Bruce Parry: 'The greatest journey of my life has been figuring out who I am'


A rite of passage is important for many young people It's why I joined the Marines: to prove myself. But societies all over the world use this youthful angst to fight wars. You go to an area such as the Omo Valley, Ethiopia [where Parry stayed with the Nyangatom tribe], and the different tribes are essentially cousins who've developed a separate identity to fight for the scarce resources there. The elders play on the young men's sense of pride, wind them up and send them off on a killing spree. We do that in our society, too, albeit in a more civilized way.

It's easy to look down on those we don't understand It was the subtext of [Parry's BBC documentary] Tribe from the beginning. I remember teaching a carpenter in Sumatra to play chess. He couldn't speak English and he hadn't been to school, but he thrashed every one of us, including all of the Oxford grads. Those are telling moments when you realise how easy it is to form a negative impression of a people just because they don't fit in with how we normally compartmentalise people.

Cannibalism is a cultural act that we turn out noses up at, but even with the [cannibalistic West Papuan] Kombai tribe, we didn't go there with an agenda, but to learn from them. There's anxiety and insecurity in their society, just as in ours; they fear witchcraft, which leads them to go out and kill the person they think has cast a spell over them. Then they eat them as they believe it's the only way to exorcise a witch's soul.

Orang-utans are naughty as hell I was staying in an orang-utan rehab centre in Borneo and they would come in to our quarters and raid our rucksacks; they became perfectly adept at undoing clips, drawing cords and pulling everything out and tasting it all before finding our cameras, inserting the nail of their little finger under the latch and taking the film out and destroying it just to annoy us; it was remarkable being that close to primates.

Most people think the arctic is just a white expanse It's actually a massive, undefined area full of riches, covering territories such as America, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Russia, and in just a few decades it might be free of ice in the summer. [In the recent BBC2 show Arctic with Bruce Parry] we wanted to highlight the huge issue of global warming, oil and gas exploitation and the heartbreaking plight of some of the indigenous populations.

I'm in a period of abstinence – from sex, drugs, alcohol and rock'n'roll. We are all so addicted to stimulation that I wanted to see what it would be like to not do those things for a while. It's amazing to realise how hard it is, but once you grasp that, you realise how much we are at the mercy of these controlling forces within us. To break them gives you great strength and puts you back in control of your body.

There's no escaping that my carbon footprint is massive There I am on TV in a helicopter, talking about our addiction to oil, and the irony couldn't be more ridiculous. But I have to believe that my overall impact on the planet is more positive than negative, otherwise I would not sleep at night.

The greatest journey of my life has been figuring out who I am and being comfortable with that; so many of us don't want to take that inwards look. Meditation and strong powerful plants, such as ayahuasca, that are taken in tribal society, allow you to have a hard look at yourself and see objectively how others perceive you. Often what you see isn't pretty, but it allows you to make adjustments, such as reducing your ego, and become a more pleasant person. 1

Bruce Parry, 41, is a British explorer and TV presenter. His book 'Arctic' (Conway, £20) is out now. The DVD of his TV series 'Arctic with Bruce Parry' is out on 28 February

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz