DER Documentary

Bridewealth For A Goddess


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by Chris Owen and The Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies
color, 72 min, 2000




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The film documents the last performance of the ritual for the fertility goddess Amb Kor, in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Shot over a period of approximately 15 years, the anthropologists and filmmakers have been participant-observers during a time of pivotal change for the clans of the Kavelka tribal group.

The film is narrated by the headman, Ru, who speaks directly to us about the clans recent problems, infant mortality, and decision to return to previously abandoned tribal territories. The arrival of the ancient female spirit Amb Kor comes to him in a dream and he is convinced that in order to regain their former strength and health the clans must perform this ritual for the Goddess.

A tremendous effort ensues and different styles of anthropological analysis, both Marxist and Capitalist, are brought to bear on the meaning and purpose of the cult activity. One clansmen tells us that the Lutheran church condemns the cult ritual as the work of the devil but that the Catholic missionaries are more supportive. In the end, participation in the ritual by anyone who has been baptized in the Christian church is forbidden. Meat distribution, clan alliances, and the symbolic bridewealth for the Goddess are observed.

Near the end of the film we see a distinctly older Ru watching the ritual on a monitor. We learn that the filming happened 14 years earlier and young men are no longer interested in carrying on the clan traditions. Ru watches himself lead the last ritual of Amb Kor at Kuk.


Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Dixneuvieme Bilan du Film Ethnographique, Paris, 2000
National Museum of Ethnology's "Ethnography & The Rise of Cinema," Japan, 2000
Mostra Internacional do Filme Thnografico, Brazil, 2000
Royal Anthropological Institute at the International Festival of Ethnographic Film, London, 2000
Award for Excellence, American Anthropological Association's Film & Video Festival, 2001
Gottingen International Ethnographic Film Festival, 2002
Religion Today, International Festival of Cinema & Religion, Italy, 2002

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