… If, like me, you write a blog, then I would hazard a guess that, like me, you too are fascinated by the Site Stats that are presented to you every time you log on to make a post. Mine appear as a graph with ‘time’ along the bottom and ‘hits’ up the vertical axis and I am well used to so called ‘spikes’ in the graph which generally occur when one of my posts is picked up by Reddit, Stumbleupon or such like and receives a short lived but unusually high number of hits.
Since Human Planet began airing on British TV a few weeks ago, I have become well accustomed to my weekly spike on Thursday night and Friday morning, the result of people watching the program and then turning to their computers to research one or other of the stories from the show in a bit more depth. This week, after the Jungles programme, the spike was quite big… a veritable Matterhorn on my stats graph in fact. I was expecting that the Bayaka honey gatherers story would be the thing capturing the public’s attention, but to my surprise, after a little investigation it turned out that of the top 20 most searched phrases in Google last night that directed people to this blog, all but two of them contained the words ‘Rachael’ and “Kinley’.
It appears that our Rachael’s antics ‘going native’ in a Korowai tree house on last night’s Behind the Lens section of the show have made her somewhat of an attraction to a certain section of the internet’s browsers.
So, for all you new Rachael Kinley fans out there, here is nice homely photo of her singing to a young Bayaka baby in the Central African Republic, just to remind you all what a lovely young lady she is.
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OK. That’s my public service over for the day. Let’s get back to the story about the Bayaka honey gatherers from last night’s show… stay with me folks, this is the educational bit.
The Bayaka are a lovely bunch. I reckon that if you took a survey of a thousand random people and asked them to describe a typical jungle tribe, you’d probably end up with a vision not that dissimilar to the Bayaka’s. They are a forest people in the truest sense of the word. Totally at home in their jungle. Hunting with spears, adept at climbing trees, they can build an overnight shelter from scratch in less than half an hour. They have an incredible culture of song and drumming rhythms and a fascinating tradition of forest spirituality that involves enthralling dances and a mythology of glow-in-the-dark forest spirits created from a luminescent jungle fungus. The resulting Willo the Wisp-esque deities regularly graced us with their presence during the many long nights of song and dance we experienced during our 2 weeks with the Bayaka. The list goes on. In fact the BBC could have easily made a whole program just on them… Now I think about it, they probably have.
Anyway, we came here to film the incredible spectacle of honey gathering, something that is practiced by a number of the men in the tribe, the two most notable of which, Tete and Mongonje (pronounced Tetay and Mongonjay) we managed to shadow for a couple of weeks.
Photographing this story took quite a bit of organising. Apart from the fact that the only way in to this part of C.A.R. at the time was to hire a private plane, the main problem was working out a way to get ourselves and all our kit 40 meters up into the canopy with these guys. Which is where Tim Fogg, our rope access specialist came in.
Its always a pleasure to work with Tim. He’s been in the business of rigging for over 20 years which is a reassuring qualification in a line of work that demands your complete trust in its experts.
I’m scared of heights and that is something that doesn’t appear to be changing as I get older. In fact the opposite is true. Six months before we began shooting Human Planet, the BBC sent us all on a week long rope access training course at Westonbirt Arboretum near Bristol to get acclimatised with the equipment we’d be using on the Jungles and Mountains episodes.
During that course, I asked climbing expert Ben, one of our instructors, whether he got nervous high in the trees and to my surprise he said that he did. Especially if he hadn’t been climbing for a little while. So, I think that a fear of heights is healthy and normal, except if you’re a Bayaka of course.
Rigging the tree was the easy part (For me at least. I just stood there watching along with everyone else). For large trees like these, Tim fires a small weight attached to a thin line using a giant sling shot, securing the line over the crown of the tree. A climbing rope is then attached to this line and pulled up over the crown, becoming the rope that we ascend using a belay system.
In contrast to our incredibly stringent BBC health and safety regulations. Tete and Mongonje climb their trees the old skool way.
A piece of liana is cut and used as a makeshift harness. This and the series of foot holds cut from the tree’s trunk with an axe are the only things stopping a honey gatherer from falling to his death. Let’s zoom in a little on that makeshift harness..
Yes.. It’s started to fray from the friction caused by climbing. Needless to say, I have incredible respect for these guys. As do the rest of their community.
My favourite shot from this sequence in the TV program is the rising shot of Tete climbing the monster tree that you can see at the beginning of this clip…
To get this shot, the crew used a contraption called a dolly.
Tim rigged the tree with a vertical line running up to a branch in the canopy about 3 metres out from the trunk. The camera was then attached to the bottom of the dolly and a slightly heavier counter weight to the other end of the rope which was fed through the pulley system of the dolly. As the counter weight fell, the camera was pulled up vertically to achieved the shot. Furthermore, the dolly has a remote controlled head, so that it was possible to pan the camera downwards as it passed Tete on the tree.
A fantastic shot I think you’ll agree.
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