Monday, July 17

Tribe and tribulations

The BBC's anthropology series is anything but primitive, says Mark Lewis

Bruce Parry is the natural heir to Hunter S Thompson, the inventor of Gonzo journalism. But where Thompson mixed it up with Hells Angels, earning their trust and enjoying liberal chemicals on the way, nobody is more Gonzo than Parry.

In a welcome return for Tribe (Sunday BBC2, 9pm), Parry goes to live with the Bume, one of the most feared warrior tribes in Ethiopia. It is not long before he is digging wells and having coffee spat in his face (the last time I spat my coffee in someone's face, I was thrown out of Costa, but this, apparently, is a sign of affection). Thompson’s biking, drinking and smoking with the mentalist Hells Angels is tame by comparison. It should not surprise us that Parry should have fit in so well with the tribe. But, of course, the Bume (don’t call them that in person - it means bad smelling) have not seen the first series.

We have already seen several episodes of this implausibly good bloke, making some of the most remote tribes on the planet like him as much as we do. But here he needs to prove himself for the first time all over again. So he plays with the kids, plays with their machine guns, eats congealed cows blood, and fights playfully with lunatic tribesmen.

By the end, he is holding hands with some of the most feared fighters in Ethiopia whose warriors famously killed 600 rival villagers including their children, killing cattle with a single blow to the flank, and having cow's blood spat in his face by toothless elders. He is also initiated as one of the tribe, and having his Bume name sung by dancing tribeswomen, which surely makes it all worthwhile.

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