Beyond Survival with Les Stroud opens with the camera in night vision mode. Les walks through the jungle, talking quietly because the Vedda people instructed him to keep silent. The Elephants are near. The elephants are the biggest concern and danger for the Veddas in central Sri Lanka; however, Les tells the audience that they must be aware of leopards, jaguars and sloth bears in the jungle. The entire trek ends without incident. Yes, the exciting illusion of danger returns to a Les Stroud show.
Beyond Survival is a show about surviving in the jungle in more ways than one. The show focuses on the preservation of the dying cultures of the tribes Les Stroud visits. What happens when modern civilization encroaches on a culture like the Veddas in Sri Lanka? The Vedda people and culture walked the earth 10,000 years before civilization began in Ancient Egypt. The effect of modern civilization is harsh for the Veddas because they've lost land through the years. Modern Sri Lanka advertises Aboriginal adventures even though the Veddas want to continue living as they always have. History has told this story for centuries. The natives are usually pushed out of their lands by a conqueror (Amazingly, the bulk of my studies as an English major included post-colonial studies or multi-culturalism and diversity as a whole...I digress). As they lose their lands, hunting and gathering becomes tougher as the wild game diminishes with each loss of land. The Veddas are one of the oldest hunter-gatherer groups in the world. Not only are the Vedda trying to maintain their way of life despite outside forces but they must rely on the youth of their people and their youth is not following in their elders' footsteps.
Les Stroud also visits the Sinhalese fishermen on the coast on Sri Lanka. The fishermen are modern. The survival of their way life was damaged and put in danger after the Tsunami in 2004. Many of the elder fishermen died and the young Sinhalese aren't anxious to follow in the footsteps of those who came before. The fishermen used to catch over 300,000 tons of fish a year and the numbers have decreased dramatically.
Besides the focus on the question: can these cultures continue to live the way they've always lived? A decent portion of the episode is devoted to the idea of demons and devils.
The Veddas were once considered to be half-human half-demon and they worship a select group of demons that can help them succeed while the Sinhalese believe there are no good demons. They want to rid themselves of demons because they believe the demons cause disease and bad luck among others. The way to please or ward off demons is through dancing--"devil dancing."
The Sinhalese are a very patriarchal society. They believe the demons are attracted to various vices. Chief among the vices are women. I think the Sinhalese associate women with lust, and lust is the chief vice. Les Stroud wasn't clear. The Sinhalese dress up in women clothing to entice the demons so they can be destroyed i.e. exorcised. While fishing, the Sinhalese prefer company because an isolated fisherman is an easy target for demon possession. Their devil dancing is intense and long--twelve hours exactly. The Sinhalese wished to exorcise the demons from Stroud which is why the dance takes twelve hours. It's a dizzying display of noise, color, fire.
The Veddas dance as a form of worship to the demons they deem good. There are no costumes or excessive displays.
As for the actual hunting methods the Veddas use, allow me to write about some highlights:
-The middle portion of the episode is devoted to an elaborate concoction to create poison so fishing is easier. At first, they warned Les not to get the poisonous liquid in his eye and then they asked him to get in the water that now had the poison in it. Les said his body went numb eventually.
-A few times on Survivorman, Les Stroud got high from a natural opiate. In this episode, he ate a betel nut with some tobacco leaves. Whenever Les Stroud trips out with a camera watching, it's funny because he seems like he has no clue what just hit him.
-The Vedda slingshots delighted Les. While high from the betel nut, he acted like he'd hit one of the Vedda tribesman with the rock before laughing.
-The Vedda tribesmen own dogs that they use to help on the hunt. In fact, when they arrived home, the dogs greeted the tribesmen excitedly.
-The tribesmen and Les procured honey from a bees nest without the bees going insane. The Veddas take great care when invading the bees' hive. After they gathered the honey, the tribesmen made sure the bees would re-build by re-building the part of the tree they removed for hive access.
Beyond Survival with Les Stroud is worth your time. DVR it or watch it live should you be home on a Friday night at 10pm. Where else can someone get a glimpse of another culture like this? Les Stroud continues to be a great host; however, no matter how many times he talks about the dangerous animals, you'll never actually see one.
Tomorrow will launch the beginning of the look at returning television shows on network television. If you any network you'd like me to begin with, tell me in the comments. If not, expect an ABC preview tomorrow.
THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK