Among the Savages

Why does a progressive Spanish TV channel close to the ruling Socialist government exploit Africans for entertainment?

A scene from "Perdidos en la tribu."

The Spanish reality TV series, ‘Perdidos en la tribu’ (‘Lost in the tribe’) usually gets filmed among marginal groups in Africa and Asia. The set up is that a group of Spanish people “local.” In the latest series, filmed in Namibia, Spanish contestants go to “live” among the Bushmen and the Himba. At times, some of the Spanish cast members have appeared in blackface pretending to be Himba. As a result, the series have been widely criticized for its crude stereotypes and exploitation of the locals.  But how has the series been received inside Spain: especially, how has it been reported about in Spanish-speaking media.

On “Perdidos en la tribu,” translated as “Lost in the tribe,”  three Spanish families go to live for a while with “… three primitive tribes unaware of Western civilization: the Himba, the Mentawai and the Bushman.” The Mentawai live mostly in Sumatra, Indonesia. The other two groups are in Southern Africa; the Himba is a recognized ethnic group in Namibia. The “Bushman,” are also known as San or Basarwa and live in Namibia, the northern parts of South Africa and parts of Botswana.

The prize for the Spanish family: about US$200,000 if they integrate in the supposedly amoral wilderness of the uncivilized blacks and can last for, at least, 30 days.

The show was first aired last year on the supposedly progressive Spanish TV channel, Cuatro, that is close to the ruling Socialist government, but anyone watching it, will quickly get the message: The savage Africans have arrived on Spanish television.

Here is the ridiculous promo:

The Navarro family [the Spanish family] needs a change immediately. They are a unique Andalusian family that is going through a difficult time: the marriage of Isabel and Jose are in crisis. She is a feminist, restless and capable of anything but she is not satisfied with her routine and needs to start living. He, a bingo manager, is an old-fashioned educated father. From work to home and from home to bingo. He is religious, protective and according to the women of the house, somewhat macho. The children Antonio and Chabeli are completely different. While Antonio loves to spend hours and hours in front of the computer with role-playing games, his sister Chabeli is a beautiful young woman who likes to always be perfect … The Navarros love their land so much that they have never left it. Will “Lost in the Tribe” be the adventure they really need to turn their lives around?

The TV critic Javier Pérez de Albéniz has given this verdict about the show: “Are we talking about an ambitious anthropological essay? Maybe it is the making of a National Geographic documentary. Or maybe some ethnological project backed by the United Nations. No, my dear friends, it is a new television product of exploitation of indigenous people.”

Now, after the success of the first season – with an average of 2 million viewers – this second one promises “more adventure” with the Hamer from Ethiopia, the Kamoro from Papua and the Nakulamené from Vanuatu.

Some Spanish NGO’s have denounced that the conditions of life are faked and the villagers were disguised and paid some $200 that then were spent in alcohol. None of this matters if the ratings are up, which they are.

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