Five tribal leaders from the remote South Pacific island nation of Tanna are sent to the U.S. by their supreme chief. Their mission? To bring the message of joy and peace they learned from a very special soldier during World War II – a man they called ‘Tom Navy’ – back to America. The journey was documented by the Travel Channel in a six-part series, which premiered with back-to-back episodes on November 29, 2009.
As a travel writer, the Travel Channel provided me with a special link to preview the first two episodes and frankly, I was blown away. Amidst much hilarity, these traditional hunters and farmers who wear grass skirts and live with no electricity or television, don layers of clothing and learn how to operate a video camera before departing for their first destination, a cattle ranch in Montana. I laughed out loud as they struggled with sleeping bags on the floor of the cabin and then again when they helped the wife cook breakfast – a first, since in Tanna, women do all the cooking. Coming from a culture that produces everything required to sustain the tribe on a daily basis, it is difficult for the men to understand why the Montana ranch contains 5,000 head of cattle, yet the family must buy their vegetables at a store. And why do the cattle eat dry, brown feed delivered by a truck rather than fresh, green grass?
Throughout the journey, the tribesmen search for Tom Navy. Legend foretells that when he returns to Tanna the world will know peace, but they have heard that America is warring with its neighbors and they wish to know if Tom Navy is part of the war. My heart nearly broke when the elders sat down at the dinner table and asked the Montana family if they knew Tom Navy. No? Well, they would just have to keep searching.
Next stop, New York City, where they are swept by limo to the glamorous apartment of a single woman, dine at Sardi’s, find totems at the Metropolitan Museum built by their neighbors back home in the South Pacific, and even learn how to skateboard. Throughout each episode, the insightful observations of the Tanna men force us to look at our lives through brand-new eyes and their simple wisdom has much to say about the way we live and the things we value.