37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2010
"The Tribal Eye" is a look by Attenborough at the persistence of unspeakably ancient tribal art and customs from prehistoric times into the 1970s. The first episode of Tribal Eye is my favourite, a look at Dogon wood carving and the Dogon religion and rituals, including a rare look at the porridge-coated figures inside the temples themselves. Another good episode is the one depicting the continuing tradition of naturalistic bronze portraiture in Benin. Both the Dogon and Benin are rare examples of unchanged primitive cultures that nevertheless make a large number of metal objects (iron objects among the Dogon, bronze in Benin).
However, I regard the best thing on the disc set, by far, to be the bonus two part documentary "The Miracle of Bali". Here Attenborough presents the Balinese culture in very interesting detail.
The first episode "Midday Sun" deals with what you might call the "bright, daytime" side of Balinese culture, with a detailed and fascinating look at the gamelan music and ladong dancers of Bali. The gamelan orchestra, which so fascinated Claude Debussy, is one of the few types of nonWestern music to use large orchestras with something like multi-part harmony, with many eerie local musical scales used only by a single village and no other.
The dancing is also really fascinating, a remnant of the Hindu princely culture of Java. This culture was brought to Bali when invading Muslims drove out the Hindu princes around 1500.
The second episode, however, is unmissable. Entitled "Night", it offers a very, very rare look at the "dark, nocturnal" side of Balinese Hinduism. Balinese Hinduism was formed from a combination of indigenous Javanese and Balinese paganism with Hinduism brought from India. The Balinese religion is still a primitive and shamanistic religion with plenty of emphasis on trances, ecstatic experiences and possession by animal spirits.
One hears so much about how the earliest religions, worldwide, were like this, but it is rare to be able to see good footage of this sort on the screen; a religion, as it were, before it has been diluted by later inevitable formalisation and taming down which happened in most religions. If you ever were fascinated by the Greco-Roman era ecstatic cults of Dionysos and Cybele, with their adherents becoming possessed by the deity, then watch this.
Attenborough shows footage of people entering trances in communion with the spirit world, with the help of trance-dolls suspended on a kind of washing line. As the dolls are shaken and come together in clouds of incense, two formally dressed adherents also enter a trance and do strange acts that would allegedly be impossible if they were not entranced.
He also shows a fireside ritual at which a man dressed in straw becomes possessed by the spirit of a pig, becoming suddenly endowed with superhuman strength and acting completely irrationally. It takes six men to hold down this one man once he becomes possessed. They bring him back to reality with sacred water, at which point he does not remember a single thing about what happened. More footage shows people being possessed by horse-spirits.
Finally, footage shows the famous ritual play of Rangda and Barong, in which is enacted the old Balinese myth of the demon-queen Rangda being overcome by the benevolent lion Barong. During the ceremony adherents become possessed by Barong and stab themselves with razor sharp daggers and swords, which bend and do not hurt them. However, the ceremony is cut short when the actor inside the Rangda costume himself becomes possessed and ceases to be rational.
The locals claim that the very mask used by Rangda the Demon-Queen (white and entusked with a huge red tongue and staring eyes) is haunted. It is cut from a tree specially grown in a graveyard, and when it is cut it is hung in a graveyard every night to soak up dreadful spirits from the graves. The locals claim that the mask itself shakes and groans in its basket when it is in storage, and will even float out of it and be suspended above by evil powers.
I am particularly fascinated by these images because my mother comes from Indonesia (Balinese Hinduism was once common throughout the Indes until the Muslims forced the Hindu princes to flee around the 1500s; indigenous Hinduism is still very common among ordinary Indonesians). She told me stories very much like this, with Javanese Hindus becoming possessed by monkey-spirits, turning into pigs, putting curses on each other and suchlike. (My Dad, from Malaysia, has similar stories).
The story of the Rangda mask reminds me of an Indonesian family friend who was a servant in a prince's house in Java and had to polish his krisses. He claimed that he would see evil spirits coming out of the krisses like smoke and being suspended above.
You may, on the other hand, simply be interested in seeing rare footage of this incredible religion that is so much like the earliest forms of religion worldwide. I am quite sure that the shamanistic religion of Mongolia, of the Americas, of Australia, as well as the ancient cult of Dionysos, were something like Balinese Hinduism.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2011
This is a refreshing deviation from David Attenborough into the study of tribal man and his art. He approaches these topics with his usual excuberant enthusiasm and each episode is an in-depth look into particular areas of tribal art - North American indians and their totem poles or the gold craftwork of the Aztecs and Incas or tribal masks from Africa - one often feels that when these films were shot in the 1970's this was one of the last opportunities to see these peoples before the 'civilized' (or uncivilized) world changed them forever. Unique television.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 8 December 2011
I found this series amazing and informative. The quality is actually very high, considering it was filmed over 35 years ago - it seems that Mr Attenborough has always been associated with top quality output.
Because of its age, it is actually a valuable record of cultures which have now almost certainly have been wiped out or irreversibly changed due to exposure to the growing western world. Sir David interviews one tribesman who personally remembers a British invasion party in 1897! Again considering when it was filmed, Attenborough is remarkably free from condescension - his trademark enthusiasm and genuine fascination is all too apparent.
I haven't even watched the Bali 3-part special yet, as far as I'm concerned the seven parts of the main series are more than worth the money on their own.
Warning: Those viewers of a fragile disposition may need warned that one sequence shows the veritable Sir David dressed in nothing but a grass thong...
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2009
If you enjoy David's documentary it is worth getting this one. Since it was filmed in the 1970s some of these tribes still showed how they originally lived and Westernisation had not fully taken effect in some of these areas, so I think this documentary got to them just in time. Since I think if these places were visited today they would not have as many people alive that still knew the olds ways. Worth watching I learnt a lot watching this.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 2007
If you enjoy tribal art - then this is for you it'll widen your appreciation. From great Dogon sequences to Rhamparamp footage in Vanuatu to some wonderful looking characters at a london auction room this series may be little known to the legion of people who know David Attenborough more for his natural history documentaries yet it is an incredibly powerful document looking at it now after thirty years in which all societies shown (including the chaps with bad jumpers and big glasses in the auction sequence) have undergone change.
Great stuff - spend you money happily.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2007
I'm sure I'm not the only person to remember this marvellous series and to wonder why it did not have a place in the repeat schedules. I also remember that the book from the series was sadly lacking in colour photos, so all the more reason to welcome the DVD. The only reason I've not given five stars is that the third disc is entirely about Bali - much of it fascinating, but you need to be a fan of gamelan music to watch the whole disc.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2011
This series is well worth it for the insight it gives to a variety of tribal cultures worldwide. I have now bought this as a second copy as the first often seems to be on loan to friends! The depth and detail given to exploring aspects of these cultures is something I doubt would be available in a more modern series. From Haida indian ceremonies on the west coast of America to migrating herdsmen and Pacific islanders, this is a truly global view.
The special feature on Bali is undoubtedly an important documentary but is possibly of less interest to the general viewer.