Orgs complain that 'Journey' exploits Himba people

KIGALI, Rwanda — The producers of a Swedish reality TV show have paid reparations to a Namibian ethnic minority group after they were accused by rights orgs of exploitation and a lack of respect.

“The Great Journey,” produced by Eyeworks Sweden for pubcaster SVT, follows three Swedish families living what is described as “extremely primitive tribal life” with minority groups in Namibia, Vanuatu and Indonesia.

The show came under fire for its portrayal of Namibia’s indigenous Himba people and for using “stereotypes reminiscent of colonial times” in marketing the show.

According to a joint statement from the Legal Assistance Center-Namibia and Africa Groups of Sweden, the show was “permeated by a lack of respect” that violated the United Nations Declaration of 2007 on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The LAC also claimed Eyeworks didn’t pay the Himba enough for their participation.

Eyeworks “entered into an agreement with the community which we didn’t think was fair,” says Mark Nonkes, a communications consultant for LAC.

He cited a small per diem equal to around $6 a day and “a couple of bags of maize meal and sugar” per person as compensation.

It is not the first controversy for the Himba, a well-documented and widely filmed nomadic people living in Namibia’s remote, arid north. Earlier this year, rights groups criticized Spanish reality show “Lost in the Tribe,” which aired on Cuatro, for its unfair depiction of the Himba and Namibia’s San people.

Eyeworks and SVT insist the spat over “The Great Journey” was a misunderstanding.

According to Eyeworks’ managing director Anders Karlsson, the show’s “intention was to give Swedish viewers an interesting, respectful and insightful portrait of other cultures.”

Adds SVT’s Par Nordahl adds: “A lot of the criticism that we got was based on the first episode. We’re quite sure that as the series develops, we’ll have a greater understanding that this show is not about questioning the way of life that these tribes have.”

“The Great Journey” was well received in Sweden. Despite stiff competition — including the season premiere of the Swedish version of “American Idol” — the show had a strong Sept. 8 debut, drawing more than half a million viewers (15.1 share). The audience climbed slightly in week two.

Eyeworks returned to Namibia once the controversy came to light and compensated the Himba with what LAC’s Nonkes describes as a much fairer wage. “They made amends,” he says.

In an email, Eyeworks’ Karlsson comments, “All parties involved in the production met up in Namibia and made a final agreement that we were all satisfied with.”

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