After braving some of the most remote locations on Earth alone (filming himself for “Survivorman”), adventurer Les Stroud continues his survival journey with some newfound friends. He travels to places such as Madagascar and the Kalahari Desert in Africa to learn new survival skills from the few remaining indigenous tribes around the world. Stroud also takes part in rituals and ceremonies and discovers how these various cultures have persevered for thousands of years. As he says, “Once you have secured the survival of your body, you still have to ensure the survival of your mind and spirit.”
Les Stroud journeys the globe to unearth the secrets of how remote indigenous tribes have survived in the wild for thousands of years in his groundbreaking new series Les Stroud Beyond Survival. Increasingly under threat, the traditional way of life for these tribes is changing and fast. Witness the most unbelievable survival rites and rituals on the planet. Go beyond survival with Les Stroud.
EP 1 – Devil Dancers of Sri Lanka
From Sri Lanka’s beginnings 2500-years-ago, the island was populated by tens of thousands of demons, some spreading disease and chronic afflictions through possession. These range the whole gamut—from headaches to infectious diseases to madness to barrenness. To be cured, the patient undergoes a devil dance—the most complex, dramatic exorcism in the world, in what is also the world’s largest mask culture. It’s an all-night healing ceremony involving masked dancers imitating disease causing demons. Anyone involved swears by its effectiveness. Although devil dances are rapidly fading in the face of globalization, and now are a staple at 5-star hotels, there are still traditional devil dance priests—Sri Lanka’s original doctors—who practice the ritual on a regular basis for the inflicted. It is nearly impossible to become a patient if you are not part of the sub-culture but Stroud has secured a place to be exactly that—the patient to be exorcized. No Westerner has ever before been filmed participating in this cultural tradition that throughout the millennium offered the only cause and cure for afflictions within their understanding. The survival methods post – Tsunami will also be explored – the famed ‘stick fishing’ where by Stroud will learn to build and stand and fish from a single pole over the oven. From the Devil Dancers on the coast of Sri Lanka Les travels to the interior to survive with a group of people who have only been living out of caves since the mid 80’s. The Vedas. And they too have their own form of crude Devil Dance.
EP 2 – Sea Gypsies of Malaysia
Cultural survival often requires traditions, rituals and rites of passages, but sometimes it can depend on none of those. Sometimes simple existence is nothing more than a constant hand-to-mouth struggle: the ever-present search for food. What happens when that struggle takes place in a boat? Every day you live, eat, breathe, procreate, defecate and socialize entirely in a small boat or small ocean stilted hut – 24/7, 365 days a year. This is the life of the famous ‘Sea Gypsies’ (Sea Bajau). They belong to no country; their allegiance to the sea. It is said they originate from the Philippians but have calling the waters of Borneo home for over 200 years. Beautiful yet dangerous, the ocean waters surrounding this area are highly contentious, a haven for pirates and pillagers. In April 2000, pirates kidnapped 21 persons, dive instructors and guests, from Sipadan Island itself. Today military bases dot every coastline, patrolling the waters to secure a fragile peace.
Poverty-stricken, the Bajau have large families. The more workers the better when the game is daily survival. 12+ people share one room stick huts that poke from the ocean floor like spindly legs on rickety tip-toe. Les will learn how to make shelter of braided palm leaves and machete shorn wood, find fresh water, catch sea cucumber learning the dangerous art of compression diving, and examine life in an area of the world where starfish aren’t your friends, sea urchins rule the ocean floor, and jelly fish leave more than a sting.
EP 3 – The San Bushman of the Kalahari
In approximately 3,000 BC, the fields of the Sahara transformed slowly into desert. At that time, the animals and hunters who had enjoyed these lush hunting grounds were pushed south. The Kalahari San aka Bushmen similarly migrated and have been living and surviving in this inhospitable landscape ever since. Record of the trance dance dates back to this time, when the San Bushmen were free to roam the great wilds of the Kalahari untouched by modern civilization and the laws of land ownership. The ritual of the trance dance served as a direct communion to the spirit world, the souls of the Bushmen journeying through space and time to the world of the Ancients to gain insight and healing for their day-to-day survival, individually or for the community at large. Les will be the first Westerner to participate in this physically and mentally exhausting three-day trance. Accepted into the tribe itself, he will learn the delicate and deadly art of poison arrow hunting, track porcupine, hike the great sand dunes of the Kalahari and gather honey from desert bees. The physical and mental toll of desert survival will test Les to his limits and beyond.
EP 4 – The Hewa of Papua New Guinea
For years the Hewa (literally translated as ‘the savages’) were considered to be head-hunters like their contemporaries on the same continent. Skulls could be found adorning their huts in the middle of the New Guinea jungles. But, it was not the case. In fact, these were the skulls of their dead relatives. The way of the Hewa was to bury the dead upright in a fetal position, arms around the shins, with the head close to the surface of the ground – some skulls breaking through the jungle floor. Two years later, they would dig down and ‘pop’ off the skull, perform a ceremony which included ingesting Beetlenut (a mild mental stimulant) and return the skull to the hut of the relatives. It has not been performed for forty years….or so everyone thought.
Never before photographed or filmed, Stroud returns to the wilds of Papa New Guinea with special permission to travel three arduous days on foot through the jungle to carry out the ‘Cumoutin’ ceremony himself with the guidance of the Hewa. Bow and arrow in hand, machete attached at the belt – a deadly battle always lurks around the next corner. Les will participate in the full honouring ceremony, including ingesting Beetlenut before a village of 800 locals. Here Les proves what every Hewa Tribesman knows – survival isn`t just about protecting and nourishing the body, it is about a state of mind.
