Five Kastam Tribesmen from Tanna visit Britain

A bit of cultural anthropology news for you; a British TV company invited 5 men from a tribe called the Kastam, from the South Pacific island of Tanna, to come over to England but the catch is no Kastam person has ever visited England before.

The men, Yapa, Joel, JJ, Posen and Albi, left their old lifestyles of living in mud huts and wearing very little clothing to spending a month living in the United Kingdom and learning western customs. Of course being ever so exploitive, the British TV company made a film about their experiences. The film is aptly and ignorantly called, ‘Meet the Natives.’

Read more about the experiences of the Kastam men over at the Independent’s article, “Strange island: Pacific tribesmen come to study Britain.”

This is an interesting and controversial concept in anthropology. In many blog and forum posts, I’ve read many anthropologists voicing their opinions on how this is a messed up way to study cultures. I especially like Homa Khaleeli‘s take. I personally admit to being entertained when I watch these type shows, but understand that people, such as the Kastam in this situation, are most likely taken advantage for the wrong reasons.

Ishi - The Last YahiWhat irks me more is that the author of the Independent article, Guy Adams is  making the show out to be what anthropology has been waiting for all along. Wrong, we haven’t. This sort of reversal of roles has been in the discipline for a while. It isn’t anything new. Tisquantum’s, a.k.a. Squantotoo, experiences of being uprooted from his Patuxet tribe by Georgie Weymouth in 1605 is one well documented situation. And of course, who could forget reading about Ishi, the last Yahi in their cultural anthropology classes?

The idea of taking an outsider and throwing them into a completely foreign society and culture and documenting it all on a reality TV type documentary has also been done before in some form or another… Most notable are Amish in the City, which invited a group of Amish young adults to live in Los Angeles and Going Tribal, which has a different set up to Meet the Natives. Going Tribal was one of my guilty pleasures.

So, Guy Adams, if you end up reading this… do some research before you make claims that,

“But, until now, anthropology has always been a one-way street; alien cultures have never ” gone native” over here.”

Cultural exchange is a two way street. It is no matter if they are here, or we are there, people from different cultures are always exchanging.

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