Going Tribal

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Going Tribal TV Poster Image
Exploration of ancient cultures can be intense.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The host is unfailingly respectful of the tribes' unique customs, which may seem barbaric or bizarre to Western viewers. He subjects himself to the rituals so he'll be accepted within the tribe and explains in detail the beliefs that lie behind them. Tribal gender roles are usually pre-determined and traditional (women cook and raise kids, men hunt and gather), but all are essential to the group's survival.


Many scenes center on hunting practices; weapons ranging from traditional blow pipes to rifles, and animals are killed and dismembered onscreen. Ritualistic violence (cutting, body piercing, whipping) among tribe members can be graphic and sometimes includes scenes of these practices used on small children.


As with most documentaries centering on indigenous tribal cultures, there's always the possibility of both male and female nudity. In one episode, for example, men are shown naked from behind as they bathe, and a woman's breasts are exposed briefly. But none of it has any sexual overtones.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Various drugs (or, more precisely, poisons) sometimes play a part in rituals. In one tribe, for example, poisonous frog secretions are sent into men's blood streams to induce vomiting and diarrhea to cleanse the body before hunting.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this eye-opening documentary series is probably too intense for kids or sensitive tweens -- though teens and adults will gain new perspectives on the world's many tribal cultures. The host subjects himself to various tribes' traditional rituals, which are often painful (body piercing, the application of stinging eye drops, etc.) and could be misunderstood by viewers who don't know their background. In many cases, the ritualistic violence -- which is sometimes inflicted forcibly on kids -- can be upsetting for adult viewers, too. Hunting practices and the preparation of animals for cooking (butchering and dismembering them) are also shown.

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What's the story?

In GOING TRIBAL, explorer Bruce Parry travels the globe to immerse himself in the lifestyles of ancient tribes in some of the world's most remote locales. Rather than studying them from afar, the former Royal Marine actively participates in their daily activities, stopping at nothing -- even painful customary rites of passage -- to gain their trust. Each episode chronicles the intrepid host's month-long coexistence with a specific tribe, with Parry educating viewers on the group's lifestyles and survival methods as he's exposed to them. He hunts alongside the men, treks long distances with nomadic clans, and partakes in the groups' diverse recreation activities. Parry, who travels with an interpreter so he can communicate with his hosts, also investigates how interaction with Western cultures has changed daily life among the ancient tribes. Viewers hear how the outside world has influenced members' options for clothing, recreation, and education -- as well as how this exposure has introduced new diseases and pollution.

Is it any good?

In some cases, Parry's acceptance as an equal comes at a hefty price. For example, while living among the Matis people of the Amazon River basin in Brazil, Parry bravely faces four traditional pre-hunting practices, including exposure to a frog poison that induces violent vomiting and diarrhea (to strengthen the body) and subjection to whipping with long reeds (to prevent laziness). His dedication to the project remains unwavering in the face of even the most daunting rituals.

Thanks mostly to Parry's thoroughness, Going Tribal gives viewers an honest -- and often surprising -- glimpse at the diversity of cultures in the remotest corners of the world. But while there's a lot of perspective to be gained by watching this intriguing series, know that it carries a "mature content" disclaimer for a reason. From hunting practices to painful rituals, violence in various forms is common -- and occasionally even pregnant women and kids are subjected to it. Nudity is also a possibility (though never in a sexual manner), and the tribes' outdoor life includes references to harsh weather, unusual dietary choices (monkeys, reindeer, etc.) and natural predators (like some awfully big bugs).

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the media affects our impression of different cultures. How do shows like this one educate viewers about other people and places? How accurate do you think they are? Do the hosts' own biases affect how viewers see the cultures? If so, how? How does your own background affect your perspective of other cultures' practices? Can you truly understand a group's traditions without being part of that group? What are the consequences of misunderstanding other cultures' traditions? How are people's lifestyles influenced by geographical factors like weather, wildlife, and topography? Do you think you could adapt to a lifestyle like the ones featured in this series? Why or why not?

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