Miles' passion for film making and travel collided in the documentary space, where he found his true calling: telling stories, gathering images, and seeing the world all at once.
"The Maasai are very interesting because they're a very old culture and been doing certain things in a certain way for a very, very long time."
I suppose you'd come back from that and go, "Jeez, that's intense." But you have a respect for other people's way of living. I wouldn't go in there and start saying, "Oh, jeez, guys. Have you got any local anesthetic? Is that knife sharp? Is it sterilized?"
"...the older boys, who had been through this, take a lot of pride in leading this chant and this celebration."
Miles Rowland is an award-winning cinematographer and director.
“I have had a long history in cinematography starting from an early interest in 35mm photography as a young teenager.”
His credits include Hotel Mumbai (starring Armie Hammer and Dev Patel) and Nicholas Verso’s Boys in the Trees.
“I've always been fascinated by stories and have had a knack for telling them since I was a young child. This has wonderfully translated to film making and I love using this medium for sharing great stories.”
Miles has recently finished filming the 25zero documentary with Environmental Explorer Tim Jarvis who climbed 25 mountains at the equator to highlight the plight of our planet’s climate crisis. It was during filming for this he stumbled across an ancient Maasai ceremony.
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Tim Jarvis has recreated the steps of two Antarctic explorers, Douglas Mawson and Ernest Shackleton. And as an environmentalist is about to bring climate change to our attention by filming a documentary titled 25zero. Listen to our podcast episode with Tim.
Read about Tanzania’s Smokeless Stoves Project.
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Next Episode: Belize.
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Speaker 1: The World Nomads Podcast, bonus episode. Hear amazing nomads sharing their knowledge, stories and experience of world travel.
Speaker 2: Thanks for tuning into this episode featuring an amazing nomad, and this time it's an Australian filmmaker. His name is Miles Rowland, and his passion for filmmaking and travel led him into the documentary space field, where he says he found his true calling: telling stories, gathering images and seeing the world all at the same time.
Phil: Yeah, look, and he's picked up a few awards for that, which is great, because we're also thrilled that he captures some stories for World Nomads.
Phil: He was recently filming with environmentalist Tim Jarvis on the 25zero Project, which you'll hear about in this episode. So how, then, did he find himself in Tanzania in the middle of a Maasai circumcision ceremony?
Miles Rowland: Well, we were doing a documentary and a project with a guy called Tim Jarvis, polar explorer, environmental scientist, bit of a legend. His latest project is looking at equatorial glaciers.
Miles Rowland: Basically he's looked at the 25 mountains around the equator that have glaciers, and, of course, due to climate change, they're vanishing fairly quickly. And it's a documentary that's going and looking at them, documenting, raising awareness and sort of putting it [inaudible 00:01:15], you know, showcasing these things that are literally drying out and about to die.
Miles Rowland: We just got back from Mount Kenya earlier in the year, and that mountain, the glaciers on that mountain, there's only a few left and they're very sorry looking things.
Miles Rowland: So we went to Uganda, the beautiful Rwenzori Mountains of Western Uganda on the Congo border, and then after that we went to Kilimanjaro and climbed Kilimanjaro to look at the glaciers on Kilimanjaro. So that's why we were there.
Miles Rowland: But then, just as much about the looking at the glaciers is looking at the surrounding region, some of the impacts, some of the things that the people in the region are struggling with due to climate change, whether it's directly or indirectly from the lack of glaciers or the retreat and decline of the glaciers, but also looking at solutions and adaptation.
Miles Rowland: And then we found ourselves with this Maasai group that have set up a Stoves & Solar Project. The Maasai are very interesting because they're a very old culture and been doing certain things in a certain way for a very, very long time. Fairly incredible that they've avoided being too swayed by technology and just how society has taken every other culture around the world.
Miles Rowland: They live very simply in a very traditional way, and that means that they've been cooking and lighting their homes in the same way for a long time, which is to burn wood on an open fire in their closed huts, and of course that's catastrophic for lung health and for child mortality and adult mortality, especially amongst the women.
Miles Rowland: And so this group looked at introducing better technology with stoves so that the smoke is taken out of the huts and they feed the fire with smaller pieces of wood. You need a tiny amount of wood to make these things burn and heat, and then they use solar for lighting their homes so that they're getting the same outcome that they're getting and they're needing less wood.
Miles Rowland: Deforestation in Tanzania is pretty incredible, and the deforestation rates are very high, and so projects like this that are solving multiple outcomes are very interesting. That's why we went into this village to go and look at that.
Phil: And look, you say they live simply, but I think we studied the Maasai in my anthropology 101 classes all the way back. Yes, no technology, but it's a very complex society and very complex culture.
Miles Rowland: Oh, absolutely. It's so complex, and when you sort of parachute into that scenario just after coming off the mountain, it is just staggering and you really just feel like you've got no idea how it all works and that our simple ways of our societal functions just don't really apply.
Miles Rowland: I would have loved to spend more time there and attend the ceremony with an anthropologist because it was so intriguing and intricate. I couldn't even begin to understand the complexities of the structures in that culture.