EP 5 – The Antanosy and the Antandroy of Madagascar
The Southern tip of the island of Madagascar is not only home to more ecosystems than any other place on the planet; it is also home to the unique Antanosy and Antandroy tribes. After many days journey on rough, dirt-red roads Les will finally reach the first tribe: the Antandroy. In their remote fishing village of Ejijiky, 33kms south of the nearest town, Les will practice traditional fishing techniques, hunt with wild dogs, build shelter, find water and survive as the rural Antandroy do.
From here, Stroud will travel to the village of Tsihalagna to meet Four Shamans of the Antanosy, the mysterious Ombiasas. Here Les will participate in a trance that’s induced by smoking a plant mixture made from ramy (sap from Canaria spp.), mixed with ombi (cattle) fat. In trance, Les will connect to his ancestors, the spirit of his elders, and gain not only the wisdom from his own lineage but also the wisdom of these great and ancient people of Africa’s only island.
EP 6 – The Inuit of the High Arctic
Stroud journeys to the top of Baffin Island in rural Nunavut, Canada: the arctic. He returns to visit the small Inuit community called Pond Inlet. The integration of modern technologies has ensured cultural and physical survival in an environment where temperatures can drop below -40c. But today, Pond Inlet faces its greatest challenge: climate change. Gone are the dogsleds, Stroud witnesses the marriage of Western technology and indigenous knowledge in the face of rapid economic and cultural change as the ice slowly recedes from the North.
EP 7 – The Amazon Shamans of Peru
Deep in the Amazon forests of Peru live indigenous cultures that have been hidden from modern civilization for hundreds of years. Les travels by plane, bus, boat and finally foot to reach the Huacharia Tribe – a tribe that still hunts with bow and arrow, collects wild mushrooms, snails, insects, worms, plants, fruits, and other natural resources safe for human consumption and jungle survival. A deeply spiritual people, Les will participate with these indigenous Andeans as they perform ceremony in their daily lives to pay homage to the elements: from gentle water ceremonies to the purifying ingestion of herbal medicine from the rare Ayahuasca plant, Les will raft, trek and slice into the heart of the Peruvian jungle, learning the secrets of this rare ecosystem from the jungle’s very secret-keepers themselves.
EP- 8 The Zulus of South Africa
Stroud travels to Zululand to meet with a Sangoma – a female African Shaman – to experience the rite of passage known as scarification. The Sangoma meets with Stroud and puts him through a series of rituals to determine where his inner ailments lie. They believe these inner ailments need protection; this is achieved through physical scaring and the ingestion of extremely bitter, nausea-inducing herbal medicines. The process is extremely painful and normally experienced by land hardened African Zulu natives. Scarification is a long and painful process, and a permanent modification of the body, transmitting complex messages about identity and social status. Permanent body markings emphasise fixed social, political and religious roles. Facial scarification in West Africa is used for identification of ethnic groups, families, individuals, but also to express personal beauty. It is also performed on girls to mark stages of the life process, such as puberty, marriage etc. They can assist in making them more attractive to men, as the scars are regarded as appealing to touch as well as to look at, but also as testimony that women will be able to withstand the pain of childbirth. The Zulu’s methods of traditional hunting will be learned by Stroud, as well as the deadly sport of stick fighting.
EP 9 – The Q’ero – Descendants of the Inkan High Priests
Les and crew climb to 16,000 ft up dangerous Mt. Sinkara to join 80,000 indigenous Andeans as they make their yearly pilgrimage to the holy site of Qollorit’i. Les has been given special entrance with the Ukukus, the Spiritual Warriors of the Inka Tradition, and will be joining the Warriors on their quest to reach the glacial summit surpassing base camp to reach an astounding 17,000 ft. Here Les will be the first Westerner and only person in history to film the ancient Inka rituals performed by over 200 Ukuku Warriors on the edge of the glacial sheet.
Les and the Ukukus, masked in costume and armed with long, leather whips, must survive on the glacial edge for the night. If they succeed, they earn the right to break a piece of the glacial from the mountain’s edge and return to base camp carrying this frozen holy water on their backs. Dispensing this water to their communities, the Ukukus pay homage to the Spirit of the Mountain of Sinkara and appease the great spirits to live another year, so they may return to the holy mountain and pilgrimage again. This honouring of nature is central to their concept of survival.
EP – 10 The Mentawai Shamans of Indonesia
Threats to uncontacted tribes living in the most remote parts of the world are an issue of vital importance as oil and gas exploration, mining and logging push ever deeper. The Mentawai Islands lie to the West of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. Les begins at the island of Siberut. He journeys 9 hours up river by boat, navigating log-jammed river systems and shallow waters, eventually trekking by foot into the heart of the island, arriving at the Mentawai tribe.
Les will live with this tribe for eight days, connecting to their history, learning the great survival methods they can teach. Eating the daily food staple called ‘sago’, making a Shaman’s garb called the ‘si kerei’, and under-going painful ancient warrior tattooing, Les will prepare himself to hunt and survive in the Borneo jungle with bow and poison arrow. The key to daily survival here is finding food and, in a jungle renowned for its poisonous insects and reptiles, the Mentawai’s knowledge of medicinal plants and invocation of healing and spiritual ceremony is at the core of what keeps them alive in this highly dangerous environment.
Voice is important to the Mentawai, they lure their prey by imitating the calls of all the animals they hunt. As hunting is getting scarce, they are now forced to go deeper and further into the jungle. They say even a caterpillar can kill you in Borneo; the Mentawai believe their singing of shamanic songs attunes their souls.