Sunday, July 24, 2011

Life Is For Living

Jean- Pierre Dutilleux waits anxiously on one side of the stream while the tribal men walk on a log that serves as a bridge from the other side. That bridge is between two civilizations—one the most advanced, the other, where time is frozen at the dawn of our evolution. The primitive people approach slowly, clutching their primitive weapons firmly, arrows drawn, and make-shift axes raised. They take a few steps forward and then sharply backward, and then forward again with extreme caution—their curiosity taking better of them. As they approach nigh, their movements are tentative. They have been taught by their ancestors that white men are ghosts. The first man touches Dutilleux’s hand, and he is startled, steps back quickly. He has an incredible expression on his face. It takes him a few moments to gather himself. Then another one approaches. He too is shocked to touch a ghost, and feel so real. It is several hesitant touches before the first firm hand shake takes place between a man from the twenty-first century and a man from the lost horizon.

In a series of uncut footage, the Belgian photographer Jean- Pierre Dutilleux captures the fascinating moments when the last known ancient tribe, living in New Guinea, north of Australia, meet white men for the very first time. The tribe Toulambi lives in one of the last frontiers of primordial civilization, they have not seen a matchbox, and are shocked to see how fire can be started just by striking a stick smartly on the side of a tiny box. They are afraid to touch a knife when they see how sharp it is in contrast to their own cutting tools. One man takes a mirror in his hand and is baffled seeing his own image in it, and he immediately covers it with a leaf. Then he takes a quick glimpse, uncovering it briefly, and covers it back fast.

In five episodes, Dutilleux uploads uncut video of his recordings on YouTube. He captures how the stone-age people react as they taste rice for the first time. Initially, they do not like the taste of raw boiled rice, however, when salt is added to it, they love it. With childlike simplicity they touch, see and experience modern toys and appliances. They see how voice recorders work, how pictures and voices can be captured and replayed on a video recorder. For the tribal people it is like travelling through wormhole and arriving at a different galaxy to meet a far advanced civilization.

Shall the Toulambis be happy that we found them?

As a first generation American it often makes me pensive to think that we are still carrying Christopher Columbus’s curse. We call ourselves the most civilized, and act as savages. We go around the world blasting homes of hapless people, killing their children and women indiscriminately, and in the process spend money that we do not have—the money that could have been better spent in our inner cities, on our schools, roads, and crumbling bridges.

I am not so sure if it is good fortune for theToulambis that we have discovered them. Granted, they do not have modern medicines, knives, or even match boxes for that matter. The question is, have those amenities made us any better? Have our philosophies, religions, and their end-less treatises made us any wiser? Are we any happier than them?

Watching the video, it appeared to me those stone-age people show more compassion to one another than we show to the less fortunate members of our own society. More and more, our selfish nature is taking over our finer elements; it is just me, me, and me.

We want to destroy all social programs that help the least amongst us—is this what our savior, Jesus taught us?

I had pondered long and hard, contemplating, and searching meaning for life, nonetheless, watching lives of the primitive Toulambi tribe, it dawned on me, life is just for living, and it has no other significance—the richest life nevertheless is, the life spent in the service of others, as taught by the Christ, and the Buddha five hundred years before him!

First published on Technorati


  1. Mohit Bhai: It is the innate nature of human beings to progress, technologically, at what ever cost. This is what differentiates us from other beings. A horse a thousand years ago was a horse, no more intelligient. A thouand years later, a horse remains a horse, no more intelligent. It is, depending upon your belief, God's gift or man's evolutionary ability that we learn, improve, innovate and invent to meet our changing and growing needs.
    Regardless of our "progress", we cling on to our past and long for the "good old days". Let's keep in mind, the present is a time that someone from the future will long to be in! Therefore it is a sliding scale and it is all relative!
    Every civilation has its blessing and curse!
    Today is a "gift" and that is why it is called "present"! Life is for Living!! Live, let live and ENJOY!!

  2. "Today is a "gift" and that is why it is called "present"--well said, very well indeed!