Wednesday's thoughts March 25, 2011

Wednesday started off with two classically anthropological films, which took us to exotic far away places. Films were made from an empathic Western anthropologist's view point, and the intimate images of nursing mothers and worried fathers. Tommi Mendel's film “Bunong Birth Practices Between Tradition and Change“ is filmed in Cambodia and the issue that it treats – scientific versus religious world view – has interested the anthropologists from the beginning. Here, the traditional knowledge of Cambodian midwives meets the modern medicine. On one side, the long experience and the trust of locals, on the other, belief in the science, medicine and their mission. And the future will show which side is going to win the debate. At this moment, what happens is a lovely syncretism: the hospital tries to embed some local rituals, and on the other hand, the midwives follow some formation and learn new skills. It is an interesting recording of a very human problem in a concrete time and space.

Tommi Mendel

The next film, „Guests of Space“, also touched the subject of encounter of different cultures, but already with a sader tone. A small tribe of Nunak who, only about 20 years ago, lived as hunter-gatherers, but have now been forced to move into suburbs of great cities. Their original land is ruled by narco-barons, and the number of people in this tribe has declined drastically – from 400 to 160. Among the things they've got from the white people as an exchange, they count rice, lemonade, clothes, diseases and medicines. When seeing this short but intensive film, one tends to start looking for someone to blame, but this would not get us anywhere, as this fatal contact would have happened sooner or later anyway. At first, though, the fear was on both sides. „We thought white people are cannibals!“ says an older Nunaki person. „We knew that they observe us from the jungle. We were afraid, finding their arrows and spears, but we, on our behalf, hanged up mirrors, bananas and pots on the tree branches, hoping for the best“, remembers a missionary, who was one of the first to go on a discovery trip there. But the visitors from the space soon became colonisers, and the film that we just saw is just a small sad piece of recording from the South-American culture heritage.

A Nunak boy discovering the radio