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Honeyguide Newsletters: Fall 2003

African Sunset

Reflecting on the joys of the day and anticipating the adventures of tomorrow.

The Honeyguide: Fall 2003
National Geographic, the Barabaig, and Another Land

As many of you know, Nichole Smaglick, president and co-founder of Another Land, has been working with several cultures and villages throughout East Africa to develop small, cultural tourism programs that alleviate poverty. Through her work, she has been given access to cultural events and customs that few other visitors have experienced. Recently, on one such event, she decided to invite a National Geographic Expedition Crew.

This spring, Nichole learned of a rare, large funeral ceremony of the Barabaig tribe in Tanzania. Funerals are the most elaborate ceremony of the Barabaig. Yet, they are very rare. Only 'perfect' people are granted a funeral. The family of the deceased gave Nichole permission to film and photograph the funeral. Nichole returned to the US and flew to the National Geographic offices in D.C. Ten days later, she found herself on a plane to Tanzania with world-renowned photographers, Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith. For over thirty years, Angela and Carol authored some of the most impressive books on African cultures, such as African Ark, Africa Adorned, Maasai, and African Ceremonies.

Living in three Barabaig villages in ten days, the trio was able to photograph and film several Barabaig customs, such as scarification, weddings, and rainmaking. The main mission of the crew was to document the climax of a buneda (funeral) which is a nine-month ceremony culminating in the creation of a fifteen-foot monument, countless of vessels of honey-beer, and hundreds of attendees dancing, singing and wearing their finery.

Shortly before the funeral, an elderly friend of Nichole's passed away. The family asked Nichole, Angela and Carol to document the actual ceremonial burial of the body for their remembrance and for cultural preservation. This was unprecedented. First of all, women are not allowed to witness the burial and Nichole, Angela and Carol are all, well, women! The head of the body is blessed with butter and tied tightly in an upright, seated position. After each male child of the deceased approaches the body walking backwards and offering blessings, the body is seated in a deep hole. The face must point due east so the deceased sees the rising sun in the mornings. Then they slowly fill in the hole and bury the body. Keep in mind that the eyes are left open!

Now that the expedition is over, Angela, Carol and Nichole have many hours of developing photographs and editing film. Some day soon, you may see some of these photos in National Geographic and on our website. But first priority is to take copies of the photos back to the land of the Barabaig so they can show their children, grandchildren and so forth the historical splendor of this fading culture.

About The Honeyguide

The Honeyguide - a monthly email newsletter - is named after the Greater Honey Guide, a bird that has developed the remarkable habit of leading tribespeople to wild bees' nests, with the promise of honeycomb and grubs once the humans have opened the nest and taken the honey. The complementary relationship shared by bird and human represents the newsletter's goal - to periodically lead readers to new and timely bits of information about East African wildlife, culture, and travel.

Please enjoy more Honeyguide stories, and for all of the latest stories, ancedotes and new travel opportunties in East Africa, join our Honeyguide list!

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