NRK dropped their standards: “Naked bluff” on Primetime TV

Hornorkesteret: I know this is old, but shame on you, NRK! This is not what we wanted from a license- and state funded national broadcasting corporation. The naive and racist view presented in this show is old fashioned and should be long forgotten. Why don’t you make a program about how the Waorani actually live, and leave the stupid westerners on their couches in Norway!

Gáldu – Resource Centre for the Rights of Indegenous People
— According to Ny Tid newspaper, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation paid money to Waorani-tribe in Ecuador that they must be naked during the filming.

NRK or Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation is now sending every Saturday evening a program called “Den store reisen” or “Ticket to the tribes”. Three different Norwegian families are visiting indigenous tribes in Namibia, Indonesia and Ecuador.
More than 800 000 people did watch this program last Saturday primetime and now the NRK admit that they have paid this indigenous group to be naked on TV.

NRK now admits that they paid money to the Waorani Indigenous tribe to appear without clothes while they recorded this primetime TV.

Watch the program here on NRK

This is Saturday entertainment for Norwegian TV viewers.

The Indians remove their clothes to work on the set, according to the anthropologist Laura Rival from the Centre for International Development at Oxford University.

She has studied the Waorani tribe since 1989 and was in the village of Banemo when the Belgian version of the series was recorded.

“The Waorani take their clothes off just for these programmes. I know them. They never walk around naked in groups any longer, it’s only for tourists and reality shows,” she says.

“The Waorani go around naked. The men’s penises are tied to their bodies with string,” says NRK’s website in a section on the tribe’s rules and way of life. In the TV series, on the website and in the promotional pictures all the Indians are completely naked.

“This has been staged,” said Rival on seeing NRK’s group picture of the extended family without clothes.

She recognised the NRK’s Waorani from the Belgian production and can name the adults in the picture. According to Rival, they are used to performing role plays for TV production units in the area.

NRK admits that the tribe was asked to remove its clothes.

“We don’t ask that they wear European clothes. The tribe agreed to live in a more traditional way while we are filming, but they are the ones who decide what will be shown. It is important to be clear that they collaborate with us freely. We pay them to take part,” says NRK’s production manager Per Selstrøm.

The producer in charge from the production company Strix, Malin Østli, does not recognise Rival’s description of life in Banemo:

“We flew up the Amazon for an hour and a half and saw no indication of people living in a western manner. That they have seen white people before and been in contact with the outside world is totally natural, since they live next to an airstrip. Some of them wear T-shirts every day, but most are naked and have a completely traditional lifestyle.”

Are there usually people living in the house where you filmed?

“Not everyone we filmed usually lives in the house. We made the family bigger to include more characters and decided to have slightly more people in the house than those who are normally there to get more life. They traditionally live in an extended family, so it wasn’t entirely unnatural. Everyone lived there during the recordings and it was real everyday life for people in the area that we visited,” declares Østli.

The Waorani have taken part in a large number of reality programmes. The BBC’s Tribal Wives and several countries’ versions of Ticket to the Tribes were filmed in the area.

“It’s not intended as a “Fly on the Wall” documentary. It is a kind of staged documentary to bring out their differences and make it more thought-provoking, a collision between two very different ways of life,” explains Selstrøm.

Aren’t you showing the tribes as more primitive than they actually are?

“Not in my view. Is dress about primitiveness? When Norwegian Lapps want to sell souvenirs at North Cape, they wear their traditional costumes.”

Isn’t NRK going too far in describing them as a “primitive tribal community”?

“Perhaps we should have weighed each word more carefully, but I would urge people to watch the whole series. It finishes with one of the Waorani boys going to school,” says Selstrøm.

Playing a role

The anthropologist Laura Rival compares the Indians’ role in the Belgian TV production that she observed with the role of an actor:

“They took their clothes and went to work in the newly built house. Then they put their clothes on again and returned to their normal complex lives. This could be compared with a job in which they have a uniform and put on a performance for the tourists.”

In her view, reality programmes give a superficial picture of the Indians’ complex lives, in which they balance tradition and modernity in a globalised world.

Says Rival, “These programmes are built on the same ideas that the west has had for 400-500 years: find the last people in the wild and live with them. The TV companies are only interested in recreating western myths. This is very patronising and gives a false idea of their differences”.

Updated 19.09.2008
Published by: Liv Inger Somby