How to choose a tribe for a TV pilot based on my DNA

A few of my regular readers have been in touch to ask about my progress in finding a production company to work with on the proposed Genealogy Adventures TV series – and thank you for asking, by the way. Two people in particular asked me what tribe I’d like to begin my DNA adventure discovery with.

I thought that would be a fairly easy and straightforward question to answer. And then I really thought about it. What a bloody good question! What tribe should I  start with?

For those of you who are new to this blog, these questions were based on a DNA / genealogy adventure TV series concept I’ve developed. The various tribes I’d like to not only visit – but live as part of the tribe for a few weeks at a time – are connected to me through shared DNA. Oh the wonders of DNA testing!

No clear frontrunner has emerged yet. Below is my short list (in no particular order):

The Bhil, Bharia or Sahariya cultures in India.

OK, so this is cheating just a bit. However, in my defence, each of these tribes is so remote, has so little contact with the ‘outside world’ and so little is known about them that each would be a genuine adventure.

The Bhil

Children in Raisen district (Bhil tribe), MP, India. Photo Credit: Yann

The Bhil are largely found in the western Deccan regions and central region of India. It is a society largely organized around clans and lineages each with its own territory. Now mainly farmers, agricultural workers and gatherers, they were once valued Shikaris (hunters and guides) and warriors.

Today they are a Scheduled Tribe in India. In other words, the Bhil are recognized as a historically-disadvantaged people recognized in the Constitution of India.

While I will never know how I came to be genetically connected to this tribe, I’d love to know if anything about its way of life resonates with me. I think the potential highs and lows of me living as a member of the tribe would provide some stellar highs and lows – on other words, entertaining and engaging television viewing.

Bhil regions in India
Bhil Regions in India. From left to right: Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.       Click for larger image


The Sahariya

Villagers (Saharia adivasis), Bathpura, district Gwalior, India. Photo Credit: Yann
Madhya Pradesh province in India
Madhya Pradesh province in India.          Click for larger image

The Sahariya are actually a sub-branch of the Bhils. Indeed, they refer to themselves as the younger brothers of the Bhils. As a sub-branch of the Bhils, they live in similar regions of India. The Sahariya are largely concentrated in the Central and north-western areas of India.

Like the Bhils, the Sahariya are a Scheduled Tribe. They are noted as exceptional woodsmen, hunters and fishermen. Other occupations include farming, mining and a talent for basket making.

Sadly most of their history, including their original language, has been lost.

The Sahariya are on this list for the same reason as the Bhil. Their way of life and day-to-day experiences are so wholly ‘other’ from mine that this would pose one hell of a learning curve and experience for me. It would be a profoundly life altering experience – a cliché but nonetheless true.

Wikipedia article:

Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum article:

The Bharia

Bharia people
Bharia people. Photo credit: Madhya Pradesh tribal Museum
Patalkot Valley in the Madhya Pradesh State
The location of the Patalkot Valley in the Madhya Pradesh State.

The Bharias live in Patalkot, which is a completely isolated valley in central India. It is so isolated that travelers can’t reach it by road – you have to walk along a footpath. A very, very, very long footpath. In other words, you would pretty much really, really, really want to go there. It’s not the kind of place you’d just go to check out by happenstance or idle curiosity.

Of these three tribes, their history is entirely lost within the tribe, including its native language. I find that odd given its total isolation. Isolation typically protects tribal history. Not in this case. And, as you’d expect, it is also a Scheduled tribe.

Like the Bhil and the Saharyia, to whom they share no connection, they are successful huntsmen, woodsmen and fishermen.

My reasons for including them in this hot list of tribes to start with mirrors those for the Bhil and the Saharyia.

Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum Article:

Summary: let’s face it, there’s the romantic notion of going back to basics…and then there’s the reality of facing the day-to-day challenges of these cultures. I have to wonder what these tribes, and the experience of living amongst them, would teach me about myself and the things I view as important.

Incidentally, each of the tribes are classed as Aboriginal inhabitants of India. In other words, they are truly ancient and indigenous peoples predating the arrivals of the Mongols and the Indo-European peoples who later settled India.

The Gelao culture in China.

