Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Going Tribal?

I watched this show on TV last night that was really interesting. It's called "Going Tribal" and it's on the Discovery channel.

In the episode I watched, this guy goes to Gabon, Africa to meet the Babongo people and be initiated into their religion: Bwiti. The initiation ceremony involves taking the crushed leaves and roots of a certain tree that causes hallucinations and vomiting when ingested.

His trip went on for days. He lies on a mat in a little hut and vomits and hallucinates, while his adopted "father" feeds him more of the root, and helps him through it. The interesting thing about it was how he described his hallucinations as seeming like remembering incidents from his past in which he hurt another person, and seeing and feeling each incident from the perspective of that other person.

I got excited when I heard that because I have always imagined this is kind of what happens to us when we die, kind of like judgment day, only we are judged by our peers, and ultimately: ourselves.

He said the memories/visions were very detailed and seemed utterly real. He said he felt he gained insight into why the other people involved acted the way they did and understood how his actions affected them. He said it was a very humbling experience that brought him tremendous insight.

At the end of this trip he is taken to a place that looks kind of like a small creek and sort of baptized or reborn. The tribe builds a kind of large vulva shaped tunnel out of branches and he crawls through it in the water, while they squeeze his head with a basket and pour more water infused with leaves from the hallucinatory tree over his head. After that there is lots of singing, dancing and laughter. They carry him on their shoulders and say he is now a man.

There are a lot of issues about this show that are thought provoking. My first thought is: We are really missing out on some interesting shit in our culture. We watch this on TV, while for these people, it's normal everyday life.

Also, I think it's interesting that a plant could give a person such a spiritual experience. I do believe more and more that plants are sentient beings and have a lot to teach us. I am interested in herbal medicine, not only in how it can "cure" some sickness on a physical level, or what chemical components supposedly do this, but also, I want to meet the spirit of each plant. I think these beings are very profound.

But then I also think: making a spectacle/entertainment out of something so sacred and meaningful to this particular group of people, making it seem that any person from outside the culture could understand it in a few weeks (or just by watching a 1/2 hour TV show) seems like a way of trivialize them. Also, it's sort of like taking from them their own specific cultural experience and reinterpreting it to them through Western eyes.

Who knows how well it reflects their real rituals/beliefs?

I also can't help but think that even though these people were supposedly a "remote African tribe", they seemed to be pretty hip to Westernization already. It may only be a matter of time before this ritual is lost. At least there is a record of it. Which is good, I guess.

I don't know. But ever since I read those Carlos Castaneda books in high school, I've been fascinated with this kind of thing.

Here is some more information .

8 Comments:

Blogger Tania said...

Wow, a humility drug! It's like the anti-cocaine.

I don't think there's anything wrong at all with being curious about the different ways other people live, filming them and broadcasting them, so long as people understand the limitations of this kind of information and don't assume they now know everything there is to know about the Babongo people.

After all, I'm sure if the Babongo got to see a bar mitzvah or a Confirmation, they might be just as amused!

Your statement about the Babongo being pretty hip to Westernization made me remember one of the infamous incidents in the history of photo retouching. About a hundred years ago or so, a photographer went to take photos of some of the Native American tribes, and published them to much acclaim. It was discovered later that he had skillfully removed a clock from a photo of two Indians, because he didn't feel it had native flavor, even though the clock was one of their most prized possessions. (Nevertheless, white Americans seemed to have no qualms about portraying Indians with horses, which were introduced to this continent by Europeans.)

Naturally, when different peoples meet, they exchange cultural ideas and goods. We want to respect other cultures, but we can't prevent them from adopting things from our culture that strike them as interesting or useful. They're just as smart if not smarter than we are, after all! (Jared Diamond thinks that hunter gatherers are actually smarter than we are, since they live and die according to their wits.)

At the same time, we should certainly feel free to pick up some ideas from other people. Humility hallucinatory trips, for example!

12:03 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Thanks for the information.

When I was at UCLA, I used to share a mailbox with Carlos Castenada. He is definitely an interesting person.

