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Toulambi 1976 contact: fact or fable

BY PETER KRANZ

EXTRACTS FROM BELGIAN filmmaker Jean Pierre Dutilleux's first contact with a tribal people known as the Toulamis have recently been posted on Youtube.

This claimed first contact was said to have been as recently as 1976 and the extracts can be seen here  and here.

The footage is moving and poetic and appears to be authentic. More information about Dutilleux's films can be found on his website here.

His film was first aired on French TV in the mid1990's.  Perhaps because it has not been widely shown to English-speaking audiences, it has aroused keen interest and many favourable comments since its recent Youtube posting.

This controversial film also has been the subject of much scholarly debate in the Francophone world, and even threats of legal action.

It was severely criticised by French anthropologist and PNG specialist Pierre Lemonnier in his academic paper A la chasse à l'authentique (In pursuit of the real thing) published by Terrain, the European ethnological review in 1999, which is available here.

In this paper, Lemonnier points out that the Toulambis of the film are really the Ankave-Anga people from near Menyamya.  The records indicate that these people were visited by at least six Australian government patrols between 1929 and 1972: 1929 Middleton; 1950 Chester, 1951 Mathieson; 1965 O'Brien; 1967 Police patrols; 1972 Meikle.

In fact Meikle found the people talking basic Tok Pisin learned at Menyamya.

Historical sources reveal that the so-called Toulambis had steel tools and western implements more than 40 years before their encounter with Dutilleux, and were regular visitors to the administrative center of Menyamya the early 1970's - which was only a few days walk for them.

This familiarity with the outside world is confirmed by ethnography, and in particular one Toulambi man spent two months in prison in Menyamya in the early '70's.  Admittedly some remote groups may not have had regularly contact with the Australian administration before the 1960's, but they certainly did by the time Dutilleux encountered them.

When Lemonnier viewed the film for the first time he exclaimed: "I'm outraged!" He described the Dutilleux production as "untruthful, racist, revolting". Apparently Lemonnier recognised immediately the place where the fake "first encounter" had been filmed. The stream is known as New Year Creek, and the members of the "unknown tribe" probably walked for about a day from their settlement to reach the appointed well-lit meeting-place.

This had been conveniently cleared for the filming, with a few logs thrown into the creek so that the people could emerge confidently from the jungle (most unusual behaviour) and move naively towards the camera crew.

Lemonnier adds: "At that spot, they were about a four-day walk from an administrative centre with a schoolteacher, airstrip, radio, nurse and Seventh-Day Adventist preachers. Nearby, the navigable river Vailala enables the Papuans to reach the coast, where they exchange bark capes for tools."

For his criticism, Lemonnier faced a court case for slander in 1997, but the historical records support his case.

So how was the film made?  Simple - the locals were paid for their performance and rehearsed in how to act their parts.  In fact they were enterprising enough to have done this for several other 'first-contact' filmmakers before and after Dutilleux.

Comments

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Scott Larson

In part three they are teaching each other simple words and they are suddenly translating complex life stories. As the narrator says "linguists will be given a tape of a language they have never heard." Total BS of a film.

Chris Alvarez

That's real! You cannot pay tribesmen to act for you. Maybe this Pierre guy is just so jealous with Jean Pierre Discovery.

Zane Cosgrove

It's not a fake... this isn't the whole tribe of people. They indeed look authentic, they are definitely not actors.

To me and my partner from the PNG highlands... this is 100% authentic!

Greg Mckenzie-Smith

My brother living in PNG is well known by Toulambi, and I have worked with many since 1976,

Great people - all speak Pidgin - seen and communicated with whitey's for years before 1976.

Great security people and can shoot spears better than any other tribe in PNG. Very short people, but are feared by most other PNGns.

Ray Provence

Dutilleux is mentioned by Lorne Blair in his book "Ring of Fire" as one of the cameramen who documented the Asmat head hunters who killed David Rockefeller shortly before.

JP was adopted into an Asmat warrior's family along with Blair and part of the ritual was suckling their adopted mothers'. They are pictured naked, as are all the Asmats in the book's picture.

Every one of the natives in this video should get an acting award if it is staged. I have watched it several times and each time it seems more authentic. It seems hardly feasible that every member of that tribe could pretend that naturally.

Anyway, in my book Dutilleux as well as the Blair brothers are the real McCoy.

Chris Overland

In 1969/70 I carried out 2 patrols into the very mountainous country located between Kerema and Kiantiba, which lies a couple of days walk from Menyamya to the north. The people living in this area were then all known as Kukukuku.

While they had had sporadic contact with the Administration for many years and the area was official described as "controlled", it was still regarded as necessary for me to be heavily armed with a WW2 vintage Lee Enfield .303 Carbine and a very dodgy .38 Smith & Wesson revolver.

At that time, to the best of my knowledge, there were no totally uncontacted people living between Kerema and Menyamya.

However, there were people whose contact really had been quite tenuous. A few young children, upon seeing me and my patrol, fled screaming to their parents, to the great amusement of the adults. It seems I was mistaken for one of their deceased "tumbuna", returning in a ghostly white form.

It seems to me highly doubtful that a French film crew could have blithely wandered into that country and discovered a hitherto unknown group of people.

It is fearsomely rough terrain and only the local people would have known how to find such a group, if it existed.

Menyamya had been established and consolidated in the 1950s by several pretty intrepid kiaps including the late Lloyd Hurrel.

The area had been pretty thoroughly patrolled by the mid 1960's and I strongly doubt that the kiaps had missed contacting every population group in their patrol area at least once, and probably much more often.

So far as I am aware, the last group of previously uncontacted people were located deep in the Strickland Gorge area by a patrol out of Koroba in 1971 or 1972.

To my eternal regret I was posted out of Koroba before this patrol was mounted and so a young colleague called Peter Turner got the honour instead. It seems likely that Peter will know if it was at all possible for the French to do what they say they did.

T Cowland PhD

I was a long term resident of PNG during this time and researcher to Sir Michael Somare. The film crew made no attempt to obtain permission to enter the area as required under the Anthropological Research protocol.

The film content is highly edited, professional to the degree that it is obviously a santitised production.

This so-called first contact with white people is a farce and ought to have been labelled truthfully as a well defined, pre-planned documentary fable!

Terry Grancho

So, it was fake, all rehearsed, and acted out for pay.

Well they didn't only meet "civilized" men ... they met TV!

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