Narrator: The Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea is a land of tropical rainforests and savannah. The dense rainforest has historically protected the Eastern Highlands peoples from many outside influences. The ethnic groups who live here have been of great interest to anthropologists because of their geographic isolation. The Baruya, a group of 2,500 people, are one of the most isolated groups in the region. They were first contacted by Europeans in 1951.

Narrator: Among the Baruya, cultural traditions have remained strong, although by the 1960's, the Baruya had begun to feel the foreign influence of missionaries, traders and a central government. In 1967 the Baruya met their first anthropologist, a young Frenchman named Maurice Godelier.

Title: Maurice Godelier, New Guinea 1969

Narrator: This film is about the work of this young anthropologist, and his on-going effort to find the Baruya story.

TO FIND THE BARUYA STORY: An Anthropologist At Work With A New Guinea Tribe



Godelier/vo: Well, anthropologists go to New Guinea because they think that they have to find very different sorts of societies — very different from what is now existing in their own society. So they prefer to go to the most distant and the most different societies. So for many of us we think we are going to discover a sort of genuine kind of man, or mankind. But this is just silly, in some way, because there is no genuine man or genuine sort of man. Man, or mankind, is the totality of what has been developed by man, so there is no society to prefer or to choose when we study things.

Godelier/vo: So now, most of us, we think we can do anthropology anywhere. There is no society more interesting than another one. Every society is interesting, and difficult to understand, anyway.

Godelier/sy: So the problem for me was to understand what does it mean to compare systems, you know. And I, I had the choice between comparing dead systems, like historians do, or to compare living systems, like economists do, and anthropologists. And the economists were comparing only two systems, always and always — socialist systems, Russia; and United States or France, capitalist systems. And I think it was ... they ... the, the way they were doing was not very scientific, very shallow, very ideological. So I decided to widen the range of comparison, to work as an anthropologist with living systems.

Narrator: When Maurice first arrived in Baruya territory, he knew no one. He received permission from two Baruya clans to stay and build a house near the center of the village — a house where different groups could come and feel comfortable to speak. He then began to build a network of relationships with the local people.

Godelier/vo: Gwataie was the first to help me. He was working with me as an informant, helping me in the house, too, and also he negotiated with his father-in-law the location of my house. Warineu took care of me all the time and protected me, not physically, but he gave me food and I was taken into the group of Warineu's family. Warineu was also one of the few men able to make stone tools, and to use them. Tultul, well, his name is Biandaye. People called him Tultul because he was chosen by the officer as a Tultul, as a representative of the government in the village. He had two daughters, Darawinac, and Ymbaingac. And Ymbaingac was really the leader of the girls — very bright girl, very arrogant in some way, arrogant towards the men. She was a provocative girl. I have about ten regular informants who are each interested in different topics, like Baruya history, warfare, family organization, and so on. They teach me step by step. Like a child, I am taken further, little by little. I have to find and bring together the different pieces of Baruya culture. That's my job — to find the story.

Narrator: Agriculture is fundamental to the Baruya economy and is an important strand in the Baruya story. The Baruya are skilled agriculturalists. Their gardens are the most productive of any tribe in the region. The main food crops are taro root and sweet potatoes, which are planted and harvested by Baruya women. Although the Baruya have had steel tools since about 1950, Baruya women still use the traditional technology — the digging stick — since it allows them to harvest these root crops without damaging them.

Narrator: To identify the various types of root crops the Baruya cultivate, Maurice relies on his friends and informants. To determine how much space each plant needs, he relies on his own culture's system of measurement.

Godelier/vo: You can ask the people you are working with, but is much better to be with them in the field and in the garden and to measure. And to be precise, to not be just qualitative; to not be just casual. To be precise, you have to measure. We have learned from our society that.

Narrator: Maurice has been weighing the women's sweet potato harvest every day for two weeks in order to determine how many pounds of sweet potatoes each Baruya garden produces. He records how much of the sweet potato crop the Baruya eat themselves, and how much is grown to feed their pigs. Baruya pigs do not require much feeding, since they find most of their food by wandering in the forest.

Godelier/sy: A big change occurred, during my stay, after six months. When I started to map the gardens, and to stay — to live with the people every day for months, in the gardens, with them, in the bush with them. To discuss about the quality of the soils for sweet potato, for taro and so on.

Godelier/vo: And it was a very good point of departure, because people were proud of their gardens. They had many things to teach me about the forests, about wars, about their ancestors, who chopped down the trees, and so on, and so on. And so a lot of things came, which were not dealing with agriculture.

Title card: (Maurice speaks Pidgin English and uses a translator to speak with all Baruya who don't speak Pidgin)

Narrator: The Baruya have names for more than 20 different types of soil and know the relative qualities of each. Maurice records the Baruya names for each type of soil. After a chemical analysis of the soil samples, he will be able to compare Baruya soil types with those of Western science. All this is done to understand why the Baruya plant certain crops in some soils but not in others.

Godelier/vo: When you map a garden, it's a very boring thing, and you need to organize your work as a team. And surely you are a leader when you do that.

Godelier/sy: Maybe I have the temper partly of a leader so, but with the Baruya it was not too bad because they are warriors, and they like people strong in some way, and a bit forceful. Even the women between themselves, men with women, women with women, women with men.

Godelier/sy: Baruyas, they fight each other, very often. They fight with fists. And after, you ... you meet them two weeks later, in the forest, going to hunt, so, because they have to live all their lifetimes between themselves: they have to fight, they have to love, they have to be friends again, and so on. They have to manage life. Here, in our society, you fight, you don't talk to the people anymore. There, they fight and they, they talk again.

