7 February 2011


Sulbin, a Bajau fisherman

So many television channels and often there's nothing worth watching. Celebrity this and celebrity that - am I the only one who is sick and tired of frigging celebrities? Tedious gameshows and comedy programmes that don't make you laugh. Politicians being harangued. Canned laughter. Cynical commercials. And then from the midst of all this utter tripe emerges something quite breathtaking, quite wonderful, the BBC's "Human Planet".

We are halfway through this superb eight episode portrait of how the human race adapt to different environments. So far oceans, deserts, the frozen Arctic and jungles have been covered. Next will come mountains, rivers, grassland and cities. The camerawork has been quite stupendous and the gentle pace of each episode has allowed better absorption. John Hurt's understated and intimate commentary has assisted that absorption process, as has Nitin Sawhey's discreet musical embellishment.

The series took two years to put together and shows us in technicolour close-up the lives of around seventy different earthlings. For example, sitting quietly in a dug out canoe off the coast of New Guinea, we met a patient "shark-whisperer" who drew sharks up from the depths simply by rattling shells in the water. When the shark finally appeared, he drew it into a noose which had a wooden float tied to it. No matter how hard the shark struggled, it remained trapped on the surface and finally when tired out it could be taken from the water. This old man seemed like the last in a long line of tribal "shark-whisperers" and reflected that shark numbers had declined enormously since he was a boy.
In "People of the Trees", we met the naked Korowai people of Papua. Like the BBC crew, I watched in awe as the community made a huge treehouse high in an ironwood tree - some forty metres above the forest floor. In two weeks this amazing edifice was finished and the whole community climbed up into the clouds with babies and pets, food and fire. Why did they do it? To escape from insects and mud and the attentions of other tribes and simply because they could. These people lived in harmony with nature, their lives little changed from their ancient forefathers' ways.

I have often been overwhelmed by a sense of loss when viewing "The Human Planet". Just as shopping experiences in the developed world are becoming homogeneous so tree-house builders and shark-whisperers are disappearing - being absorbed into the general samey throng with T-shirts and celebrity TV and dirty banknotes. In the last programme we saw distant glimpses of small Amazonian communities that have never had any contact with the outside world. They live as "noble savages" in the heart of the great rainforest, the true kings of the jungle and yet for how much longer?

"The Human Planet" - television and human beings at their very best.

Uncontacted forest dwellers in Amazonia


  1. We're not even in Thailand yet, and we're already getting exotic!

    Thanks for the heads-up; I'll be looking for that series on the American telly.

  2. I haven't watched this series yet but look forward to catching up with it online. BBC2 and 4 do tend to restore confidence in television with their more cultural programmes, which makes a pleasant change from a lot of the rubbish on other channels.

  3. You are so right :so many television channels and often there's nothing worth watching!
    It is everywhere.

  4. I've loved every episode - it's fantastic television. I loved the shots of the uncontacted tribes - wonderfully mysterious and so fascinating.


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