On Sunday I went to see the movie “The Secrets of the Tribe”. This will not be a review of the film, but more of a reaction to what I discovered, to what it was about and to discuss some of the major themes that caught my mind.
I realize now that I should have written down thoughts concerning the movie. It wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. First of all, I thought it was going to tell the stories of the Yanomamis and their secrets. I wasn’t disappointed, just surprised.
A tribe that is still based on hunting and gathering, and that is more or less separated from the rest of the world will create curiosity to the outsiders. Anthropologists went into the tribe to collect information, but it seems like they did it with a purpose that wasn’t in the favour of the tribe, but rather in the advantage for the anthropologists. They used their own background and culture to judge the Yanomamis and their culture. To judge their culture is also wrong. No outsider has ever joined our society to investigate and gather information. We are the ones who set the standards, but our society isn’t automatically the best one. When Kenneth married the young Yanomami and took her home to his world and his culture she was shocked. Living in a box and not interacting with our neighbours at the same level as she did just seemed unnatural. Our world isn’t automatically the best one, but we are the ones that judge! Can we say that our society is formed by ethnocentrism? The movie actually made me think about this subject and I realised that we might judge others on the basis of our own culture.
Not all anthropologists are like the Frenchman Lizot; he was extreme, but on the other hand, the film showed us that ethnocentrism is a part of the Western culture. The Yanomamis also adopted the Western way of thinking, believing that materialistic goods were important – that they would provide you more wives. Suddenly they were in the position where they needed the Western products in order to survive. Only one thing can be said to be true: WE RUIN THINGS by interrupting their lives. They had never had diseases like measles or epidemics. What has happened? They have a responsibility, and now suddenly the Yanomamis died of both diseases and because of the so-called injections to prevent them from getting the diseases in the first place. Doing unnecessary things in order to promote themselves is just a fact of a study going wrong.
When thinking about it in later time I also see the title in a whole new way. I interpreted it to be about the Yanomamis and their stories, not so much about the anthropologists and their works – and the real secrets that were hidden in the tribes, secrets that probably were unknown for the majority. It gives sense, though. These are the true secrets. Maybe this is the attraction of the film. We were fooled to believe that the concept was something different than it actually was. I talked to a few people about the movie, and they also agreed to the fact that they thought the story was totally different than first expected. The story gave me a new perspective on the anthropologists who travel around the world to gather information. Even though they enter a minority culture doesn’t mean that one can act in unethical ways. Never would Lizot treat human beings like that at home. Did he feel superior and in the position of acting the way he wanted? He created a government, his own government.
So what was really the outcome of the movie, what did I really learn, what did I discover? I did react on the fact that large parts of the movie were about the anthropologists trying to blame each other in order to put themselves in a better light. They have all done things that one should not be proud of, but aren’t able to see, or at least admit their mistakes. Should they have moved in with the Yanomamis and influenced their lives with materialistic goods from the Western culture and society?
I learnt that things aren’t always as they seem, and definitely that humans abuse their powers in order to achieve personal goals. Their needs of becoming famous was more important than preserving something valuable, namely a culture – a tribe that is more or less untouched by the modernized and technological Western world. I have to mention that I didn’t exactly know what to understand of the movie, I didn’t really have any thoughts about it in the aftermath, because I didn’t know how to understand it. After thinking about it for quite some time, I still haven’t figured out the answer, but I do know that I have learnt quite a lot about the dirty secrets of the world of the anthropologists.