Cannibals On Film


Today’s blog post is on the unusual but fascinating subject of cannibals. This 1959 clip follows Assistant District Officer Alan Jeffries as he arrests native tribesmen of New Guinea on charges of cannibalism, following a murder enquiry. Although the initial interest in this video stems from the core subject of cannibalism, the footage very rapidly becomes a piece of social commentary on social misunderstanding, colonialism, definitions of criminality and problems with cultural cohesion. The British police officer comes across as a bit of a Wicker Man esque Edward Woodward character, as he bounds about the jungle proclaiming charges according to his own country’s legislation.

Of course it is understandable why he would be angry, having discovered that his colleague was murdered and then eaten by the tribe. However, the British Pathe narrator is wincingly empiric when he announces –  “During their detention they’ll be taught the ways of white men, so that when they return home they’ll be able to reclaim others from savagery”.

The whole exercise comes across as ever so slightly farcical, as two naked New Guineans are handcuffed outside their shelter built from sticks. The newly taken prisoners, who naturally don’t speak English, then seem to assist the policemen in directing the party on their way across some river rapids.

The British Pathe archive has some incredible footage of previously unvisited tribes, including this incredibly early 1929 safety print of Dyak Pygmies – or this incredible 1931 material filmed in the depths of a Brazilian jungle.

Author: British Pathé

British Pathé holds the world's finest newsreel collection. We also represent the Reuters historical collection. All 220K films are viewable on our website.

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