More for ‘first contact’ junkies

While Papua New Guinea (PNG) is on the minds of many for the first time recently, first contact in the Papua New Guinea highlands is a perennial topic for anthropologists (in fact it’s my original area of specialty) and Connolly and Anderson’s trilogy of films about first contact in Hagen and its aftermath — First Contact, Joe Leahy’s Neighbors, and Black Harvest — have been shown to Intro Anthro courses innumberable times. Now my ASAO homies tell me that the ABC (That’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation, for all the yanks out there) has just released Bob Connolly’s memoir of making Black Harvest, entitled (duh) “Making Black Harvest”: I haven’t read it but I have no doubt that, like the rest of Connolly and Anderson’s work, it will do its topic justice.

ABC has tons of great stuff on PNG. If you are interested in learning more about the country’s history “Taim Bilong Masta”:, a long radio documentary, is now available (and it has a couple of episodes on first contact). If you are interested in reading more about the country, there is always my Amazon list of “good books about Papua New Guinea”:


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

9 thoughts on “More for ‘first contact’ junkies

  1. Cannibal Tours was always my favorite PNG film, but having watched Black Harvest innumerable times myself, and having tried to teach it a few times, I look forward to watching this. I’d love to know more about what you think of Black Harvest and how you teach it (if you do).

    It also seems that Connolly and Anderson have made some interesting more recent films about Australian neoliberalism that are worth seeing.

    And, speaking of O’Rourke, who made Cannibal Tours and collaborated as cameraman on First Contact, I’ve always been meaning to see The Good Woman of Bangkok which people seem to either hate or love, or just be confused by.

    Are there any more recent PNG films worth looking for? Either about PNG, or made there. Is there a PNG film industry to speak of?

  2. We wrote a review of Black Harvest for the American Anthropologist, Vol. 94, 1992, pp. 1026-27. (Unfortunately, we can’t find it on our computers and so cannot paste it here.) Whereas we very much liked the first two films in the series, First Contact and Joe Leahy’s Neighbours (and also reviewed the latter for the AA), we felt that this third film failed badly. Here’s the final paragraph from the review: “Thus, the most general problem with the film is that it provides insufficent historical and systemic context for interpreting the events. With its focus on Joe Leahy [the son of a PNGuinean woman and Mick Leahy, one of the first gold prospectors entering the Highlands], ‘Joe Leahy’s Neighbours’ worked brilliantly because he embodied the contradictions and possibilities of the early postcolonial era. With its continuing focus on Joe, ‘Black Harvest’ fails because Joe neither represents nor fully understands the range of his neighbors’ aspirations. Ganiga lives have become increasignly opaque for Joe …. such that his ([elite] class?)consciousness is no longer an adequate vehicle for understanding.” This being said, we can’t wait to read Connolly’s book.

  3. One more thing concerning other films about PNG. We recommend Cowboy and Maria in Town, a DER documentary by (and here we’re pasting):

    Les McLaren and Annie Stiven
    color, 59 min, 1991
    dvd / vhs
    sale $195, rental $50

    Attracted by the myths of town life, and the chance of work, people from villages all over Papua New Guinea have come to the towns. Cowboy and Maria in Town tells the story of two such migrants living in the settlements that surround the capital Port Moresby.

    Cowboy is a reformed ‘rascal’, unemployed, illiterate, and with a jail record. He invents an electric guitar out of scrap materials and plays his distinctive rock and roll on street corners, earning just enough for his family to get by.

    Maria lives an equally precarious existence. Seasonal gardening, and her husband’s small income as a night security guard, are their means of survival. Only her resilient humor keeps her going when intertribal conflicts, inflamed by frustration and alcohol, erupt in the settlement.

    Cowboy and Maria are vital players in the new urban Papua New Guinea. Their interwoven stories highlight the consequences of urban drift, where traditional and Western values meet. These intelligent and determined optimists are far from being Third World victims; they go about their daily lives with humor and imagination, rising to the enormous cultural changes that confront them.

  4. Thanks!

    Here is the review on AnthroSource.

    The lack of background you speak of was my problem in teaching it, and the main reason I stopped using it. It was especially difficult because I was teaching ethnographic film, not about PNG, so there wasn’t an opportunity to have students read a lot of background materials (a serious problem whenever one is teaching ethnographic film – but especially so in this film). However, the review might help if I decide to teach it again.

  5. Yeah, it’s much easier to fill in the context of these films for your students when you’ve had the chance to talk with Joe about them over beer.

    At some point maybe I’ll do a “PNG In film” roundup. Bruce Lee in New Guinea, anyone?

  6. Fred and Deborah should indeed read my book “Making Black Harvest” They will then discover how way off the mark their review was. Bob Connolly

  7. Having just returned from Papua, New Guinea, where I stayed at the Karawari Lodge in the Sepik River Basin, I am searching for a DVD of First Contact, so far without success. I have already ordered the book. Could Bob or someone give me a lead on acquiring a copy that could play on an American machine? I found my brief visit fascinating, and am eager to return and see the Highlands as well. Thank you for any assistance you might be able to give me. Elizabeth

  8. I have the 3 dvd set and love it. It took me a second to put Black Harvest in the context of the global coffee bean market shocks of the 90s. It /would/ be cool if you some of you guys who do have more context about the Ganigi or Joe himself did a brain dump and put up a web page somewhere on this topic as source material is expensive and hard to come by for outsiders like myself, and I’m really rather fascinated by the whole topic.

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