Ngat is dead: studying mortuary traditions

Suhr Nielsen, Christian, Otto, Ton, and Dalsgaard, Steffen (2009) Ngat is dead: studying mortuary traditions. [Video]

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What do anthropologists mean when they claim to study the cultural traditions of others by participating in them? This film follows the Dutch anthropologist Ton Otto, who has been adopted by a family on Baluan Island in Papua New Guinea. Due to the death of his adoptive father, he has to take part in mortuary ceremonies, whose form and content are passionately contested by different groups of relatives. Through prolonged negotiations, Ton learns how Baluan people perform and transform their traditions and not least what role he plays himself. The film is part of long-term field research, in which filmmaking has become integrated in the ongoing dialogue and exchange between the islanders and the anthropologist.

Research Statement

Research Background This film is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork by Ton Otto in a Papua New Guinea community (Baluan Island, Manus Province). It investigates the nature of the intense debate about tradition that is part and parcel of daily life in many Melanesian villages and it shows how traditions are continuously in the making through negotiations sparked by conflicting interests and adaptations to changing circumstances.
Research Contribution The main contribution to the field is that the film documents a very high level of awareness of cultural differences and shows how conscious culture constructs such as 'tradition' are an important aspect of cultural change. The film is also innovative in that it closely documents the research process into the politics of tradition and shows how ethnographic participation provides a vantage point for understanding processes of cultural change.
Research Significance This film has been officially selected for screening at 26 international film festivals and has received the 'Prix du patrimoine culturel immatériel' at the prestigious Jean Rouch International Film Festival in Paris (2008). It was broadcasted regularly on MTV (PNG) in 2009. It is widely used in teaching anthropology (courses on the politics of tradition, ethnographic methods, kinship) and was very well reviewed in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16: 915-6 (2010).
Item ID: 9272
Item Type: Video
Keywords: ethnography, tradition, mortuary rituals, representation, film
Additional Information:

'Ngat is dead – Studying Mortuary Traditions. Baluan Island, Manus Province, Papua New Guinea', video film, direction Christian Suhr Nielsen and Ton Otto; co-direction Steffen Dalsgaard; production Ton Otto and Christian Suhr Nielsen (Moesgaard Film). Boston: Documentary Educational Resources. (59 minutes).

Media of Output: DVD
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2010 00:19
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950205 Visual Communication @ 50%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950306 Conserving Pacific Peoples Heritage @ 50%
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