Spanish reality TV show mistreats Namibian San tribe family members, claims NGO


A reality television show which placed three Spanish families with indigenous tribal communities was accused on Wednesday of mistreating members of one of the tribes involved, the San bushmen of Namibia. Participating tribe members abandoned their harvest in exchange for meagre wages in order to take part in "Lost in the Tribe" while their children missed school, a non-governmental organisation which works with the San said.

The show, broadcast on private channel Cuatro on Sunday nights (the format has also been produced by broadcasters in other countries such as Australia and New Zealand) was also accused of misrepresenting the daily lives of the tribes. It portrays three middle-class Spanish families as they live with tribes, two from Namibia and one from Indonesia, for three weeks.

The Molina-Herrera family, made up of a couple and their four children, were sent to live at a San camp, which was depicted as a dozen huts arranged in a semi-circle. But in reality the San were moved more than 700 kilometres from where they are usually based in the Kalahari desert to make filming the show easier, according to the Spanish Commission of Refugee Aid which has worked with the tribe for the past three years.

"The children have not been able to go to school for one month," a spokesperson for the organisation, Arantxa Freire, said, adding the move meant the tribe members are away from their land during harvest time. The San tribe are also far less primitive than they are being depicted on the screen as they do not live in huts and wear shorts, T-shirts and skirts and not loincloths, she added. The San tribe were repeatedly "shown in an exotic, paternalistic and disrespectful" way which reinforces stereotypes in the show, which has enjoyed favourable ratings since it started two weeks ago.

"It is another lost opportunity for these communities to show first-hand their values and culture and for us to show a respectful way to get closer," it said, adding the show was an attempt at "cheap anthropology". In one scene of the show, the San express in translated comments their belief that the Molina-Herrera came from the sky and express their astonishment at their white skin and beauty. In another scene a mother and her two daughters from another family who are spending time with a different tribe in Namibia, the Himba, were seen being told that female members of the tribe did not have the right to bathe.

But University of Salamanca anthropology professor Francisco Giner Abati, who lived for nearly three years with the Himba, said this was "totally false". "They bathe less than we do because water is difficult to access, but whenever they get water they take advantage of the opportunity to bathe," he said, adding "the image given is far from reality". Abati, who said he could only bear to watch five minutes of the first episode of the series, said it was a shame that "these tribes are being exploited commercially".

A spokesperson for Cuatro said the series aims to show the contrast between Western culture and the participating tribes. Asked about the accusation that the San were depicted stereotypically, he said producers had sought out "the most picturesque and rudimentary aspects" of the participating families.