First encounter
June 23, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

 
I saw this earlier today. I alternately loved and hated humanity.
posted by DU at 9:56 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


The video says it was filmed in 1976; the second link says the tribe encountered Europeans in 1993. Either way, are there any updates since then? Do they love Big Macs yet?
posted by dubold at 10:02 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


How lucky for them. Only good things come of being "discovered" by white men.
posted by orthogonality at 10:04 AM on June 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


well, apparently they were suffering from malaria, and the white man gave them medicine, so... short term win?
posted by dubold at 10:11 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now there's a Bed Bath And Beyond on that very spot.

I wanted to yell, "Run away! You don't need all this shit!" Seriously, how are they not irrevocably changed after seeing a tape recorder for the first time, let alone a mirror.
posted by chococat at 10:14 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was about to ask, "When do they introduce them to Tupperware?" (a la "Airplane!"), but then I got to 11m20s...

Can anyone explain why they all hit the back of their heads after eating the rice? Language? Hygiene?
posted by rh at 10:14 AM on June 23, 2011


Disregarding the generally awful consequences of one group encountering a radically different group of people in a resource-asymmetric way, the looks on those faces were sheer wonder, fear, and awe and I thought that was really rare and beautiful. But yes I'm sure the selfish white guys fucked this up somehow.
posted by serif at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is exactly how my first encounter with goatse went.
posted by NoMich at 10:18 AM on June 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


There's something very hopeful and affirming to me to see the power of curiosity over fear.

Thanks.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:18 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


Conflicted because I can imagine how that must feel to introduce everyday items we take for granted. Makes you feel like a spaceman.
Yet, they show them all of these fancy things and then move on to the next stop?
What does that DO to a tribe like that?
Favorite Part: When they tried to wipe the white off of his skin
Worst Part: Introducing matches

Loved it. Hated it. Great post!
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 10:19 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is the reason why I never want to be the first one coming upon them. It’s always better to leave this people isolated. But when the first contact has been made, and before it is too late, it is essential to photograph them. Not only for the memory of the Humanity, but also and mainly for themselves. In fact, they don’t know how to write and these images will be in a few decades, the only trace of their history

Most tribes live in endangered environments. They are the protectors of these preserved and unpolluted territories on earth. This “First World” is sadly and inevitably disappearing. Sometimes, I have the feeling that I am doing the same job that was doing Edward Curtis, the photographer who immortalized the Indians from Northern America in the last century.
artist statement
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:20 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Someone I met told me about his experiences of working for a time in rural China. So many people there had rarely, or perhaps even never, seen anyone white before. When he walked along a road the crowds would part, people stared, and a hush fell over everyone. And he, being of Italian descent, has black hair and brown eyes and an olive complexion, so he didn't expect he would even look that remarkable as say, a blue-eyed, fair-skinned blonde or redhead might.
posted by orange swan at 10:22 AM on June 23, 2011


I wanted to yell, "Run away! You don't need all this shit!" Seriously, how are they not irrevocably changed after seeing a tape recorder for the first time, let alone a mirror.

chococat,
Because humans adapt to change.

I must say I never expected to see a (genuine) film which so vividly ticks off all the movie cliches about first contact!

I was half expecting someone to set up a movie screen - showing a train approaching.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:22 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


That man's gaze, direct and intense, without guile... this made me cry. These men were seeing the beginning of the end of their world.

This is powerful, poignant, and made my pulse race. Thanks.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


It’s always better to leave this people isolated. But when the first contact has been made, and before it is too late, it is essential to photograph them.

So take your photo and leave. Maybe let them touch you.
Why show them mirrors and matches and recorders?
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 10:28 AM on June 23, 2011


Can anyone explain why they all hit the back of their heads after eating the rice?

I came to ask the same question. Even the little boy did so after tasting the rice. I wonder if it is a gesture to indicate 'pleasure' or 'surprise' -- or, something else.
posted by ericb at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Sometimes, I have the feeling that I am doing the same job that was doing Edward Curtis, the photographer who immortalized the Indians from Northern America in the last century. artist statement..."

I am bothered by this quote from the "artist's statement".

Any one with ANY knowledge of Curtis should know about the problems with the authenticity of the images he produced:

This is one of the first summaries I found - not the one I am looking for, but for the moment:



..."But although Curtis' gifts as a photographer are undeniable and his body of work is a huge achievement which allows us a glimpse at the past, to a time that has now disappeared and will never be replaced, his methodology has been severely criticized by anthropologists and ethnologists. Not only did Curtis manipulate his images but they were often staged and he sometimes used actors and props in ways that mispresented the facts concerning their culture and daily lives."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whew. I was worried the first white person they met was going to be Andy Dick.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Shit, sometimes, I pray that we will be contacted by beings more advanced than ourselves. At best, our existence on this planet will improve, hooray; at worst, we'll finally understand how whites affected other cultures they came across.
posted by not_on_display at 10:34 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't stand the way the white fellow keeps showing them one new wonderful thing after another. That grin when he holds up the mirror! ugh. ooo, look at all the cool things I have!

