Trobriand Cricket (film)
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In an interview published in the Spring 1978 issue of Film Quarterly, Jean Rouch, arguably the most famous and most respected ethnographic filmmaker, is quoted as saying about Trobriand Cricket: “It's a wonderful film, perhaps one of the greatest anthropological films of recent time.”
One of the features of older, classic ethnographies like Argonauts of the Western Pacific that piques a reader's curiosity is how the subjects of these monographs live today. This documentary offers a glimpse of Trobriand life which is not so traditional, a life that has been lived through global history after Malinowski had left. The filmmakers found a convenient subject to show this in a short film.
Cricket was introduced to Trobriand by a British missionary, Reverend Gilmour, in the early 20th century, to replace violent tribal warfare with gentlemanly sportsmanship. Although Arjun Appadurai recently classified cricket as a 'hard cultural form,' resistant to structural change, cricket in Trobriand underwent a huge transformation. Not only have the details of the sport such as the number of players, balls, bats, rules, and uniforms changed, but the meanings and manner of play have changed so much that it can hardly be called as a sport any more. In fact, one gets the impression from this film that the cricket in Trobriand is in fact another form of ritualized warfare (although some people might want to say the same thing for World Cup!).
As hinted by the subtitle—"an ingenious response to colonialism"—the film focuses on the local syncretism, contrasting scenes of the original, staid game played in on proper pitches in England with the Trobriand version, full of colors, sounds, music and dance. It is instructive to compare this with the fates of cricket in other world regions such as India, South Africa, and the Caribbean. Viewers may wish to discuss cricket's various fates under colonialism and to debate whether the Trobriand case fits Bhabha's notion of "mimicry." There is a constant presence at the match of a Trobriand "reporter" who sought to find the meaning and origin of their 'own' culture, by interviewing senior members of the community and by observing – not participating – the actual cricket game/ritual.
In fact, this film was done of a reconstruction of cricket match "specifically enacted for the camera team by the members of a local political movement, who at the time of filming (1973) were seeking an ascendant role in the Trobriand politics" (Weiner, 1977:506). Weiner (1978) also claims that this Kabisawali Association movement, led by John Kasaipwalova (or John K, as Kiriwina people called him) caused "intense sociopolitical factionalism that generated hatred, violence and confusion" and that John K was convicted by the Papua New Guinea government for embezzlement of government funds (754). Weiner also notes that during that period and after, cricket was not being played in Kiriwina.
Thus the Trobriand cricket in this film was a well orchestrated and heavily edited version of something of which Trobrianders had recent memory. Perhaps we can find in this film not only an indigenized sport but also indigenized practices of exhibition, objectification, and journalism, which recalls Appadurai's point in Modernity at Large that: indigenization is often a product of collective and spectacular experiments with modernity and not necessarily of the subsurface affinity of new cultural forms with existing patterns in the cultural repertoire.
Trobriand Cricket satisfies the multiple qualifications to be considered an ethnographic film as established by Aufderheide. “The use of film in anthropology generally fails to develop its full potential,” according to Sally Ann Ness, although film is the “most appropriate” medium for the study of cultural performance. Thus, Trobriand Cricket is historically significant because it is a model for future filmmakers seeking to take on an ethnographic project.
- Yakir, Dan and Rouch, Jean 1978. "Ciné-Transe: The Vision of Jean Rouch: An Interview," Film Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Spring, 1978), pp. 2-11. University of California Press.
- [Ness, Sally Ann. "Understanding Cultural Performance: "Trobriand Cricket"" TDR 32.4 (1988): 135-47. JSTOR. Web.], additional text.
- "Appadurai, Arjun 1997. "Playing With Modernity: the Decolonization of Indian Cricket," pages 89–113 in his Modernity at Large. Oxford University Press.
- "Weiner, Annette B. 1977. "Review of 'Trobriand Cricket,'" American Anthropologist 79:506-507.
- ____________ 1978. "Epistemology and Ethnographic Reality: A Trobriand Island Case Study," American Anthropologist 80:752-757.