Sunday, March 18, 2007

South Seas Cinema: Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism

Welcome to the third installment of South Seas Cinema, a series of posts about films set in – or pertaining to – Polynesia and the South Pacific.

Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism (1979)

Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism documents how the British sport of cricket evolved to suit the cultural needs of Trobriand Islanders. In many ways, Trobriand Cricket is your run-of-the-mill academic documentary: monotone narrative, shots more to document than for artistry. Still, the glimpse into colorful Trobriand society makes this documentary well worth seeking out.

The Trobriand Islands lie off the coast of Papua New Guinea. With colonization of the islands in the 1900s came the introduction of cricket. Islanders soon adopted it as their sport of choice, replacing traditional warfare with this considerably more benign game.

Most fascinating is the way the people of the Trobriands adapted the sport to their own way of life. As opposed to standard twelve player teams, Trobriand teams may have as many eligible men from a particular community as possible. Another unique feature to cricket in these islands is the incorporation of magic. Perhaps most different than any sport anywhere else in the world, the home team always wins in Trobriand games.

One amusing similarity with western sports is the inclusion of a mascot on the team. In the film, one team’s mascot is a man dressed up to be a western tourist jumping about and pretending to take photographs at every important moment in the game.

Trobriand Cricket features not a lick of drama, and the cinematography is far from breath-taking. However, the subject matter is captivating. If you took Anthropology 101 at university and really enjoyed it, this film is for you. Of course, finding a copy might not be easy.
Ronin Films carries copies on VHS, but they ain’t cheap. If in London, I recommend visiting the British Museum Centre for Anthropology, which has a copy that is free to view at the centre. Otherwise, check with the anthropology department at your local university or with your local public library.

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