Return of the Tribe - Tuesday, May 8

return of the tribe(1/3)

Beginning this week on Five is a three-part documentary in which Donal MacIntyre guides six members of a remote Papua New Guinean tribe around Britain. In 2006, Donal travelled the world visiting remote tribes to learn about cultures far removed from our own (for his forthcoming series, ‘Edge of Existence’). In Papua New Guinea, Donal encountered the Insect Tribe of Swagap, who live deep in the jungle, far from civilisation. The tribe have a fascination with Britain and the West, and wanted to experience our world at first hand. Now they visit Britain for a fortnight to see a way of life quite unlike their own.

The Insect Tribe of Swagap, Papua New Guinea, live far away from the modern world in a village sitting above the waters of the Sepik River. The tribe are so-named because they worship the preying mantis, and were unknown to the wider world until the 1950s. They live off fish and animals that they hunt in the surrounding jungle, and their chief source of income comes from crocodile skin. The waters of the Sepik are some of the most crocodileinfested in the world, and the male tribesmen are highly-skilled crocodile hunters.

Donal MacIntyre was one of the first outsiders to be allowed to visit the tribe and experience their way of life: living, eating and hunting side by side with the tribesmen. Now he has the chance to return the favour, inviting six members of the tribe to spend two weeks in Britain. Some of the tribe have learnt English from visiting missionaries, but this trip will be quite unlike anything they have attempted before, leaving their natural environment and taking their first trip on a jumbo jet.

The six ambassadors of the tribe arrive in London with Donal as their tour guide. Donal shows them his view of Britain, from the obvious sights – St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and the London Underground – to the more unusual destinations of a landfill site and a pheasant shoot in Norfolk.

The second week of the tribe’s stay finds them visiting families on a Welsh sheep farm and on a modern estate in Weston Super Mare, providing them with snapshot views of different kinds of British life. In addition, the tribe are given the chance to see how issues such as farming, community, work, entertainment and care of the elderly are handled in the UK. The fortnight also sees much of the country at a standstill when a foot of snow falls without warning, presenting these tropical forest dwellers with their first experience of snow.

For Donal it is a chance to repay the hospitality that the Insect Tribe showed him in Papua New Guinea. He also believes that we may learn more about ourselves through the tribe’s visit than they do, as we gain a fascinating glimpse of Britain from an outsider’s perspective.

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  • joanna nickson

    i wish i had known you were doing this i would have loved them too stay with my family and i .

  • Anonymous


    dignity, pride, perception,let ditch Gordon Brown and see if the Chief of the Insect tribe will take the job.

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