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.
14 thoughts on “Travel Channel’s Meet the Natives Six-Part Series”
this is by far the best show i’ve seen last year and this year. on the surface, fish(es) out of water story. but then it transcends that in a way that, if i had the words to describe it, i would. i think that it’s the fact that these guys, in their quest for tom navy and their mission to deliver their message of peace to the supreme chief, end up delivering a lot larger thing is fantastic!!
Enjoyed reading your blog as well as your heartfelt comments about the program “Meet the Natives”. Never thought I would watch a ‘fish out of water’ series since the Crocodile Dundee series, but this was truly well done. I have studied Cargo cults, of which the Tanna people are on of several, but this was done with stylish taste and somewhat a sense of reverence.
Loved your photos and keep at it. Hopefully I shall make it out of the states again and get to my destination: Nauru!
Great show… During the last show why wasn’t the Montana tribe shown? also it would have been a great show where someone for each tribe would visit the natives and give their account of how Tannaian culture treated them. I notice that the original dog tag had the service number why didn’t the filming crew go to the military archives to find out who Tom Navy really was?
the chief with the burnt face said that he remembers meeting him so it could not be a group of naval men also these are the descendants of the men who built our naval air stations in the south pacific during ww2 who would be only 1 generation away from the meeting of this person so I think that if a person came to there Island and affected them so much that they built a life style around his teachings of peace why is that so hard to understand, is it the be nice to each other and the earth part or the dont need to chase the dollar to live well part?
It’s pretty obvious that Tom Navy represents a bunch of Navy guys from WW II combined into one magical guy.
Disappointed that the producers of the show tell the natives to give a speech about global warmingas if they even know what the hell that is. LOL
Tom Navy where are you? I just watched the O.C. show and the natives mentioned that Mr. Navy could be at different parts of the island at different times? I am very intrigued and hope they solve this mystery.
I’m not much of a television watcher but I’d take time to watch this show.
I don’t watch a lot of television any more, but you have me intrigued. In my travels I often go to remote places and day dream about what it might be like if the cultural tables were turned and these locals actually saw New York City. It’s what I love about traveling – the cultural differences. I love the idea – thanks Barbara – I’ll try to check it out if I’m around a television!
I hope this struggles its way to Australia. Along with Heather, I hope that it is done well with respect as it has the chance of being superbly well done.
What a wonderful show!! I cant think of a better way to show that we are all alike dispite our diffrences.I really liked the fact that they were treated with respect and acceptance. PLEASE keep up the good work.
I watched the first two episodes and while I thought the New Yorker named Bunny was ridiculous, the men from Tanna were enjoyable to watch.
If the translations/subtitles are accurate, they seem to be wise and are not just being exploited so we can see them amazed at what they see in the United States.
I always love it when a program forces me to see “through brand-new eyes.” Thanks, Barbara.
I like the sound of that, as long as the story is respectful of what we can learn from these cultures and not just a story of their surprise at all the ‘amazing’ things they see.