If People Spoke About Europe the Way They Do About Africa, It Would Look Like This
Who doesn't love a good ethnographic film about a mysterious tribe? A recently-rediscovered documentary — well, mockumentary — Other Countries, Other Customs: Kayonga Kagame Shows Us The World hones in on this very question as it makes a series of "discoveries" about the far-off Alpine tribe, commonly known as the Europeans.
At least, that’s what the film, which pokes enormous fun at the western narrative that for centuries has guided the study of seemingly "other" Africans, purports. The 1994 satire, produced by Australia’s public broadcast outlet SBS, gives viewers an inside look at how ridiculous a colonial "analysis" of another culture can be.
The video is testimony to a universal truth: If dissected closely enough under a microscope, any culture can be reduced to appearing peculiar and crude.
Anthropologist Kayonga Kagame of Kinshasa University (actor Frank Oladeinde) brings us on a journey to the land of the Alpine tribe. The locals exhibit strange and inexplicable behaviors like undergoing compulsive migrations to cold places for "mountain sliding" (taking ski trips) and the participating in the "patently useless activity" of peddling a bike with no end in mind (going for a bike ride). Examining how popular this "mobility for mobility’s sake" is, the experts conclude that Europeans are experiencing mass neurosis.
"Initially we thought this was the deviant behavior of a few individuals, but we soon saw that this baffling migratory urge had assumed an epidemic proportion and gripped entire clans," the narrator explains.
Keeping decorative garden gnomes in the front yard? Ancestor worship indicating an animistic belief system. Chicken for dinner? A brutal and sacrificial religious ceremony. Authoring books? A sad inability to live in the present.
Packed with hyperbole, misunderstanding and sweeping generalizations, the 45-minute film leaves little unaddressed. Producers even dissect the tradition of local parades. The narrator calls the feathery, bird-like violent "like the Pashtuns of Afghanistan or the Bedouin Tribes of Yemen."
Following the style of a National Geographic or anthropological film we’ve all watched at some point in school, the film explores the customs of Austrians. Even the most confused and gullible viewer realizes the audacity of the video when images of people dancing at a party are deemed "the climax of an orgiastic experience."
With an African expert commenting on a European tribe, the film turns century-old power structures on its head. In a both inquisitive and authoritative tone, the narrator shows how normal parts of a culture, when relentlessly examined, can feel strange and primitive.
Africa for Norway, a more recent satire on the colonial narrative, has recently launched a faux campaign called "Radi-Aid" in which Africans encourage each other to donate their radiators to freezing Norwegians.
While this episode of Other Countries, Other Customs is sure to make you laugh in disbelief, it draws attention to a narrative that has dictated how the world perceives Africans, blacks or, more accurately, non-whites. The biggest mistake after watching this or any similar satire would be to think that the colonial narrative is a thing of the past. Mockumentaries like this one remind us that it really isn’t.