On Tues., Feb 8th I arose at 4:45am to yet another rain storm. I awoke at this ungodly hour to catch the first and cheapest flight out to Canberra to retrieve the filmmaker visas for our upcoming adventure to PNG. In the past 24 hours the voyage had become a bit more complicated in that I would also be interviewing Shirley Campbell, visiting Professor at ANU and someone who has done extensive fieldwork in the Trobriands and published a book on Kula. Tripod and camera strapped tightly to my back, I set off for Canberra, Australia's national capital, a city filled with lots of parks which boast little more than field upon field of yellowing grass. Apparently it was designed (by Walter Burley Griffin) to represent the geometric patterns in crystals. Couldn't quite make that out. Hung out for a while at the gates of the PNG High Commission waiting for it to open, drank coffee and waited 2 hours for the visa officer to process everything and GOT THE VISAS (the saga ends) Prof. Campbell then picked me up on the corner and took me to her house which was filled with Trobriand artifacts (some of the most beautiful I've seen yet). I think Shirley and I were feeling equally unprepared for the interview, so we sat and chatted for a while, looked around for a spot where the light wouldn't be too crazy in it's fluctuations (as time wore on that would change) and began the interview. Unfortunately, the first 15 minutes of the interview were lost to technical difficulties/malfunctions/I f-ed up, but in the end it worked out as she was more comfortable, open and versed as a result.
On the whole, Prof. Campbell was extremely inspired by Malinowski's work, methodology and, as was Prof McIntyre, sympathetic to his feelings of alienation and frustration in his controversial field journals (released after his death). For now though, that feels like an aside because when I asked Shirley to give a description of kula - the trading ritual that fascinated Malinowski in the early 20th century and continues to fascinate fieldworkers to this day - she gave the most elaborate and enthralling account. And, spontaneously, she produced a story about two of the more treasured kula pieces that Malinowski had recorded during his fieldwork back in 1918 and that were still in circulation when she was there. (FYI: Kula is a trading system - specifically the trading of armshells and necklaces - among a ring of islands including the Trobriands. Kula pieces serve as a kind of status currency and also serve to establish a kinship/lineage among the people of the various islands. They are coveted and seduced from holder to holder and are traded in a highly ritualized way.) It was a moving and dramatic story...a young man had come into possession of these pieces because his uncle had passed away (most likely poisoned). The young man was warned that he should not have the kula, that he should trade them, get rid of them as soon as possible or he too might be poisoned. He didn't. Weeks later, after her return to Australia, Campbell learned that he had been poisoned and was dead..
We leave for PNG on Monday. We're psyched.
While Kelly was on her whirlwind tour of Canberra, I spent the day viewing archival footage at the Melbourne Museum and the State Library. The Museum has some of the earliest footage ever shot in Papua New Guinea (1926). This includes quite a bit of footage from the Trobriands. This material was shot just 8 years after Malinowski did his last expedition there so it is probably the closest we'll get to seeing through his eyes on film. I also found footage from Melbourne in 1910- "Marvelous Melbourne," an advertisement for the wonders of the city in 1910. Very nice, but Australia screensound informs me that it will cost $17/second to use it so we're out of luck. It was a quiet, rainy day and a good one for sitting inside and drifiting back to the earliest decades of the 1900s.