DER Documentary

Ongka's Big Moka

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From the Odyssey series
by Charlie Nairn
color, 59 min, 1980
In Kawelka with English subtitles

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Ongka is a "bigman," a leader of a Kwelka tribe in New Guinea where a man's authority and prestige are are derived in large part by his ability to organize a lavish "moka," or gift-giving. The moka is an elaborate system of gifts which forges alliances and maintains peace among the tribes.

In this particular moka, which Ongka had been planning for ten years, the gifts included 600 pigs, cattle, rare birds, a motorcycle and a truck. The gifts obligate the recipients to repat the debt with even more "generousity" so as to maintain their own prestige. The film closely chronicles this celebration, including the preparations, and reveals a fascinating portrait of Ongka himself.

Description from Science, Technology, & Human Values Vol. 5, No. 32 (Summer, 1980)

About the Odyssey series
In an attempt to cut the often esoteric ice of anthropology, PBS released in 1980 the first season of ODYSSEY, a newly-created series of anthropological documentaries, with a second season in 1981. The entire series was produced by Public Broadcasting Associates of Boston, with major funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Polaroid. Michael Ambrosino is the Executive Producer of the series.

Related Resources
Website of Andrew Strathern, consulting anthropologist for Ongka's Big Moka

other films in the Odyssey series:
The Ancient Mariners
The Chaco Legacy
Dadi's Family
Franz Boas
The Incas
Little Injustices
Margaret Mead: Taking Note
Maasai Women
Maya Lords of the Jungle
Myths and the Moundbuilders
N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman
On the Cowboy Trail
Other People's Garbage
Seeking the First Americans
The Three Worlds of Bali

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