Speaker 2: Now that ceremony you talking about was a circumcision ceremony, marking the young guys maturity into manhood.
Miles Rowland: Yeah. Because we were there to film the stoves and have a tour of this village that had a lot of stoves operating in that place. But then when we arrived, they were doing that very iconic Maasai dance as we were driving into the village.
Miles Rowland: It was a bit cliche almost. We were thinking, "Oh, gosh. This is a fairly standard routine. Is it?" And he said, "No, no, no. There's a circumcision ceremony happening." We're thinking, "What?" He's like, "Yeah, your timing's great. There's three boys are getting circumsized tonight." And you think, "Oh my God. Wow. What are the chances? How lucky are we? We get to be part of this amazing tradition and ceremony."
Miles Rowland: We asked if we could start filming and document that as a side project, and they said, "Yeah, go for it." So we just witnessed and sat back and watched the whole thing play out.
Miles Rowland: And so started with sort of the older boys in their 18, 19-year-old guys were leading the ceremony at sunset, which is just a lot of dancing and chanting, and they're sort of, in a way, riling the boys up, getting them a bit agitated. They were sort of teasing them and slapping them in the face gently, and it's just a bit of a pre-game hustle, for lack of a better description.
Miles Rowland: And the boys, they are so young-looking. I mean, they're sort of somewhere 11, 12, 13 years old, and they were very nervous-looking. But the older boys, who had been through this, take a lot of pride in leading this chant and this celebration.
Phil: That is a way of sort of getting into a bit of a trance state for them?
Miles Rowland: I think they're agitating them to rile them up to get sort of-
Phil: [crosstalk 00:06:33]-
Miles Rowland: ... motivated. Yeah. And get the blood flowing and get them sort of, yeah, like in a pre-game hustle so that you march out onto the field ready to go.
Phil: Can I say, we don't actually see anything too gruesome in the film, but, from our standard, it must have been a pretty gruesome experience.
Miles Rowland: Yeah. For us insular Australians, it is pretty confronting, because the whole way of life for a Maasai is just steps ahead of where we think of what hardship is in terms of day-to-day living.
Miles Rowland: They're living in really simple accommodation in a very hot and dry and fairly in what we would call inhospitable part of the world, and in ceremonies like this where it's a rite of passage and it's pretty painful and intense, but it's something that's sacred to that culture.
Miles Rowland: I mean, during that dance, the older chaps were just having some goat. They cooked up goat that evening for us for the elder gentlemen, and that's when we got there, and just at sunset there was this sort of goat leg being handed around, and then sun set and then I think at about 1:00 AM that's when they go down to the river and the circumcision was performed, then, in the river with the cold water, I think, is perhaps somewhat of an anesthetic. And then the boys get a few days to recover in their huts.
Phil: Well, you say it's confronting then, okay? But did you get a different attitude about something? What did you take away from that? It must have had some sort of effect on you.
Miles Rowland: I suppose you'd come back from that and go, "Jeez, that's intense." But you have a respect for other people's way of living. I wouldn't go in there and start saying, "Oh, jeez, guys. Have you got any local anesthetic? Is that knife sharp? Is it sterilized?"
Miles Rowland: You just sort of go, you know what, I'm not going to start calling shots on how it should be done or how I would have it done if it were me. I just think it was one of those things that all I could do was witness and just sit back and watch it and feel privileged that I could see something so incredible in a incredible part of the world with a unique group of people.
Miles Rowland: I don't think I was applying too much to my own life, because the maths wouldn't work out as to how it would go for us, because we're just completely living in a different part of the world with different rules in our society in a completely different culture.
Speaker 2: Now, Phil, I know you said that we don't get to see the circumcision ceremony in this film, and earlier, Miles, you mentioned the word getting the blood running. There is, though, a scene that is quite confronting and that is how to slaughter a cow.
Miles Rowland: Yeah. No, that was the following day. So we went back again the next day because that's when the next ceremony was happening, which was a big feast for the whole village.
Miles Rowland: One of the gentlemen, one of the fathers of the boys donated a cow to the tribe. It was a real difference in pace of the day because it was after the event, and so, again, some of the same boys, sort of the older teenagers and some of the younger adults were being shown by the elders on the process of sacrificing a cow and preparing it for a big dinner that afternoon.
Miles Rowland: What was interesting about that is that it's, again, something that we're just so unfamiliar with that process of what it's like, you know, how you kill a cow, physically what do you do, but then all the bits you do along the way to ensure the best delivery of that meat and also capturing some of the prizes along the way.
Miles Rowland: The key one, which was pretty confronting, was the drinking of the blood. It's not necessarily part of the ceremony, it's just like if you're going to kill a cow, you drink the blood because it's awesome. That's kind of what I took from it. It wasn't sort of like everyone come round and have a sip of this. It's like, "Who's thirsty? Get on, get on, jump on in." And so the process was [inaudible 00:11:21] ...