Narrator: Among the Baruya, relationships between men and women are often antagonistic and accompanied by many sexual taboos. During birth and menstruation Baruya women are confined to special huts which are isolated from the rest of the village, Baruya men believe that menstrual blood is threatening and dangerous to male strength. One day, before mapping a garden, Maurice decides to visit his friend, Ymbaingac, at the menstrual huts. All the men in Maurice's mapping crew walk carefully in another direction. Maurice, as an outsider, is the only man the women have allowed to enter their exclusive area.

Godelier/??: If I was working with women I was breaking the law of the society. So I am not neutral, and I do a lot of things which break the rules. So I don't tell you I am neutral, and I don't interfere. I DO interfere, and once I interfere, I have to accept the consequences of what I am doing, and to KNOW the consequences of what I am doing anyway. At least I knew what I was doing when I was going with the women, but I did not know I was going to pollute the whole body of the men.

Godelier/??: And they called me from far and they said, "Look, Maurice, you cannot live with us, we men, any more, except if you accept to be decontaminated in some way. You have to go through a rite." I said, "O.K., O.K." So they killed two birds, and after they burned the feathers of the birds under my armpits, along my legs, my body, my belly, and after I could live again with the men.

Godelier/??: We anthropologists, we are there to live with the people and never to judge what they are doing and say it's good or wrong. It is very difficult to keep that attitude.

Narrator: Salt plays a central role in the Baruya economy and is another important strand in the Baruya story. The Baruya have long had a reputation in the New Guinea Highlands as the "saltmakers" — manufacturers of these salt bars which are used in Baruya ceremonial meals and are also used as a form of currency in trade with neighboring tribes.

Godelier/sy: They were producing a means of exchange. Because the Baruya, they live at 2,000 meters, it is cold, they don't ... they have not got the tress with barks to make bark capes and so on. A lot of things like that. So they need all — products from other tribes in order to reproduce themselves. Materially and symbolically, politically, too, they need feathers of birds of paradise, and there are very few birds of paradise — it's too cold where they are living and so on. So, they need birds of paradise feathers, they need bark capes, they need stones for stone tools. And so they needed to produce something in order to get what they could not produce themselves. So they developed salt production.

Title card: (feathers are needed for some Baruya rituals)

Narrator: Baruya salt originates in this high grass which is grown in irrigated fields near the village. In order to understand the economic value of Baruya salt, Maurice must know how much land and labor-time are needed to produce each salt bar. Gwataie says that Warineu is the owner of this field and points out the property markers. He tells Maurice that a typical harvest requires four days of grass cutting.

Narrator: The salt grass has been harvested and burned, and the salty ashes placed in gourds for filtration. These filtration racks are owned by Warineu and his family.

Title card: (Warineu's daughter-in-law) (Warineu's wife)

Narrator: As the fresh water is poured through the ashes, it dissolves the salt and separates it from the ash. The salty water flows into bamboo storage tubes. When the water no longer tastes salty, the used ashes are discarded. The women work for two days during this stage of the process.

Narrator: The salty water is taken to the evaporation hut of a Baruya salt specialist. Here, the salt specialist must maintain a constant temperature in the oven for five days and five nights. Using a secret knowledge and magic, he will watch over the salt water's evaporation and transformation into crystallized salt bars. The Baruya call the longer bars "Tchamounye" and the shorter bars "Dekanoh".

Narrator: Maurice must convert these Baruya terms into his European system of measurement to determine how much salt Warineu's harvest produced.

Title card: (Warineu - owner of salt harvest)

Narrator: The salt bars are carefully wrapped, to protect them from humidity and from breaking, as they are traded for goods from neighboring tribes.

Godelier/vo: They will not exchange a bar of salt if it does not weigh a proper weight. They know if it is too light, it will not be accepted, or it will be difficult to sell it, they know all these things. They have also an appreciation of quantitative aspects — a quantity of salt for a quantity of a certain number of bark capes.

Narrator: Barkcloth capes have been brought by traders from a neighboring tribe to exchange for Baruya salt bars. These Asiana traders live at a lower altitude, where they are able to grow the trees from which this barkcloth is made. The Baruya must trade for this barkcloth, since it cannot be produced on their own territory.

Godelier/vo: Well, by this time I had calculated the total production time of Baruya salt bars. And during the exchange I saw that the Asiana gave six barkcloth capes for each long bar of salt. So I realized that I would need to go to the Asiana villages to measure their production time for barkcloths. And I asked myself whether the six to one exchange rate represented an equal exchange of labor time. In fact, my conclusion was that there was less labor time spent by the Baruya to make salt than by the Asiana to make bark capes. In our terms it would mean that the Baruya were exploiting, in some way, the Asiana people, because the rate of exchange was unequal — less time, or less labor, given for more labor. That was my conclusion at that time. But now it's a bit more controversial, because two of my assistants have been there and worked on the same topic, and they don't reach the same conclusions.

Godelier/sy: This point is now controversial between Pierre and I. And well, it's O.K. It's very good. I mean, I don't care. Knowledge is a process, and a collective process in some way, so I have no pride and no shame about that. You understand that in order to observe carefully, you have to do one job, not five or ten jobs like we do when we are alone in the field. At the same time, it is difficult to bring live six anthropologists in the same village. Otherwise, too may white people in a village disrupts more than one man. So it is a complex problem, you know, to observe quantitatively, exactly things.

An Anthropologist At Work With
A New Guinea Tribe