Where is HIS wonder at interacting with these people? Where is his desire to learn something about another way of life? If he has it, it is not showing in this video.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:38 AM on June 23, 2011 [18 favorites]


Given that uncontacted peoples already live in a world where an accident with a tanker can leave them without land to live on, I think that communicating early and often with the folks who are in a position to fuck your shit up is a better strategy than blissful ignorance.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:40 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Amazing as this is to watch, it shits all over the prime directive.
posted by pmcp at 10:40 AM on June 23, 2011 [27 favorites]


The footage is really not that interesting. It's all projection.
posted by eeeeeez at 10:42 AM on June 23, 2011


Holy shit. Were the cameramen armed?

This hit all the same notes of terror for me as those videos with people walking right up to lions in the wild. There can't possibly be a more dangerous thing than a scared human being carrying a weapon.

But yes, both heartwarming and heartbreaking after that moment of tension. The apparent second in command looks frighteningly similar to a friend of mine, and it's strange seeing such naked expressions on a face so similar to one you are used to seeing display the more guarded emotions of our society.
posted by 256 at 10:43 AM on June 23, 2011


chococat,
Because humans adapt to change.


Yes. An this is the part that drives me nuts.
I don't know which is more arrogant or condescending:
To go and wreck some pristine culture with our "sophistication" or to assume that they want to stay "primitive" and they aren't like, "you mean there's matches and mirrors and tupperware out there? And you weren't going to tell us? Fuck that get me out of here."
posted by chococat at 10:44 AM on June 23, 2011 [12 favorites]


I am always fascinated by the commonness between human cultures. Watching the men eat the rice and their faces lighting up the same as a child eating sweets for the first time, I think, proves that we are all the same people, regardless of our history. Smiles.

Why not share our achievements? What they choose to do with them is their own business. Look at the Amish - they are fully aware of everything there is offered in our world and choose to not take advantage of it.

However, I think this is a prime example of applied warning labels. These people have no idea the dangers ahead of them, and should have all the help and guidance they care to accept.

I'd like to see a "Where Are They Now" video.
posted by LoudMusic at 10:44 AM on June 23, 2011


Some information from an earlier YouTube posting of the video. (Note: poor English translation that accompanies the video):
In the full XXI century, the team of Jean-Pierre Dutilleaux explorer and ethnographer had the privilege of contact, after many obstacles, with The Toulambis a tribe that had never seen a white man, or had been involved with the outside world.


They did not believe in the existence of the white man and when they saw Jean-Pierre thought it was a living dead. In its purest and most primitive living so as in prehistoric times, they do not know the wheel or anything other than the environment around.

Live of hunting in the jungles of Papua, New Guinea. For the first time in their lives tried the rice, liked only with salt. Blows to the head means that they like the food.
It is amazing to see their faces in fear, distrust and much astonishment at the absolutely new and strange things they discovered, such as metal, mirrors, plastic, film crews, recorded music and hearing their own voices on the recorder. 


Spent three days near the camp and the last day allowed to receive medicines. 
Before leaving, offered a dance and songs of his tribe, then were going to get lost in the dense jungle ... your home.

Jean-Pierre Dutilleux was born in Malmedy, Belgium, director, anthropologist, explorer and defender of Indian rights


In 1973 he made his first contact with the hostile tribe Txuccaramaes (those who hit with sticks) of the Kayapo, the savage heart of Matto Grosso, where nearly lost his life in the hands of the tribe, the chief Raoni saved his life.

Since then, Jean Pierre was dedicated to saving the territory of this tribe, of government of that country, making a world tour with the chief Raoni where senior leaders, the nobility and Pope John Paul II, the received
Raoni's message was "My name is Raoni, I am the chief of the Kayapo. People are destroying the forest, are wiping out wildlife, fatally wounding my people, killing the Earth. Help me, before it too late!”

Dutellieux visited the most remote places in search of primitive tribes, as the Toulambis, that live as in the Stone Age and are being decimated by logging of their forests, and diseases like malaria. He leads them medication and is responsible for helping to protect their rights and tribal lands.

posted by ericb at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


How lucky for them. Only good things come of being "discovered" by white men.

Y'know, I'm not sold on the the whole "don't make contact with indiginous tribes" thing. We're a global society, like it or not. The children at the end of the video have had just as much exposure to things like cameras and tape recorders as almost every other child in the world at that age. To the children of these tribes, everything is new and wonderous, whether it came from the stone age or the information age. I'm not suggesting that these kids will grow up to become CEOs of tech companies, but they should at least be offered the opportunity to not die of malaria.

