Spear and Sword: a Ceremonial Payment of Bridewealth
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by James Fox, Patsy Asch and Timothy Asch
color, 25 min, 1989
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This traditionally ethnographic sequence film focuses on the negotiations betwen representatives of two families during a payment of bridewealth. In the past the husband's group would carry a spear and a sword to hang in the wife's house. Now, a payment is made as a substitute for the spear and sword. The payment of bridewealth is a long and complex ceremony in which representatives from the husband and wife's family engage in a heated negotiation process. The bride and groom are completely excluded from the negotiations and never appear in the film.
The film begins with an exerpt from a traditional chant about the origin of bridewealth when a daughter of the Sun and Moon married the Lord of the Sea, the Hunter of the Ocean. A brief explanation over slides follows. We then see the bride's representastive's collecting the required money and animals while discussing problems that might arise in negotiations. In ritual silence, the men and women chosen to represent the groom walk three kilometers to the bride's family home.
The bulk of the film which follows centers around the transfer of money and animals. The film's strength lies in the raw conversation that occurs between the representatives. At times the conversation seems to follow prescribed forms and at times seems to be a free arena for participants to exress humor and to manipulate one another. Politics, ritual and personality intermingle. The men conduct the negotiations while the women. who must be present, observe ritual silnce or speak in whispers. Food is served to mark the end of the negotiations and palm gin is served. The groom's representatives eat first. The tensions of the day subside. The film ends when a renowned ritual chanter is asked to recount the history of the first payment of bridewealth.
The raw ethnographic material of this film is perfect for courses covering marriage traditions and rituals as well as the role of men and women in rural Eastern Indonesia.