– a reaction to ‘The Secrets of the Tribe’
SPEECHLESS: ‘The Secrets of the Tribe’, a must-see documentary from the Brazilian director Jose Padilha served the audience secret after secret – just as promised – and left me not only shocked, but stunned and speechless. Having the frame set around the discovery of the Yanomami, a group of tribes which has been isolated for more than 2000 years, the movie depicts how anthropologists turned a primitive society into an academic battlefield.
What secrets are we really talking about here? Who knew that there was so much prestige in academic circles that some researchers actually found it fitting to abuse these innocent people? As the film slowly unfolded I became an upset witness to an arena filled with educational ambitions and dreams, and the actual fight between those who wanted to achieve them was barbaric.
The price of this academic battle was paid by the tribes themselves; it is intensely portrayed how numerous expeditions (all led by white men who made their professions arguing about this tribe) in the 1960-70s led to an inappropriate change in the remote community. Fabricating research material, plagiarism, not caring about the natives etc.; all of these factors led to a wild discussion between researchers from all over the world; all of them blaming each other for messing with this primitive cultivation. Whether all accusations are true or not, we don’t know, but nevertheless are they scandalous; for instance, did Napoleon Chagnon cause the death of innocent people while researching for the Atomic Energy Commission?
‘The Secrets of the Tribe’ was a documentary that brought positive distinction to the HIFF Program in terms of variety and contrast. The movie’s title itself suggests that something depraved has been going on; we expected a traditional introduction to an anthropological discovery, but instead we were taken behind the scenes and to secrets of a whole different caliber. We were shown the dividing elements in academia: competition and greediness. To me, ‘The Secrets of the Tribe’ was a great movie on this year’s program to emphasize the scope of such a festival and the impact of film.
It’s just such a shame how tragic the treatment of the Yanomamis has been. The opening of the movie featured a woman staring into the camera saying: ‘we don’t want you here’. That says it all.
Ironically, the anthropologists portrayed in this movie might find as much interesting material studying each other’s cruel behavior.