I understand the reasoning of not making contact: let them make contact in their own time, let them choose to make contact, don't steamroll their culture, etc, etc, but if you truly believe that everyone is created equal and that equal opportunity should be afforded to all, then not only do we have to offer a seat at the global table, we have to let them know there's a table to sit at in the first place.
posted by rh at 10:47 AM on June 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


What? They didn't recognize either the handshake or the 'high five?' Whazupwiddat? Goofy white boy. Much better when he switched to just reaching out.

I did like the obvious gentle curiosity and tender touch. Indeed, kinnakeet, their eyes are beautiful. I appreciate that they seemed to be amazed (the gesture of touching the back of the head--surprise, perhaps like our scratching our heads in puzzlement?) Yet they don't seem too terribly impressed after all.

Worst Part: Introducing matches

Na, Worst Part: mirrors and electronic 'marvels'

What use are they except to impress with our vast technology, so foreign and out of place in their lives. As if these things are more important than anything they could already have--what hubris!
posted by BlueHorse at 10:49 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"We contacted the white person at approximately high sun on rest day. At first we were concerned that he might be a living corpse and feared to touch him in case it killed us. However, his attempts to steal our soul using his magic box were thwarted by our protective charms, and we continued our approach. After assuring ourself he was not dead and his touch innoxious, my assistant and I attempted to remove the paint from his skin, albeit unsuccessfully. Satisfied that his skin was naturally such a pale hue, we began to notice other startling characteristics about his body. His hair had been straightened as though he had suffered some prolonged exposure to certain elements, about which he wore the feathers of a bird none of us could identify.

The individual produced a hole into the spirit world which he successfully looked through without ill harm. He then produced a second hole and invited us to look through in a similar manner. We were naturally curious to see the spirit world, but feared upsetting the gods and did so only reluctantly to satisfy the white man's requests. At this point I had an assistant summon our wives and children to attend and bring more weapons with them. We resolved to kill the white man should he continue to upset the spirits in this manner.

However, thankfully for his own safety he then changed track and proceeded to offer us some of our food. I beg forgiveness for being somewhat bored by the prospect of eating his insipid-looking concoction, as the rice pudding was rather good. The man's insistence that we use a shiny rock to eat the rice pudding dampened our joy only slightly..."

- Report from the Chief of the Toulambi on First Contact with a Member of an Uncontacted Tribe.
posted by Jehan at 10:52 AM on June 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


"Worst Part: Introducing matches"

Na, Worst Part: mirrors and electronic 'marvels'


Actually, it could be exposure to Sting (again).

(From the artist's bio)

"...At some point, in one of his visits to the Amazon, Dutilleux was joined by noted rock musician Sting, who was able to experience firsthand the indigenous tribes of the fast disappearing jungle..."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:53 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Desegregation is a good thing.
posted by punkfloyd at 11:00 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


David Attenborough's A Blank on the Map is still available on google video. Attenborough was far more respectful, careful not to try impressing the tribe with shiny tech.
posted by vanar sena at 11:03 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why were they not attempting to examine the camera or the person filming them?
posted by Wordwoman at 11:04 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


While there's a degree of concern when a white man approaches an indigenous tribe, how many of you honestly feel this inquisitive or surprised by the world we live in? In an age and era ruled by cynicism, 'instant' but hollow connections online and a bloated march towards using all of our natural resources, can't we just once stop and be in awe of a group of people who live off the land?

I know this thread isn't completely ruled by horror and revulsion, and my point isn't even to threadshit on people who feel that way (it's justified historically numerous times), but I have never seen that look of wonder, and I have never been so entranced by something that I really looked at it to figure it out like the people in this video.

So, thank you for sharing!
posted by glaucon at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Coincidentally, the author of a book called Lost in Shangri-La was just on The Daily Show last night. It tells the true story of a plane that crashed into Dutch New Guinnea during World War II, with 3 people surviving . They hiked down a mountain into a remote area rumored to be inhabited by cannibals. In the 3 survivor's opinion, they only survived being eaten because the tribespeople had an old legend that someday 3 white ghosts would decsend from the sky on a rope.
Then there was a dramatic rescue with a glider and a giant rubber band or something like that.
posted by chococat at 11:06 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shit, sometimes, I pray that we will be contacted by beings more advanced than ourselves. At best, our existence on this planet will improve, hooray; at worst, we'll finally understand how whites affected other cultures they came across.

Seems to me that the worst is potentially far worse: we could be enslaved, experimented on or used for meat.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:10 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Attenborough video vanar sena posted had a sort of weird setup.

