Savage Memory Film Project

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Tropical Torpor

We're in Port Moresby: fences, barbed wire, and the security guard to tourist ratio is 3 to 1. Basically, we are safe in our hotel room. The advice most commonly given: 'Don't go out after 4pm, and 3:30 is cutting it close'. The pool at the hotel is under repair by the 'pool doctor' and it is extremely humid. Basically, we want out and we're getting out. Port Moresby was Malinowski's landing point and, like us, he was also eager to get where he was going. So instead of waiting until Sunday for the next flight to the Trobriands, we'll be flying to Alotau and taking an overnight boat to the islands. This will put us more in the spirit of adventure anyway.

Yesterday we met with our guide, Linus digim'Rina, head of the Anthro and Sociology Dept at PNG University and originally from Okaibona village in the Trobriands. He's great: relaxed, soft-spoken, engaging and he's done this kind of thing before with some German filmmakers. He also worked closely with Michael Young in his research there. Our first point of business is meeting with the Chief of Milne Bay when we arrive in Alotau. Of interest: The Trobriands is one of the few places in the country that still practices a Chieftancy system. From what we've read from Malinowski & Young, the chief should always be at the highest point and when in his company nobody stands up, sits higher, he often sits on an elevated platform. Not sure if this is still the case, but we'll keep this in mind.

We don't know if there's internet access in the Trobs - most likely not - but we'll post when we emerge on March 15th.

Thanks for your comments - keep em coming!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Canberra - City of Crystals

Kelly Says:

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.

Zach Says:

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.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Floods, flames and grass skirts

Kelly and I seem to attract disaster. Two days after flying out of Boston where, in the past two weeks, we have witnessed an oil spill and a giant church fire, we wake up to find that Melbourne is flooded. Do Kelly and I attract disaster? And news flash! Lowest recorded temperatures in Melbourne history for february. The day before we arrived it was in the 90sF and today it's in the 40s. Hmmm

We are in Brighton and we have to go to the north part of the city to meet with Professor Martha Macintyre. But the trains are not running due to flooding, fallen trees and such. Mad rush to a cab which takes us to a different train station which takes us to another train where we wait for a very late train to take us to another station where we meet Martha. She's the real deal, a melanesian fieldworker with decades of experience.

She takes us into the storehouse, a giant warehouse full of the museum's many collections. The curator, Ron Vanderwal, brings us into a large room lined with shelves of artifacts. Remarkable: There are no Bagi (Kula trade ornaments) in M's collection even though he is most famous for his writing on Kula. There are restricted human remains (skulls?), human hair(used as part of mourning rituals) and a great grass skirt. Kelly is looking forward to arriving in the Trobriands so she can sport one. We'll send pics.

Our itinerary for the next 3 months is:

now-Feb. 13th- Australia(mostly Melbourne)

February 14th- Port Moresby (PNG)

February 20th- Trobriand Islands

March 17th- Singapore

March 21st- London

April 12th- Krakow . . . after that it gets a little muddy. We'll keep you posted . . .

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The voyage begins

28 hours on a plane and somehow Zach & I are still trucking. We've got Malinowski's bulky biography opened to his days in Melbourne and are preparing for tomorrow's interview at Melbourne Museum's storage unit, north of the University. We'll be meeting with prof of anthropology Martha McIntyre, who studied under Michael Young (Malinowski's biographer) and looking at Malinowski's collection of artifacts from the trobriands. (Prof Mc will identify us by Zach's gotee and long hair).

On the up-side: Jeanne Davis, Zach's grandmother's childhood friend, received us with abundant warmth. We had sandwiches and chocolate cake and she gave us a phone card and we have decided to accept her generosity with what grace we can muster.

On the down-side: We arrived to a torrential downpour, it's a mere 48 degrees and Zach and I packed with the beach on our brains, so we may have to do a little shopping...but Zach can't get enough of Melbourne's styling boutiques, so it's our first point of order tomorrow.

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