Armchair Travel with Bruce Parry: Culture Trips

Armchair travel with Bruce Parry

Many of us are not jetting off anywhere at the moment, and perhaps not for a while – armchair travel might be a helpful substitute to keep the wanderlust curiosity alive in the meantime! So how would I describe armchair travel with Bruce Parry?

In a word – fascinating!!! ๐Ÿง

Most of us agree that we live in a small world in many ways, yet watching this series reminded me just how ‘huge’ and diverse the world is – and how we can get so caught up in our own little bubble that we forget or stay ignorant to all the other ways of life out there, that are just as valid and important as our own, even if we don’t agree with all their customs, they’re just as worthy as dominant western societies – they’re human beings after all.

There are some customs that I immediately felt uncomfortable with – as will probably be the case in any culture, my own included – but overall, I think its a beautiful thing to see all these different ways of life, many of which seem refreshingly low in materialistic obsession and unproductive stress. ๐Ÿ’ซ

Bruce Parry takes us with him on some of his adventures, from Russia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Tanzania, Kenya, Malaysia and Mongolia to name a few….

If you want to be taken to some of the most remote parts of the world, to live amongst lesser known tribes and indigenous groups, then this anthropological series might be for you. You can watch it online or buy the boxset – I’m still partial to a good old fashioned boxset now and again!! ๐Ÿ“บ

You’ll get ‘fly on the wall’ insights, beautiful screenshots and experiences you’d find hard to imagine for yourself.

This really is my kind of ‘reality TV’, you can’t get more real than this – after reading Bruce Parry’s book ‘Amazon’ a while ago, I ended up watching the whole BBC series in one day while I was hooked in, intrigued. Greedy, I know!! ๐Ÿ™ˆ ๐Ÿ™Š

This generous dose of armchair travel with Bruce Parry offers a very strong reminder that despite our perceived differences – friendship, love, humour, kindness and community are all universal human traits, for the most part ๐Ÿ’›

These tribes had a few other things in common too

Most of the tribes Parry spent time living withย  seemed to share common characteristics:

  • A strong focus on spiritual rituals and initiations – that many of us might struggle to understand
  • Hunting culture for food and resources
  • The ability to mimic the sounds of birds and animals when hunting
  • Close knit villages/communities with order and structure
  • An affinity with nature, relying purely on natural resources for survival
  • Drinking animal blood as a source of food
  • Generous tribal hospitality, often involving communal sleeping arrangements – sometimes shoulder to shoulder
  • For many, the threat of some form of ‘take over’ remains – via deforestation, logging, farmers, miners, game hunters or rival neighbouring tribes
  • Beer is much loved by many tribes – they make their own, and Vodka seemed more popular with tribes in colder climates, understandably

armchair travel with Bruce Parry

We are family….๐ŸŽต๐ŸŽค

I lost count of how many tribes adopted Parry as their son and new family member. He’ll be spoilt for choice if he ever fancies a return trip one day, he’s aquired additional families all over the world now!

I have to hand it to Parry, he seems to be able to laugh himself through anything and everything….even when in pain, vomiting and having arrows shot at him – things that some of us probably wouldn’t consider a laughing matter, he’s such a good sport! ๐Ÿ†

I might have a look to see if there’s any more armchair travel with Bruce Parry I can tap into – he’s a great virtual travel companion – probably a great one in real life too, though I wonder if he might be a little bit too much of a dare devil for me – e.g. I don’t think I’d be volunteering to take part in the hallucinogenic ‘herb or frog poison induced’ rituals….erm nope, I’d probably pass on those bits.

The Tribes

It might seem a bit lengthy ๐Ÿ“ but honestly, below are ‘just a few’ highlights from each of the tribes Parry visited in the series:

The Adi (between the Himilayes and Tibet)

Ritual sacrifices, shaman/supernatural healers, spirits.

Some of the Adi were afraid of Parry upon first seeing him, due to negative past experiences with the British.

No matter how rich they may be, Adis people always help their neighbour build a house.

The believe spirits can take revenge on humans through illness or death.

The shaman doctor said ” I hope you don’t use this filming to do magic on me”ย  ๐Ÿค”

Some are Christian, and turn to prayer as their main method of treatment for illness.

One Adi woman said “when our husbands go out hunting for a few days, we feel a bit free and breath easier” ๐Ÿ˜Š

Mountain Mandala (Indonesian part of New Guinea)ย 

Expedition across what is thought to be cannibal culture territory – which he didn’t even have the necessary permit for at the time.