Attenborough: "This arrow and this bow belong to a man who's never seen a European face. So does this house. I'm in the middle... "

(Me thinking): "... of a burglary?"

Attenborough: "... of central New Guinea... "
posted by Anything at 11:11 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


.

Their grandchildren will speak English and live in apartments.
posted by pracowity at 11:22 AM on June 23, 2011


Almost always, claims of first contact turn out to be exaggerated or made up.

Predicting this will be no different.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Amazing post that conjures up so many emotions and thoughts. Through the reactions of the indigenous people in this video, I see a vivid picture of the reactions of ALL indigenous people to white men throughout history. I can more clearly imagine the reactions when Columbus encountered the Arawak, when Cabeza de Vaca encountered the Hans and Capoque, when Lewis and Clark encountered the Mandans, Arikara and Lakota etc.. etc.. etc.. onward through time.

These moments had profound impact for the people being "discovered" and quite literally in every case meant the beginning of the end of the way of life and even the end of independence of entire populations of individuals.

What so fascinates / troubles me is how just the act of contact alone redefines the context of an entire people. On the morning before contact, indigenous peoples are free, rich, and masters of their own destiny. On the evening of first contact, they are considered to be the poorest people on earth (as defined by Western Capitalist standards).

And, like the Christian missionaries who seek to save their souls, the disciples of Capitalism and Industry seek to "rescue them from their circumstances" and can thus justify what usually amounts to exploitation that results in rendering the native people dependents.

Whether it's a tragedy or not I guess that's just the way it is. Either way, really fascinating video. I hope their culture is preserved and their way of life documented - I think it would be beneficial to get familiarized with the skills needed to live how we all once lived.
posted by jnnla at 11:28 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Not only did Curtis manipulate his images but they were often staged and he sometimes used actors and props in ways that mispresented the facts concerning their culture and daily lives."

This is exactly what reality TV producers do.
posted by longsleeves at 11:45 AM on June 23, 2011


I misread the title as "eats white men for the first time" and was let down that there was no cannibalism in the video.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:55 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the music!
posted by Mike Mongo at 11:56 AM on June 23, 2011


The way all the Toulambi (except for the babies) wear grass skirts to cover their nether regions reminds me of some old Hollywood Tarzan film. Do they really always cover up just this particular part of their bodies in this manner? And why? It almost looks like the filmmaker dressed them for his documentary.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:00 PM on June 23, 2011


That Attenborough film was fascinating.
posted by Anything at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2011


"In 1961, Michael Rockefeller, fortunate son of [NY Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, later VP], disappeared while studying the Asmat people of New Guinea. Questions remain, however. Was he, indeed, eaten by the Asmat, who had a rumored history of cannibalism, or did he decide to go native?" [previously; main link borked]
posted by dhartung at 12:30 PM on June 23, 2011




White people are overrated.
posted by killdevil at 12:33 PM on June 23, 2011


Oriole Adams: The way all the Toulambi (except for the babies) wear grass skirts to cover their nether regions reminds me of some old Hollywood Tarzan film...It almost looks like the filmmaker dressed them for his documentary.



Talking of white men and the reality of first contact - it's actually the centenary of the original Tarzan book next year.

From The Guardian: "Now the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate has backed a new children's series about the bare-chested hero, set in modern Africa and aimed at nine to 11-year-olds. By Andy Briggs, author of the Hero.com and Villain.net books, the series is promising to "bring Tarzan the Eco Warrior to the PlayStation generation" as an "edgier and more feral" character. Briggs, a long-time fan of Tarzan, believes the character is ripe for a reboot. "I think now more than ever Tarzan is a relevant character," he said this morning. "He was the first eco-warrior, and I wanted to hold on to that.""

Tarzan "the first eco warrior" seems economical with the truth.

In ch. 13 of the original 1912 book, it is Tarzan's jungle hut, not Tarzan, that is first spotted by the party of English explorers. And Tarzan (who can write) has stuck a helpful warning notice outside. It reads:" THIS IS THE HOUSE OF TARZAN, THE KILLER OF BEASTS AND MANY BLACK MEN..."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:34 PM on June 23, 2011


I would have shown them Nickelodeon Gak
posted by nathancaswell at 12:38 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


the part near the beginning where the Toulambi guys are touching white dude's hair and then he reached out to touch theirs brought tears to my eyes. that was so very touching, i guess pun intended. i was not expecting that. i kinda wish white dude would have stopped there and not shown them the wonders of the gadgetry.

altho i think i'd like to start covering my mirrors with giant leaves. i think that guy was on to something.
posted by sio42 at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amazing as this is to watch, it shits all over the prime directive.

