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Episode Highlights

Episode 1: Oman

Episode Summary

Living on the edge of the vast Rub' al Khali Desert, where temperatures regularly reach 120°F and rain falls about once a year, the Al-Amri family relies primarily on 40 goats and four camels for food and income. Their culture is characterized by open hospitality to strangers, strictly defined roles for women, and the physically demanding work of survival. Cell phones, 4x4s, and portable electric generators link these formerly nomadic Bedouins to the 21st century.

Questions to Consider

  1. The Al-Amri patriarch says of modern technology, "We take only what we need without affecting our lifestyle." From what you've seen, how has 21st-century technology impacted the Bedouin?
  2. How would you respond to the Al-Amri family's critique of MacIntyre (and, by extension, Western culture in general): "You eat too much and work too little"?
  3. MacIntyre comments that Sampta, the Al-Amri mother, "shattered [his] illusions of a submissive Islamic woman." How did Sampta compare with your preconceptions of Arab women?
  4. What relationship, if any, do you see between the Bedouins' harsh environment and their tradition of hospitality? Would they be as hospitable in a more moderate climate?

Episode 2: Papua New Guinea

Episode Summary

Only a few generations removed from cannibalism, the members of the Insect Tribe–so named because they worship the praying mantis–rely on hunting, fishing, and trading in crocodile hides. They practice polygamy, observe religious strictures that bar women and outsiders from their place of worship, and generally shun modern technology. Pollution from a gold mine five miles upriver now threatens their village's survival.

Questions to Consider

  1. What aspects of the Insect Tribe's culture do you admire? What aspects do you consider "primitive" or backward?
  2. How have Western products and ideas infiltrated the tribe's culture? What effects have they had?
  3. How would you resolve the conflict between the gold-mining operation and the tribe's desire to maintain its way of life?
  4. As presented in the program, how did you view the practice of polygamy? Can you imagine any advantages or disadvantages to the practice?

Episode 3: Bolivia

Episode Summary

Episode Summary In the Altiplano region–one of the highest inhabited places on Earth–Wilfredo Mamani mines the world's largest salt flat with an axe to support his family. After making a sacrifice to the Spirit for the success of the journey, the Quechuan Indians load llamas with salt and descend nearly 3,000 feet into the valley to trade for corn and fruit. Fidelia, the oldest daughter, dreams of leaving the village to become a teacher, but her family wants her to stay.

Questions to Consider

  1. According to MacIntyre, the violent Tinku ritual provides a means to escape everyday hardship, relieve stress, and settle grudges. Do you agree? In your opinion, what are the benefits and dangers of such liminal or transcendental experiences?
  2. Considering the Tinku ritual and your own knowledge, do you believe that the environment shapes religious practice in any way?
  3. How does the Mamanis' treatment of livestock compare with the Bedouins' treatment of camels or the Insect Tribe's attitude toward wildlife? What are the similarities and differences?
  4. Fidelia's ambition to embark on a career conflicts with her parents' expectations that she follow traditional ways. Does this conflict have parallels in Western families? If so, how does it differ? How do you think the family will resolve it?

Episode 4: Borneo

Episode Summary

A people without a country, the Bajau Laut live a virtually landless existence. With no official documentation, these sea gypsies risk arrest and detention on shore. Renowned for their extraordinary diving ability, the Bajau Laut live on and from the sea–fishing, hunting stingrays, and trading their catch for fuel to power their small boats. They also practice a religion that combines Islam with ancient spirit worship.

Questions to Consider

  1. MacIntyre attributes the Bajau Lauts' gentleness to their subsistence living. "We always want more," he says. "They want nothing more than necessary." Would you trade your lifestyle for theirs? Do you think they would trade theirs for yours, given the opportunity?
  2. How would you compare and contrast the role of women in the Bajau Laut culture with that among the Bedouins, Insect Tribe, and Quechuans?
  3. With the construction of a luxury resort near the sea gypsies' land base, do you expect this culture to survive? Why should we care whether it vanishes?
  4. Of all the cultures and environments you've witnessed in this series, which would you most want to experience? Which would you least enjoy? Why?

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