Some cultures believe/d in eating the flesh of their enemies.

Treading dodgy rope and stick bridges to get over raging rapids – bits snapping as they went along! The rapids looked amazing though!!

Warnings from one tribe for Parry and co. to leave and not cross the river to their land otherwise they would be killed. as well as being ‘warning’ shot at with bows and arrows. ๐Ÿน

Another tribe looking genuinely afraid when they saw Parry and the crew, cowering in fright – initially.

A gruelling jungle trek, rotten skin peeling off feet, infected cuts getting worse and not healing in the sweltering heat – travel woes!

Parry reflected that this perilous journey really highlighted how strong and agile the indigenous people were – compared to him and his companion, Mark, saying “they must think we’re disabled” ๐Ÿ™ƒ

The Nenets people (Russia, Siberia)

The Nenets people still live very traditional nomadic lives that centre around reindeer herding in cold icy regions โ„

Reindeer living provides a multitude of resources that are key to Nenets everyday life, including warm clothing, food (reindeer meat), transport and a resource to trade for money ๐Ÿ›ท

Stunning Siberian snowscapes, and Parry’s face getting frost bitten!

Suri Tribe (South West Ethiopia)ย 

The authorities gave him permission to film on the condition that he hired armed body guards.

The men prove their worth in ritualised stick fights against neighbouring towns and villages “eyes and teeth are lost, bones broken and lives lost”. Despite this, Parry was determined to have a go until the King of the area forbade him! ๐Ÿ‘‘

“There’s no point stick fighting if there are no girls to watch”

Stick fighting teaches men the fighting skills they need for the tribe’s survival.

A man who wants to marry must give as many as 60 cattle to his potential father in law.

Most women wear a clay plate in their stretched lip – many say they don’t know how/when this tradition started. Some anthropologists speculate it was a method to deter enemies from capturing their women.

Some of the younger women are turning away from the lip plate tradition.

The bigger a woman’s lip plate – the more cattle a man must provide to marry her.

Guns have infiltrated from nearby Sudan, some say they feel safer with guns to ward off attackers. Guns have led to younger men turning on each other – this is a problem, not helped by the fact that bullets are cheap.

Food often runs out during the dry season, bringing famine.

End word to Parry from the Suri King “we are one, we all have ten fingers, two eyes, two ears…remember me” ๐Ÿ‘Œ

The Darhad Valley (outer northern Mongolia, south of Siberia)

Mountainous nomadic life, snowy annual migration.

Wild horse culture ๐Ÿด

Spiritual people.

Beautiful landscapes.

The Asmat Tribe: (New Guinea)

Miles and miles of mountains and jungle – still not fully explored.

Historically associated with cannibalistic practices (for a variety of reasons including – honouring the deceased, punishments, hunger, soul cleansing). Then the Dutch Indonesia took over and banned this – but it might still be happening.

Parry’s guide warned that at some of the deeper rain forest, tribes still consume people and will be afraid and kill you if the see you wearing clothes.

Eventually some of the forest tribes allowed Parry to enter, and they shared stories of the times the they carried out cannibal acts in the past and the circumstances under which they might do it in the future.

Another settlement in the rainforest required Parry to remove all his clothes before being welcomed in – and tobacco seemed to be a very effective show of peace and friendliness – softening fearful tribes, allowing Parry to get closer. ๐Ÿ‘•

With no mirrors – looking at themselves in Parry’s camera was a new experience for the Asmat.

Parry gets his ear wax cleaned out with living creatures, along with a tribal nose piercing!

The Asmat said they felt sorry for Parry because he was ‘big and clumsy’ (compared to them).

Instead of scary cannibals, Parry found cautious but welcoming communities with clear thoughts and unique reasoning that informed their cultural practices – moral of the story, don’t be too quick to form conclusions based purely on myths and stereotypes.

Armchair travel with Bruce Parry is highly educational as well as entertaining at times!

The Hamer tribe (high hills in Ethiopia)

Young Hamer men prove their adult status by jumping over a herd of cattle, after which they will be able to marry and own their own cattle.

Some say if you marry without jumping the cattle, the marriage won’t last.

Women are whipped by the men during cow jumping initiation ceremonies – women can be seen begging to be whipped.