You may have just been making a joke, but it was this exact kind of situation that lead to "The Prime Directive." One of the staff writers for the show, Gene Coon, was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, and Gene Rodenberry implied in an interview that Coon was really uneasy about the impact occupying forces had had on the indigenous peoples of the different South Pacific Islands. That's why he came up with a "Prime Directive" for the Federation in Star Trek -- in response to what he'd seen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:03 PM on June 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


Someone I met told me about his experiences of working for a time in rural China. So many people there had rarely, or perhaps even never, seen anyone white before. When he walked along a road the crowds would part, people stared, and a hush fell over everyone

When my sister was 2, we were travelling through Japan. To her annoyance, a lot of the locals had never seen a white infant, and insisted on pinching her cheeks to see if she was real.
posted by acb at 1:23 PM on June 23, 2011


From the Jean Pierre Dutilleux Official Website: When the last tribe is contacted and moved from the Stone Age into the modern world, from being free and masters of their own destiny to being poor and at the lowest level of our western society, it is a part of ourselves that will vanish forever.

These people live in the modern world. They may live differently from Jean Pierre Dutilleux did, and differently from the way most people do, but they are not "stone age" people. They are not primitives. They are living in the exact same global context that the rest of us are. This idea of "first contact" and stone age people is really seductive - it's easy to think of social complexity as being sort of temporally linked, so that only the West is made up of modern people. But it's also really dangerous. I would bet anything that, even though they may not have interacted with white people, they were part of extensive trade networks connecting them to various other groups, even from an isolated area, and at the very least they knew about other things beyond their forest hills. He even says "For centuries the hill tribes of the Owen Ranmge in Papua, New Guinea have lived in isolation to avoid war. In a landscape of dense tropical rainforests each tribe stays within a well established territory." If they chose isolation, they are acting in response to not being isolated.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:30 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I misread the title as "eats white men for the first time" and was let down that there was no cannibalism in the video.

Alas, they probably never eat a white meat yet.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:39 PM on June 23, 2011


Man, this thread is full of all sorts of bullshit!

My family has got strong connections to PNG - my parents where volunteer teachers there in the 70's and got married there, we lived there for many years when I was growing up, and mum still does a lot of business there.

There are a number of things the anti-first-contact people here are failing to think about when they decry the spoilage by the white man. PNG isn't alone in the world, or isolated. In WW2 much of the pacific campaign was fought in and around the island, and first contact consisted of having your legs blown off by a bomb from a civilization you'd never even heard of. Most locals wound up fighting for or supporting the allies, not because of any understanding of the global conflict but because the Japanese were just horrible to them.

Going more small scale, I'd much rather live in the first world than a neolithic village - living past 30, not having my head taken off in a tribal fight, having modern medical care and not having an infant mortality 10 times what it would be in a city (this is comparing PNG villages vs PNG modern cities, not the first world) - these are all good things.

A very good friend of our family's grandparents were cannibals. Her parents never left her village. She's a successful accountant in Port Moresby and her kids are going to highschool in Australia. I can't think of a better example of success.

On a slightly different note I've visited a village where we were the first white people there since they'd kicked out the missionaries in 50's and most people hadn't seen a white person first hand before. It was really weird to have literally everyone staring at me all the time, and not very pleasant - I can see why celebrities get so weird!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 3:01 PM on June 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


I doubt that this was the FIRST time that this tribe has met "the white man". I understand there are many third world countries, but the odds of this being their first encounter are pretty slim in my mind.
posted by Dominic. Allen at 3:13 PM on June 23, 2011


My favorite part, and I am sorry if this was mentioned already, but my favorite part is the paternal care of that small child.
posted by psylosyren at 3:24 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


In an age and era ruled by cynicism, 'instant' but hollow connections online and a bloated march towards using all of our natural resources, can't we just once stop and be in awe of a group of people who live off the land?

These people are no different from the people you meet on the bus every day.

To "stop and be in awe" of them because they play a part in an imagined narrative (whether that is living "off the land" or living "in an age ruled by cynicism") is to be in awe of the projection in the mirror.

These people have no obligation to be what we need them to be.
posted by eeeeeez at 3:29 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Shit, sometimes, I pray that we will be contacted by beings more advanced than ourselves. At best, our existence on this planet will improve ...

You haven't seen the television series 'V,' have you? ; )
posted by ericb at 3:30 PM on June 23, 2011


Watching the video was amazing. The intensity of the looks on the locals' and anthropologist's faces, the marvelous mutual curiosity, excitement.

The tribals' lives don't sound all that peaceful or happy. "Others previously known have left their villages to move deeper in the forest to escape conflicts...They were almost entirely decimated by malaria...The entire tribe moves in uncanny silence for fear of alerting the game...Always on the move...It gives them no time to create complex art, to develop science or conceive profound metaphysical philosophies."

