The BBC’s Frankincense Trail with Kate Humble (27.08.09) contained many errors of which outstanding was the reference to the beginning of Islam as 1700 years ago: ie. before the Prophet Muhammad was born.
The Omani tribesmen (officials) in Persil white robes and the 300 unruly camels, were also clearly designed to entertain an audience unfamiliar with the area.
Kate herself needed some education on how to dress and behave. She looked merely silly dancing with the bare-chested jebali camel-herder, and she wore the same yellow shirt throughout the “BBC constructed journey” from Dhofar, through Yemen, via Aden, to Sana’a.
The ancient Minaean and Sabaean caravans travelled east of Sana’a along Wadi Jawf, but as this region is controlled by dissident tribesmen, the film crew turned their cameras instead on the spectacular old Yemeni capital. Good PR for Yemen (were it safe).
There were in fact many incense trails leading out of Arabia. If they had stayed in Dhofar, where the film began, the logical route Kate would have taken, wound north from Salalah, headed east along the edge of the Empty Quarter, to emerge somewhere on the Gulf.
But from Sana’a she flew to Riyadh (quick shot of Yemenia logo) still wearing her yellow shirt, and I can only imagine the BBC obtained special dispensation for her not to cover her head in this misogynist country where even the Queen, on her own visit, was obliged to wrap up.
In Riyadh, Kate declared her amazement at its modern shopping malls and interviewed the shari’a court judge on ‘execution square’ as to whether it was cruel or not, to chop off someone’s head. We only do so if relatives of the deceased insist, he replied.
But we had already been shown the sport of ‘camel jumping’ which likewise bore no relation to the frankincense trail. And why was Kate walking anyway? To make things a little more plausible, she should have been riding a camel with the 90 kilos (!) of frankincense following on a pack animal.
A good puff for tourism in Southern Arabia but it was trite as well as inaccurate. Three episodes to go: let’s hope she is wearing a different shirt.
c.Christine Osborne Pictures: available for purchase.