As a holder of multiple degrees in anthropology, I find that kind of information quite intersting.

Thanks for posting it!

2:22 PM  
Blogger ticharu said...

I agree, the hunter gatherers were more in-tune with nature, and any group living close to the land is going to be more in-tune with what is really happening on a spiritual level. What we lose in western culture is the ability to communicate with nature and understand our journy.
Natural hallucinogens are profound aids for trancending the physical. I 'remembered' or re-experienced the moments leading up to my conception during such a trip.
I'll make that the subject of my next post to 'now or forever'
Thanks Kate!

3:04 PM  
Blogger As always... Rachael said...

That plant would crush me like a bug... or free me... I'll never know.

I heard louad and clear what you said about trivilazing these people. That may be what keep them alive though. They are good tv... so maybe we'll let their environment, and conflicting religions, be at peace for the time being.

I hate that these centuries old peoples are being westernized. I heard a story once... I think it was in a book, but it may have ben a joke.

It was about how "we" look down on "savages"... yet they live off the land, have progressive ideas about sex and drugs... and work their asses off, but only for a few hours a day. Meanwhile, people like "us" slave away at a job "we" hate hoping to be able to retire to a remote peaceful corner of the world. Wake at sunrise, get shit done, and spend every afternoon in a hammock or socializing with loved ones.

Have you read Mutant Message? Have you read Ishmael? If you have - let's discuss, if not, let me know and I'll send them to you.

I love the discovery channel.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

T- it's funny you should say it's the anti-cocaine because it's also been used by people to overcome addictions.

Holy crap Barbara, did you meet him? What was he like?

Ticharu, I'd love to hear that story. :-)

Rachael - about the "crush me like a bug or free me" comment, I was thinking the same thing as I watched the show. I think any one of us would be a little scared to undergo such an experience. We've all hurt people and we all have to pay up at some point. I know the guy on the show talked quite a bit about being "terrified". But he dealt with it and I bet you could too. You're a pretty tough cookie, from what I've read! :-)

And, I agree with you and Ticharu that it seems like we think we are so superior, yet if so, why do we have to spend our life in an office working most of the hours of our day?

I have read Mutant Message and oddly enough, I put that Ishmael book on my interlibrary loan list yesterday, based on a lot of reccomendations I found on a site called "the nook" (which appears to be a place that people who grow 'shrooms hang out, I was feeling all nostalgic for 'shrooms.) :-)

Thanks!

6:46 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

The Humility drug,,, I like that as Humility is what I am working on at the moment in my life,,, via the I Ching which read me like a book the other day.... anyway
I have used sacred plants to visit some of the inner realms that you speak of, and my Shroom Death Experience was one of pivotal moments in my life. I think western society has a drug problem, exactly because we do not use the Devas and their plants correctly in a sacred, initiatory way. The Deva have helped me see my own world more clearly, and I would not be who I am without the input,,, hallucinatory,,, if you must call it that,,, but I prefer 'Separate Reality' ala CCastenada. My shamanic practise has allowed me to tred these roads, but not without Western difficulty. It (sacred plant experiences) has shattered my worldviews a number of times to make me MORE Whole,,, not less or fractured as some would have you believe.
One experience,,, which was worth them ALL, let me bond with my Four Legged companion Titan as a puppy. For all practable purposes, I became a Canine,,, it was one of the most FREEing Moments of my life. Would that I had a Mushroom right now,,, I would go dancing in the rain,,,, wait,, I think I will dance in the rain,,,, anyway,,,,, that is the lesson of the deva.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Books for you to read,,,
Any Terrence McKenna books,, Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods (it is about shrooms and such)
The User Illusion,,,,,, so good,,, can't remember authors name,, hard to pronounce,,,, hard to read,, I want to reread it,, but I sold my copy, and must find another one.
thought I would make some suggestions,,,if you have read any of the above lets TALK....

Of Course: THE POWER OF NOW is a fav too,

12:06 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Hi Scott,

I haven't read any of those, but I'll look for them, thanks for the reccomendations. :-)

12:51 PM  

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