Thought about this post and the comments in this thread all afternoon. Idealizing or denigrating the tribals' lives or the modernized lives seems to me to be two dimensional. Living in pockets of quasi Neanderthal lifestyle in the world that has changed a LOT since Neanderthal times doesn't seem to be viable and in Darwinian terms logically on the way out. Sooner or later the tribals would come in contact with the rest of the planet and, likely, behave like other human beings.

Having traveled around the world in the 60's and 70's I came across a number of people - in Morocco, Guatemala and India- who had not likely seen a white person, especially the young kids. It was always an interesting feeling being perceived as a sort of specimen.

I feel nostalgia for what I imagine is the original nature of culture, the way it was before the railway, the telegraph, planes, radio, magazines, tv. I think tv especially has had a polluting effect on the original quality of cultures. But then maybe human beings need to go through this stage, this techno worship, money grubbing, wishy washy standardization of culture? I don't know. This post has been very stimulating and thought provoking.

Thanks for that Sticherbeast.
posted by nickyskye at 3:35 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


WATCH THIS:
Original film footage from Jean-Pierre Dutilleaux's documentary, Tribal Journeys: The Toulambi -- with recorded sound and his commentary.
posted by ericb at 3:47 PM on June 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


All we need now is the full-length documentary and not just the 14 minute excerpt posted above.
posted by ericb at 4:12 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The raw footage shows better how fraught the initial contact was, the ever-present possibility of mis-judgement leading to a fatal attack.
posted by binturong at 4:21 PM on June 23, 2011


Upon his death, David Attenborough should be instantly frozen; just on the chance that his life experience may somehow be preserved for a distant, future humanity.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:26 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


While I found this to be beautiful and amazing one of my first thoughts was that the white guys were like the serpent in Eden, luring the Adams and Eves into a trap with the fruit of knowledge.

Otherwise a meeting was inevitable and I'm glad that one was peaceful. It could easily have been tractors and earthmovers air-dropped in to scrape the forest with no meeting at all and with total disregard for human life.

Thanks for the post, this is something I'll never forget.
posted by snsranch at 4:28 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can nobody else see how poorly staged this is? Especially the skin touching part. It's completely fake.
posted by fire&wings at 4:55 PM on June 23, 2011


Beware Prometheus!
posted by Oyéah at 4:58 PM on June 23, 2011


Can nobody else see how poorly staged this is? Especially the skin touching part. It's completely fake.

fire&wings, I remember the first time I saw an African-American. I was about 4 in the early 1960's. My grandmother, mother, and I were in a car, driving around trying to find an address. My mother stopped the car and asked the postman walking for directions. He came over to the car and put his hand on the windowsill while speaking to my mother, giving her the directions.

It was summertime, hot, and the car didn't have a/c, all the windows were down. I was fascinated by his dark skin. I slowly reached over and touched the back of his hand, then looked at my fingertip to see if the dark color came off. He smiled and said to me, "It doesn't come off."

The skin touching part does not look fake at all.
posted by JujuB at 6:42 PM on June 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


This was... well, I'm not really sure I can articulate what it was like to watch this. Unsettling. Humbling, too - knowing that, all possibility of fraud and whatnot aside, you may be watching the exact moment these people's entire world changed forever. The shots of them cautiously touching each others' skin and hair were deeply affirming, in some ways, but what I think will linger with me are the images of the children. As pracowity said:

Their grandchildren will speak English and live in apartments.


Mostly, this is just one of those moments where the world somehow feels both vastly, incomprehensibly big, and very, very small.
posted by sophistrie at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2011


I cannot stand this. From the moment they cross the river, that dude is adding stress to their lives. He holds out his hand thinking he might actually get a handshake and the lead man checks all over himself like he is looking for something to give him to make him go away. Like he's thinking "white devil wants something of mine, but damn if I know what."
posted by rahnefan at 7:13 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's just hope they didn't leave any Coke bottles behind, or things could have really gone sour for this tribe.

(this was fascinating, despite the uneasy feelings of "white man coming to screw things up" )
posted by ShutterBun at 7:15 PM on June 23, 2011


Can nobody else see how poorly staged this is?

staged? - that look in that guy's face says it all - he's scared shitless and can't believe what he's seeing - he has no context, no way of understanding why these strange beings have suddenly appeared in his forest or what they mean to do

and the skin touching part isn't just to see if the weird color of the stranger is some kind of paint - they're trying to make sure that this stranger is REAL because it seems so unbelievable to them

i don't even know what you think you have to compare this encounter to - you've never seen anything like this - what do you think a "real" first encounter would look like and how do you know that?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:23 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What strikes me about it is how very BRAVE people on both sides of the interaction have to be. How terrifying, to meet people so totally strange and (obviously) with the potential for violence. I'm also struck by how human we all are, how curious and eager to learn.