The Gelao people – expert weavers and sculptors. (Source:
The Gelao people – expert weavers and sculptors. (Source:
Guizhou in China
Guizhou in China

The Gelao are an Aboriginal culture in Guizhou, located in south-west China. They are the descendants of the ancient Yelang Kingdom, which is believed to have existed from 426 BC to 26 BC. Its decline saw it overpowered by the Han Dynasty.

The name Gelao means “human beings” as well as “bamboo.” I’m sure that’s saying something – lol I’d have to meet them to ask what the similarities between humans and bamboo are (although I could hazard a few guesses!)

Of all China’s minority groups, the Gelao are the least known. They were once fearsome head-hunters (and not of the corporate variety!) and cannibals. Today? They are largely farmers. They are primarily ancestor worshipers. They also worship the gods of giant trees, of mountains, of the sky and the earth, and animals. They have no idols, temples or monasteries, and no systematic religious creeds or organization. However, they do have a number of superstitions and taboos which affect every aspect of their lives.

So little is really known about them that it’s only fitting the Gelao make the short list.

The Berbers of North Africa.

Tuareg men. Niger 1997. Photo Credit: Dan Lundberg
Tuareg men. Niger 1997. Photo Credit: Dan Lundberg

Just for the sheer sweeping romance of it. That’s on the one hand. On the other, I’d love to delve beyond the surface of this proud and enigmatic people who conjure up such romantic images of a colorful nomadic life.

It’s the Tuareg who specifically make this list. This is the Berber sub-group most prevalent in my DNA.

Both pastoralists and nomads, Tuareg society is highly stratified and structured with a ruling class, vassal castes and peasants. Whenever I think of them, I think of epic caravan journeys across the Sahara…and fearless warriors. While this is one aspect of their life, there is so much more to this culture than that.

Areas where significant numbers of Tuaregs live.
Areas where significant numbers of Tuaregs live.

On the one hand, I want to go beyond and behind the myths, legends and propaganda that surrounds the Tuareg. In doing so, I’m pretty sure I’ll find out something about myself along the way. Just what, exactly, did I inherit from this tribe?



The!Xu of Angola.

Like a few African tribes in my genetic profile, I can’t discover anything about the !Xu of Angola. The only thing I’ve been able to determine is the language they speak is a form of Khoisan, that language formed by seeming ’clicking’ sounds. The !Xu also tend to be lumped together with the !Kung.

As you can see from this entry, I haven’t been able to trace any images of them or maps depicting the region of Angola in which they can be found.

Naturally, any culture that’s so little known or documented immediately gets my attention. I want to know more. Its adventure at its most basic.

Altai Kazaks.

“Goat-pulling” Tournament  Descendants of the ancient Altai horsemen compete in a “goat-pulling” tournament — a modern version of the Turkic tradition of Kokboru. (Photo by Gleb Raygorodetsky/CWE)
“Goat-pulling” Tournament Descendants of the ancient Altai horsemen compete in a “goat-pulling” tournament — a modern version of the Turkic tradition of Kokboru. (Photo by Gleb Raygorodetsky/CWE)
map of Altai Republic
Altai Republic

The Altai Republic is a vassal republic under Russian control. Looking at where it is on the world map, this was always an ancient crossroads. Its nomadic people were (and remain) fearsome warriors and boasts the best horsemen and hunters on the planet.

This is one VERY ancient group of people with a civilization and history stretching back for eons.

Like the Berbers – and I suspect the Bhils, Saharyia and the Bharia – the Altai are a people shaped by their environment. Understanding how they and their culture were forged, means doing more than visiting. It means really living as one of them. Like the other cultures on this list, the Altai are mysterious. I’m connected to them at the genetic level. What will that feel like?

 Wrapping things up

So you now see my conundrum. How do you chose one group to start with? All the same, it’s great to have such a stellar selection to choose from.

And there is that one last nagging question I have. Would it be possible to find the actual people I share DNA with from these cultures? These would be the people who provided DNA samples to the scientists who provided the results to Genebase, the company I used for my DNA test. Or their descendants. I think the meeting of long lost relations, these people with whom I share common ancient and unknowable ancestors, would make for a powerful experience for me…and incredible TV viewing.

So go on, if it were you, which one would you choose?

And just a reminder, this television entertainment concept does indeed have copyright protection, which is why I’m mentioning it so openly 😉

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