David Attenborough
The Tribal Eye

This series from 1975 takes us on a journey around the world to reveal the making and use of tribal art in some of the few places on earth where the traditions are intact. We discover the complex relationships of the people with their art; the culture that enables them to produce such artefacts and the effect the interest of the wider world is having on their lives and art.

I just started to watch it and I was especially fascinated by this scene showing how a Dogon mask is done. The skill of the young blacksmith carving the monkey mask is just breathtaking.

1. “Behind the Mask”
This episode centers on the life and customs of the Dogon people in Mali, concentrating primarily on their masks and mask rituals. After a brief introduction to the Dogon culture, the link between African and European art is elaborated upon, using works by Picasso and Braque as examples. Dogon blacksmiths are shown working on a sculpture and a monkey mask for an old woman’s funeral; the funeral rites, which include masked performances and a staged mock battle, are shown in great detail.


2. “Crooked Beak of Heaven”
In “Crooked Beak of Heaven”, Attenborough discusses the art and cultures of the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest of North America: The Haida of present-day British Columbia and Alaska; the Gitxsan of Skeena Country; and the Kwakwaka’wakw (“Kwakiutl”) of present-day British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.


3. “The Sweat of the Sun”
This episode examines the architecture and golden artwork of the Aztecs and Incas.


4. “Kingdom of Bronze”
On the ancient African kingdom of Dahomey. The bronze artifacts from the Benin Kingdom in modern day Nigeria.


5. “Woven Gardens”
On the nomadic Qashqai tribe of Iran. The tribal art of carpet-making in Persia and the distinctive patterns of the different clans and tribes.


6. “Man Blong Custom”
This episode looks at how of beliefs and customs of the indigenous people of the Solomon Islands have changed due to the outside influence of colonialism.


7. “Across the Frontiers”
“Across The Frontiers” includes snippets from the previous documentaries already mentioned including additional footage of the Dogon. As well as exploring several other tribes and their artwork including traditional Inuit walrus-tusk tools. Attenborough concludes by looking at the commercialisation of tribal art. Interviewing collectors and exploring how tribal sculpture has changed.

The youtube playlist containing the 7 videos here.