Regarding the modern artifacts, I've read that uncontacted tribes in Brazil still have SOME knowledge of the modern world, through other minimally-contracted tribes, who may interact with moderately-contacted tribes, and so on. They may not have had any contact with the "modern" world, but (in Brazil) they typically have contact with other tribes with similar lifestyles, and may even engage in trade such that they have steel knives and so forth. I don't know if that's the case in Papua New Guinea or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had at least heard fourth-hand tales of, say, recording devices. (I remember reading about some uncontacted tribe being driven off their land and thereby having contact with refugee/aid workers, and they had at least a conceptual idea of television when they made their "first contact," though they had no particular imaginings of how such a thing might work in practice. But a tribe they traded with traded with a tribe who traded with a tribe who traded with a town where they had television and so the uncontacted people were aware that representations of humans could be sent long distance and appear on a box in some fashion, though they'd not particularly cared to inquire further into the story. Similarly, it struck me that at least in this excerpt, familiar things like cutting implements held a lot more interest for the tribe than the electronics did.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:40 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This short film was taken over three days -- I doubt the team pulled out all the tricks in the first fifteen minutes of contact.

It seems like there is a bit of 'projection' in some of the posts above. I see no reason to believe that the tribe people were greatly impressed with these gadgets. They walked off into the forest at the end. It reminds me of how when I traveled to an island not much visited by outsiders I found the children curious, but not really envious of anything I had with me (cameras, mask and snorkel, ipod). They would examine them, but were not interested in them so much. They had a good life and did not yearn for mine.

I was absolutely transfixed with this film - thanks so much for posting it, stitcherbeast.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:55 PM on June 23, 2011


Wow. That was mesmerizing. The curiosity battling fear, the bravery... and the glad fact that they didn't shoot first and ask questions later (though as we'll see later, perhaps not really so surprising).

I am quite curious about who else was on scene (aside from Dutilleux and the cameraman); I wonder how many were in the crew and at what point the tribe was aware of them.

Also, I noticed in ericb's video link that the tribe had dogs with them (see at 2:17, 2:36, 2:57, 7:31, 10:20 and 10:35) – I saw at least two or three altogether. I wonder if they help with hunting by retrieving or ferreting out small game?

........................................................

Anyway, according to ethnologist Pierre Lemonnier, the story is a bit exaggerated. The Toulambi people have met white men before (though perhaps not these particular tribe members, but they would have presumably known of them). Translated from this site:
(Translated) The history of these peoples who are new to the West (and vice versa) is beautiful but sometimes exaggerated. According to the journal Ethnology Field, some of these tribes known as "Lost," had already been in contact with the outside world. But some journalists and explorers of the dream "hunting authentic" and sometimes turns the legend. According to Land, the Toulambis (also called "Yoye Amara") have left such picture taken by three different ethnographers before Jean-Pierre Dutilleux (including the article's author, Pierre Lemonnier). That said, even though some people have had outside contacts, these interactions have not changed their society. For more information, read the full article on terrain.revues.org.
The Hunt for the Authentic: Stories of a Stone Age out of Context is paper (in French; google translation is here) where Lemonnier talks about the presentation of the Toulambi and other "discovered" tribes in some depth, and refutes that they are a "stone age" society.
(Translated) Historical sources reveal that the so Toulambis steel tools had more than forty years before their sensational encounter with an explorer, and they visited the administrative center of Menyamya the early 70's. This familiarity with the outside world is confirmed by ethnography, and in particular our main toulambis informant who had spent two months in prison in the early Menyamya 70. The dream journalistic collapses, but does that mean that this small people ended up so quickly in the colonial world it would be impossible to investigate its mode of life and thought of by whites ? Colonization and its agents are they ipso facto key players in this society - even the main? Paradoxically, once the colonial history that indicates the opposite.
Among other things, Lemonnier says, basically, that Dutilleux knew they were unlikely to be violent – because of earlier encounters by others.
posted by taz at 11:42 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


They would examine them, but were not interested in them so much. They had a good life and did not yearn for mine.

The very best part of me believes this to be true. While I was flip-flopping the pros and cons of introduction to New World Items .. if it was me? Yeah. I would want to know. I may not act on them, but I would want to be aware.
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 11:47 PM on June 23, 2011


I'm not sure if I should post this or not, lest some people decide that I'm a terrible earth-rapist. Oh well.

I can't watch the video as I'm on a limited work connection, in PNG. I work for a mining company, exploring for gold. Much of my work involves travelling by helicopted to remote communities (half hour flight from the nearest airstrip, several days walk to the nearest road), and I then hike about the creeks and hills making a map of the rocks in the area. I've spent a lot of time considering the ethical implications of this job, and much of it ties into the questions that people are debating here.

