest itself negatively towards others, I just let it go.
  12. Moussa Barry
    Have you ever been asked to choose a wife into a family tribe by a chief of tribe village?
    Unfortunately not, even here in Polynesia where I'm writing now. Damn.
    I have had the odd comment about me staying now and settling down with a wife, but never a serious proposal from a chief. And in all seriousness I would never consider any relationship with a woman in any culture which I am visiting, no matter how mutual or desperate or whatever. This stance of mine is to avoid any jealousy or conflict during my time there, quite apart from any ethical issues. Even a casual glance taken the wrong way could cause problems. This was once proven to me when I was asking a bunch of women quite searching questions about sexuality in their culture as well as what they looked for in a good husband. At the end of all this the director asked whether they thought I'd make a good husband - which for the intents of the film was a perfectly good question but the next day I got some quizzical looks from the men and apparently the word had got out that I was trying it on with the girls. All good humoured, but it certainly shows how tricky every situation is.
  13. Tracy
    Have your experiences living/working with indigenous tribes affected your own sense of spirituality?
    Yes, massively, in fact this is my number one driving force in life, but you will have to wait for my autobiography for all that.

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