If a woman refuses to be whipped she’ll be seen as a coward and cast out of the tribe, no longer a Hamer woman. Some say the whipping scars represent a woman’s loyalty to the man – ie so he will remember her later in life if ever she needs help – like a sort ofย  insurance policy.

Some young people have started going to school in a nearby town – they have started questioning the Hamer culture, asserting that having an education makes some of these rituals unnecessary.

At the time of filming, the Ethiopian authorities frowned upon such whipping rituals.

Babonga tribe, Bwiti faith (South African rainforests)

The Babonga people feel their knowledge of plants and trees portrays them as sorcerers to some people.

Parry finds himself pulled into local funeral rituals.

Parry wanted to take part in an initiation ceremony. The chief of the tribe made Parry sign a disclaimer to take full responsibility for anything going wrong during a ritual ceremony because:

  1. They’d never initiated a white person before and were unsure of the correct dosage of substance (eboga…might have spelt that wrong) to use
  2. They had concerns that Parry might be a sorcerer which meant the ceremony would be sure to take his life.

Parry gets involved in local spiritual rebirthing rituals – which can be deadly.

Parry felt the ritual worked, and revealed a lot of his deep seated thoughts and memories – causing him to ‘feel’ the pain he had inflicted on others in the past from the perspective of the other person ๐Ÿง

Anuta Island (Solomon Islands)

Incredibly remote tiny Island and one of the last remaining Polynesian communities in the Pacific ๐Ÿ

When Parry arrived he was required to shake hands with every single inhabitant on the Island, they were all waiting for him on the beach, all 250 people ๐Ÿ˜ฎ he then went on to deliver a private greeting to the tribe’s chief and deputy chief with a nose-kiss – what a welcome!!

The goodbye was even more intense than the welcome (yes its possible); all the islanders gathered on the beach sobbing and crying and chanting!! Parry broke down and cried too. Just – wow, overwhelming!! ๐Ÿ˜ข

The Anuta people styled Parry up in a cloth made from tree bark.

All food is shared equally amongst the 25 families on the island, as were all the gifts Parry brought with him.

Christianity is the main religion.

The chief prefers islanders to rely on prayer for medical assistance, rather than introduce a clinic to the island.

Interesting to watch the creative ways that food is found and stored – ensuring islanders never go hungry. A cargo ship only visits Anuta island three times per year, the rest of the time they’re on their own!

Sanema Village: (deep in the Amazon – Venezuela)

Communicating with spirits and regarding dreams as an equal to conscious reality is the normal standard of thinking.

In the Sanema Village the women do all the hard graft – chopping and carrying firewood. The men hunt and clear ground for crops. When Parry tried to do what the women do, he really struggled in terms of physical strength ๐Ÿ’ช

Sanema people believe illness is an evil spirit

Parry dives in as usual – participating in a shamanic ritual. You can’t watch this and not wonder about a few things….like ‘what’ is it they’re really experiencing and feeling?

Omo Valley, Nyangaton tribe (far south of Ethiopia)

The Nyangaton tribe chief allows Parry to stay with his family and confirms Parry will be his son.

As per usual Parry gets hands-on, helping with day to day chores and being sociable too – learning as much as he can about their lives.

Part of Parry’s initiation required him to spear a cow, to demonstrate that he could provide for the tribe ๐Ÿ„

The Nyangaton are referred to as the Buma tribe by enemy tribes (like the Suri) – Buma means dirty and is an insult to The Nyangaton ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

Belief – when you kill an enemy you must release bad blood from your own body…..which explains all the scars on their skin. Fighting has always been a normal part of life for survival – but it’s more deadly now that they are heavily armed with machine guns., rather than traditional spears.

Dassanech tribe (Bubwa village, Lake Turkana, Omo Valley Northern Kenya)

Dust storms are common.

When drought hits the village they fish and survive from Lake Turkana.

Crocodile hunting (as a food source) is way of life – apparently some of the crocs in that lake live to around 80 years old! ๐ŸŠ

Funny moment – when Parry’s host shoved a load of croc meat in his mouth “he’s not eating enough, he’s too busy talking” she said, very ‘mum-like’!

The tribe feel safe when crocodile hunting in fragile canoes, due to the spiritual connection they hold – and again, sickness is treated via spiritual means.

FGM is commonplace. One woman said “its our culture, if we stop our culture we’ll die”. I won’t go into some of the other explanations they gave, but lets just say I’d never heard explanations like it before and was quite taken aback. I think a huge amount of education around this issue is needed within these communities.