Most of the villages I work in have had some exposure to the wider world, though I'm often the only white person the children have seen, and so I'm always attended by a group of 10 - 20 children as I eat, or read, or go to the toilet (that's fun). There are still a few grass skirts, still plenty of bows and arrows, but most people wear t-shirts (in ruins, repaired multiple times). Most of the children have bloated abdomens due to malnutrition, and the oldest person I've seen couldn't have been much over 40.

I'm not sure if exposure to Western civilisation is a good thing. I know that preventing that exposure means infant mortality will remain high, life expectancy will remain low, and people will continue to die from preventable diseases. But if these villages were to all pack up shop and head into the cities to get jobs paid by the hour, we (the world) would be losing something incredibly special. I find that I'm often in awe of the way they live, and the ingenuity with which they use the tools and the materials supplied in abundance by the jungle. They are, by and large, extremely happy, and easy going, and enjoy quiet lives of leisure (the men rarely work more than a few hours a day, the women only a little more). I don't think this would be improved by a move to the city.

In terms of my work, the vast majority of people I've spoken to have thanked me for coming and have wished for my success. One of the 'Community Relations' problems that we face is giving people realistic expectations - that is, explaining that starting a mine is far from guaranteed. Most people want access to roads, and health clinics, and a range of food, and work, and the ability to move beyond their village. Would a gold mine do that for them? Do they understand the scale of this kind of operation, and what it would mean for their lives? I'm not sure. I'm also not entirely comfortable with the idea that it's somehow our decision whether or not other people be allowed to choose for themselves. Then the question turns to whether or not it can ever be a truly informed decision...

Clearly, this is something I've not made my mind up about yet. Part of the reason I took this job was so I could observe, directly, what happens when a giant mining company is on one side of the negotiating table and a remote tribesman is on the other. So far, I've been impressed - we have always sought to keep people informed, we take our time and ensure that the whole community approves before we move into an area, and we do our best to help out - sharing food, offering the helicopter for medivacs, flying in our doctor to help out sick folk. I think these communities are better off for our being here.

On the other hand, we are here exploring for gold, and if we find any (a long shot, but something I need to consider) then it would mean much more significant changes. I have confidence that my company would do all they can to reduce environmental damage as much as possible, and to take care of the local community as best they can, but it would still mean irrevocable changes. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing, and I'm not sure if I have any right in making that decision.

Anyway, I think it's a fascinating topic, with very few clear-cut answers, and I've enjoyed reading the discussion above.
posted by twirlypen at 12:42 AM on June 24, 2011 [25 favorites]


Love the footage, but it occurs to me that the music seriously ruined it for me. People above describe being on the edge of their seats when it looks like things might take a turn for the worse, and rightly so - they were closely tuned in to the tensions of the people in the footage, but for me, the music was a huge don't-worry-everything-is-going-peachy-with-rainbows plot-spoiler. There was little sense of tension or risk because the outcome had been revealed.

It might be manipulative, but the emotional rollercoaster ride that this presentation would otherwise impart, would benefit hugely from the music reflecting the tension and danger in the appropriate areas, and the joy and curiosity and humanity in others.

It might be manipulative, but I would have greatly preferred it to the spoiler music. It would have been a completely different experience.

But, I'm glad to have seen it at all.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:51 AM on June 24, 2011


Heh, on second viewing, there's also an uncomfortable asymmetry:

Tribesfolk: Whoa.. check out this weird guy.
White dude: Hey guys, look at my stuff! Isn't my stuff cool!
Tribesfolk: Fascinating man... Look at him!
White dude: ...and this gadget does this! Look at... no, not me, this! Look at this! This is cool - if you hold it like this...

I realize that showing weird stuff is a good ice-breaker when you don't share language, and he's already seen tribesmen before, but they frequently seem a lot less interested in his stuff than he is in showing it to them, which throws some (probably false) cultural overtones into the mix :)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:10 AM on June 24, 2011


-harlequin-
If he music ruined it for you
PLEASE see the unedited version.
I liked it much better.
http://youtu.be/7a7IaS3ml4g
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 1:17 AM on June 24, 2011


Isolation won't protect tribes in a world of cross-border pollution and global climate change. They deserve to know WTF is happening to their environment and have the opportunity to speak up and do something about it.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:04 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The touching of the skin made me laugh:

"The white! It doesn't wipe off!"
posted by bwg at 6:49 AM on June 29, 2011


Haven't read the whole thread, but this totally smells 'hoax' to me.
posted by ms.codex at 9:45 PM on June 29, 2011




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