Miles Rowland: You know, we didn't really know what was going on, but you could see that they were taking huge care after they killed the cow to separate the hide from the neck, and then they found this blood vessel, the big key artery that runs through across the neck, and they sort of cut one end and then tie that off and then the other end is then running into this loose bit of hide, which, for lack of better description again, forms a bit of a drinking fountain. And so the blood fills up the hide and then everyone tucks in and they just drink it. And it's warm and it's fresh and it's one of the best bits, apparently.
Miles Rowland: Being a vegetarian, I didn't try it. I thought about it, but it seems, again, something to witness and just be part of it and just watch it all go down. But it was pretty interesting.
Miles Rowland: And then as they cut the bits up and they sort of start cooking it out on the fire, they start. But as they go, they take some of the bones off and they take marrow out and then they get a little stick, and you can see that in the film with a stick poking the marrow out through the middle of the bones and eating that, and apparently that's also quite a delicacy.
Phil: Total nose to tail consumption of an animal.
Miles Rowland: Yeah. And in terms of, you know, it always feels difficult when you're working in a climate change space too. Meat obviously is a big one for the health of the planet because of methane and that sort of stuff, but you can't help but see when someone responsibly grows a cow ethically, and I would say that from what I saw there was a fairly ethical slaughtering as well. It was like there wasn't much trauma and pain towards the animal.
Miles Rowland: Everyone in the village knows how to do it, and I think that is a much more sustainable way of consuming meat and keeping it for special occasions.
Phil: That's right, because meat's not part of their normal diet. I mean, there's no way that you can ...
Miles Rowland: Yeah, because they have sort of 15 cows in that village and they're worth a lot to them, so it's not like they're having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Phil: Can I just say, this is why they eat guinea pig in South America, in Peru in particular, because it takes a lot of effort to grow a cow and they live in smaller family groups there.
Phil: When you slaughter a cow, there's a lot of meat that you need to dispose of to eat and it's too much for them, whereas a guinea pig is kind of exactly the ... Well, the [inaudible 00:13:58] guinea pigs will feed a family.
Miles Rowland: And next in line is insects, as we think that the future of protein should be from insects.
Speaker 2: I've had ants before.
Phil: You have to eat a lot of ants to get some ...
Speaker 2: I know. It's a good way to diet.
Speaker 2: But, Miles, you are a fabulous storyteller, and we'll share your personal site in show notes and some of the work that you've been doing. What have you been capturing lately outside of what you did for World Nomads?
Miles Rowland: We most recently did a story. We've been continuing the 25zero journey, so we went to Mount Kenya in February this year and went up Mount Kenya, which was an amazing trip and putting more effort into that storytelling for that film, but also coming up with lots of little tidbits on the side and learning a bit more about the impacts on climate change in Mount Kenya in that region, which is unique to that area.
Miles Rowland: Been working doing Discovery Channel series. We've got a Nat-Geo series coming up called [Extreme China 2 00:15:04], which is quite exciting. It's all about following my photographer going into China with the help of some locals doing some pretty cool challenges.
Miles Rowland: I did a very interesting project with NBC, which is a Saudi Arabian channel. It's following three girls traveling around the world, and it's one of its kind for certainly Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, but [inaudible 00:15:32] travel show, especially coming out of Saudi Arabia.
Miles Rowland: And the final of the episode was, the finale of the episode. Sorry, the finale of the season was going to Christchurch because the mosque attacks happened just towards the end of the season. There was quite a lot of outrage and sympathy and support coming from the Middle East, and so they went to Mecca and brought some Holy water and some Qurans in the names of some of the victims and brought them out to give them to some of the families. So I was working on that final episode and we went to some of the mosques about a week after the attacks.
Miles Rowland: It was a heavy episode, but it was also, at the same time, it was incredible. The level of defiance and sympathy and warmth that the community and that some of the victims were showing to the attacker and to all those that have sort of vilified Muslims in the past is the complete opposite of what you expect, and it was really incredible.
Miles Rowland: This year has been a pretty awesome one, and there's a few other cool series coming up.
Speaker 2: Well keep us in the loop and enjoy your time resting there in Adelaide.
Miles Rowland: Thank you.
Speaker 2: You are more than welcome, Miles. Links in show notes.
Phil: Plus we'll share a podcast link to the episode in which we chatted to Tim Jarvis about 25zero.
Speaker 2: And we've got some pigs, too. Miles gave them to us.
Speaker 2: To get in touch with this email podcast at World Nomads and listen to our episodes by grabbing them from wherever you get your favorite podcasts, do subscribe so that way you don't miss an episode, and then we encourage you to rate and share.
Speaker 2: So what's next, Phil?
Phil: Yes, it's another destination. We're off to Belize.
Speaker 2: We'll see you then.
Phil: Belize. Navidad.
Speaker 2: Bye.
Speaker 1: Amazing nomads. Be inspired.
Tanzania has more than 120 tribes, all with their own traditions and customs. The best way to experience their culture is to stay in a tribal village where you will be joyfully welcomed.