Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Blog Entry Number 7

To me this film did two things. On the one hand I think it was good in depicting the New Guineans, their way of life, and their rituals and traditions. On the other hand, I found it raised a lot of ethical issues. I felt as though these people were being put on display like animals at a zoo.

I’ll begin with my first viewpoint. The film, much like media such as National Geographic, sets out to document the people of New Guinea and their primitive culture. It is trying to represent
the truth about their lifestyles in comparison to the Western culture. “The film is an attempt to demystify the touristic search for authenticity and detached experience of the other.” (www.uwm.edu) This film shows the gap between two very different groups; the white upper class western and the other. By making this film, the director is taking the viewer to a world many people don’t know a lot about. We are able to see their traditions and way of life. Showing the tourists bargaining the prices down and then hearing the interviews with the New Guineans allows us to see from the New Guineans point of view just how hard their lifestyle is. Hearing how angry the one New Guinean woman was about the tourists not buying her gifts allows the viewer to see how hard it is for these people to make money.

I found it interesting that the New Guineans seemed to know quite a bit about the tourists but yet the tourists seemed to know nothing about the New Guineans. As this weeks article stated, the film is “about rich Western tourists on a cruise along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea and their interaction, or lack of it, with the local villagers” (Lutkehaus, 423). They seemed almost dumb and treated the New Guineans like they were less of a human than themselves. At one point, there was an encounter between Waukau, one of the New Guineans, and a tourist. The tourist “gently touched the young girl's wrist. ‘Dear, are you a real Indian?' she asked. 'I hope you don't mind my asking. But you look so American'” (
www.uwm.edu). Not only does this seem insulting and make the tourists look stupid, but it also shows how Western Society is moving in on the New Guinean land so much so that the people are starting to look more ‘American’. This weeks article strengthens this point by saying that “Westerners' need to reassure themselves of their superiority over others who are different from themselves and of the dominance of Western culture in the postcolonial world” (Lutkehaus, 425). This leads into my next viewpoint.

My other viewpoint is focused on the ethical side of all of this. Watching this film made me think that the people of New Guinea were being put on display. These tourists traveled all this way to see these people and they sit there taking pictures of them, similar to what you would do with animals at a zoo. Okay, yes I agree it is always interesting to travel to other lands and see the way people live, their rituals, and traditions. However, the way the people of New Guinea were portrayed, even in the title of the film, seemed a little unethical. Cannibal Tours, when I first heard it seemed like people are going to tour a village of cannibals. What really struck me was when one of the New Guineans was being interviewed, you could see in the background a tourist slowly move into the frame and start taking a picture of what was going on. I found it so distracting and almost rude. The camera man told the New Guinean that one tourist is photographing him right now and the New Guinean just froze. The way the people of New Guinea just so easily posed for the pictures and just stood there allowing the camera to stare at them managed to creep me out because it’s like they have become so used to being watched that now they just accept it and pose. There was one scene that the camera just zoomed in real close to a child and for about thirty seconds (though it seemed so much longer) the child just stared into the camera. It’s almost like they are unsure what to do when a camera is shoved in their face, but can you blame them? Technology is unfamiliar to them. The one New Guinean that was interviewed mentions how he did not understand why the tourists were taking pictures. These types of things are foreign to them and for tourists to just come into their land and start taking pictures of them just doesn’t seem right. The New Guineans “complain that tourists have attempted to pat up their hair and arrange their clothing before photographing them” (
www.uwm.edu). What was so sad about it all, however, was that the New Guineans are ALLOWING tourists to take pictures of them and their sacred land (ie the spirit house) in exchange for money. It seemed to me almost like prostitution. It showed how Western society is closing in on the East and trying to assimilate them to the Western society’s ways. These people are in such need for money that they will sell their culture for it.

Another very disturbing part of the film was when the woman tourist wanted to take a picture with all the naked children. Although it is part of the New Guineans traditions to not always wear clothes, I found it a little disturbing when she kept saying she wanted a picture with these naked children and continued to say “oh they are so cute”. She classified them as a whole rather then individuals and she just pointed out to one child and said “here take a picture of me with that one”. But yet when the cameraman asked her to get closer to them to fit in the shot she responded to him “I think they’re close enough”. It really pointed out the “otherness” of the Eastern society. It was like she was afraid to get close to them. I found that a little disturbing.

The end of the film was rather disturbing as well. The fact that the tourists were all on the boat dancing around with their faces painted like native masks seemed to me like they were poking fun of the New Guinean culture. The New Guineans clearly painted these masks onto the tourists to give them a touch of their primitive culture before they left. However, it just seemed as though (stripped down to almost nothing and dancing around the boat laughing) that they were mocking the traditions that they seem to know very little about.

What bothered me too was how the tourists were talking about how the New Guineans need help to become more modernized. It seems as though they are not able to live their lives the way they are used to. Instead of continuing on their traditions from their ancestors, their land
is taken over (i.e. the sacred things destroyed because the commissioners thought it was devilish) and they are forced to become more modernized. It is hard for them to now maintain their primitive cultures because they are forced to let go of the past and assimilate to the west. The primitive “other” no longer exists because of this, yet they are still viewed as “the other” to the Western society. We see this through the fact that they are now seen wearing clothing instead of nothing at all (although some still do), through interaction with the technologies of the west and through the need for money (something that would never have been an issue to their ancestors).

Money is an issue for the people of New Guinea and you can clearly see the Western influences being forced upon them. They are not able to live the way their ancestors did because it is not approved of in society today. One thing I don’t like about the Western society is how we always feel we can bargain down other countries commodities when we go visit on vacation. When I went to Cuba so many white Westerners were trying to bargain down souvenirs from the town’s people. To me this just seems so selfish. Western Society is so much more well off then these Cubans (obviously if they are able to AFFORD a trip) yet we feel the need to not pay them the full price because we know they want to sell these items. This is their only income for many of them. We won’t even pay them the full price they deserve and we wonder why they aren’t as well off. As one of the New Guineans stated, they don’t go to our big shops and try to bargain down our prices. Yet we think we have the right to do it to them. I think this is just wrong. These people have worked so hard on the stuff they have made and we aren’t even willing to pay them entirely. They do not understand how the tourists have so much money and to them it is simply because of the location they live in. “The New Guineans have no money, and this fact is used to frame their articulations of identity in spatial terms: the tourist’s money isn’t earned, it’s simply a fact of the place where the tourist lives, just as a lack of money is a fact of the place of the New Guineans” (

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