If a woman does not partake in FGM rituals she is not permitted to marry and will be cast out of the tribe.


All this armchair travel with Bruce Parry is really putting a spot light on some serious global issues.

The Massai – Akie Tribe (Tanzania)

The Massai is quite well know as they have become a bit of a package holiday attraction with many leading travel companies.

Ongoing tensions persist, around being pushed out of their land by farmers (a bit like the gold miners and cattle farmers in the Amazon) ๐Ÿ˜ค

The Massai also have competitive neighbouring tribes and game hunters to contend with.

I loved watching the way they get honey from beehives – and would never have thought that honey makes up such a staple part of the Massai diet – including making beer!! ๐Ÿบ ๐Ÿป

Matis tribe aka Jaguar tribe (Amazon Rainforest, Brazil)

At one point the Matis were almost completely wiped out by diseases introduced by the western world.

Some go into the city for an education but don’t want to live in the city due to the drugs and violence ๐ŸŒ†

The Hamer tribe are not alone when is comes to whipping rituals – the Matis have their own version.

The Matis whip pregnant women in the belief that it will strengthen her unborn child ๐Ÿค”

Children are also whipped in the belief that it will stimulate growth and ward off laziness. An ‘inappropriate’ thought just sprang to mind on the laziness note….I should probably keep that to myself!

Bhutan (Himalayas high mountain, between India and Tibet)

Parry stays with some Buddhists in a remote village and learns about their way of thinking and beliefs – intending to make a further journey into the mountains through the thick heavy snow.

Polyandry is common place in these parts – some women have three husbands.

Parry encounters a man who shared a wife with his brother – the wife has six children with each husband. One brother said sometimes his wife would change her mind in the middle of the night and swap beds!! ๐Ÿค”

Sharing a wife within the family is helpful in keeping money and land tied up together in the family.

Penan people (of the Sarawak, Malaysian state, Borneo – west of Thailand)

Original nomadic forest people, the Penan took Parry in without him having the necessary official permission from the authorities, they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to have their voice heard if it might help bring about the support and change they need.

The Penan trade meat and other forest products for things like kitchenwares ๐ŸŒฒ

Logging in their areas had led to a whole host of negative changes for forest people, including some of the drinking water turning muddy and no longer fit to drink. Logging is approved and encouraged by the Malaysian state in order to create more palm oil plantations, to meet western demand, with the promise of development for the tribes – which they believe are empty promises ๐Ÿ˜ข

I agree wholeheartedly with Parry – that it is truly heart wrenching to listen to the Penan talk about how logging is affecting their lives and the way they’re being been treated….they want rights to their land. Some Penan elders walked for a ‘whole day’ to come and meet Parry, asking him what they should to do.

Future Armchair Travels

Well, if this has made you curious about tribal living, I’d recommend a bit of armchair travel with Bruce Parry. I must admit, this series left me with a lot of serious thoughts and a new awareness of parts of the world I’d never stopped to think about before.

On a lighter note, I’ve got boarding passes for a few more armchair flights – accommodation’s already sorted – home sweet home ๐Ÿ˜†

Sending happy travel wishes to you all – armchair or otherwise!!


23 thoughts on “Armchair Travel with Bruce Parry: Culture Trips

  1. Pingback: Amazon by Bruce Parry: Book Review -

  2. Island Traveler

    Bruce embraced a life of adventure and cultural experience most of us dreamed of but too scared or never thought could come true. Our society from the day we are born, including our parents mentally prepare us to follow the norms and expectations, never nurturing our truest potential of living outside the box & soar free to travel and live a life and adventure. The usual thinking of go to college , get a job , make money , buy a house and a million other things will never make a person happy but will wonder..what if.

  3. rebeccabeesley

    We watched much of his TV series about this and it was truly fascinating to see. One that stood out for me was one culture that cried deep deep cries of sadness when he left knowing in reality they would not see him again. It was their culture to let their sadness and grief out in this way. Made me think we could all do with doing that rather than suppressing our emotions so much at times.

    1. Cherryl

      The boundary may be slowly blurring since there seems to be a growing number of seemingly ‘anthropologically slanted’ tourist experiences emerging…a different type of travel experience. For example – the nomadic tribe Parry stayed with in Mongolia also has a means of offering similar experiences to tourists, I came across a blog recently showing someone’s experience. Another example – The Anuta also do something similar – though some who have reviewed it said it felt more touristy than what they’d signed up for….seems like times are changing Lookoom.

    2. Cherryl

      Lookoom, I would also add that ‘these populations’ (which are all different), are intelligent human beings (just like dominant western and European populations) so they should be granted the free-will to make their own decisions about whether they want to welcome tourists and visitors, but most of us would of course object to this being forced or imposed for commercial purposes!

      Take the Maasai – which is now quite a mainstream tribal tour option, seems to be benefiting economically from tourists visits and I imagine they are learning about the people who visit too. If there are any negative effects, then I hope these will be identified and managed, but if it is the choice of the people concerned, then that is their privilege, to choose – just like we can choose if we want to change the way we live our lives, or try to advance economically – best wishes , have a lovely week ๐Ÿ”†

      1. equinoxio21

        Hate to barge in on a “private” conversation. But I though tI might add a couple of pebbles.
        I understand the Maasai have become quite rich, selling their cattle (God has entrusted the care of all world cattle to the Maasai. Their mission) to the Kenya meat commission. Yet they retain their traditions.
        I once traveled to the Amazon at the border of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. The trip up river included the visit of an “Indian” village. Depressing. Children with swollen bellies. (Malnutrition) The foreign ladies offering lollipops. Sister-in-law is a dentist and was appalled at the future cavities the lollipops would bring.
        Last but not least, Houellebecque (I know, an awful mysoginist) once described the future of France as one all-encompassing traditional tourist attraction.

        1. Cherryl

          Thanks for sharing – sounds like you had some very culturally insightful trips – I know people mean well with sweets and lollipops (I’ve been guilty of that) but no – probably not the most helpful gift to offer in future…๐Ÿญ

          As much as I (like many) would like to see indigenous populations maintain their traditions, there are some traditions I would like to see come to an end – like FGM, which was a strict part of one of the tribes above. Maybe change might happen perhaps through greater education on the matter if he opportunity arises – I guess not everyone will agree.

          1. equinoxio21

            I have been around… ๐Ÿ˜‰
            And I do agree. Lollipops should be a no-no. One learn everyday. โœŒ๏ธ
            Now, FGM (took me a bit to remember the acronym) is absolute horror. In most of Africa, parts of the Arab world. With horrendous consequences. It is even still practiced (under the radar) in Europe, amongst some migrant communities. As often, it is fomented by older women, a combination of male/female domination… I even wrote a story about that once. That is one excellent example of tradition that needs to be changed. The “cultural” alibi is not valid. And again, many will disagree. I don’t care…
            Hope all is well? I may have asked before: can you work from home? The British economy must be as much in tatters as the French?
            Stay safe Cherryl

            1. Cherryl

              Yes FGM is a global horror, (there are just some things you can’t agree to disagree on – and that’s fine) many girls are still forced into it across a various communities – sadly, the UK is no stranger to it either, despite it being illegal here.

              On a lighter note – yes, fortunately I’ve been WFH since the initial March lockdown,๐Ÿ˜Š it seems set to become a ‘new normal’ for the most part – for the rest of this year at least, though it’s not to everyone’s liking – some people have really struggled with being at home (emotionally) and want to be back in their offices affects people very differently, more than I imagined it would – I’ve adapted to it well though, so far so good ๐Ÿ’ซ๐Ÿ‘Œ but before the lockdown I always frowned on the idea of bringing (9-5) work home – now I’m embracing it….funny how things change!

              Are you also WFH?

              It’s going to be interesting to see how economies get back on top – UK included, lost jobs and fallen businesses are going to hit a lot of people hard…places like the Florida and Brazil are very hard hit right now, it’s unbelievable ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

              Air traffic in and out of Europe seems to be on the up (for now)- with different rules for different countries, if you’re venturing out, do stay safe ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿค—๐Ÿ”†
              Best wishes

              1. equinoxio21

                Hopefully FGM will be stopped. One day. I think it’s a matter of not lowering the guard…
                WFH? LOL. Another – understandable – acronym. Glad for you. Means you get to keep your job. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป I tried not to bring work home which often meant working at the office until 10PM, and/or on week-ends…
                Not’ny more. I used to have a market research agency. Eventually sold it, then did it a bit of free-lance consulting, not I am retired…
                The impact on the UK will probably double: the virus, around 10%GDP, plus Brexit, 8-9%GDP. It will be severe.
                Not going/flying anywhere, right now. Though I long for the banks of my beloved Seine… it will have to wait…
                Take care…

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