Australian Screen

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Black Harvest (1992)

play Human suffering or death; Violence – low
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clip Warfare and its consequences education content clip 2

Original classification rating: M. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

In a wide shot, many highlanders are chanting and running through the grass with spears. Joe sits at home looking distraught. The Ganiga return to the village and attend to a wounded man. They can’t take him to the hospital because doctors are not allowed to treat injuries caused by tribal warfare (unless they pay $100 which is impossible for most Ganiga).

Curator’s notes

This is very dramatic footage of the highlanders’ warfare. The Ganiga joined their allied tribe to fight their common enemies. The filmmakers are in there filming with them up close as arrows fly through the air and the men attack. As time went on, the fighting spread and became one of the worst tribal wars in post-independence PNG history. For the first time, modern military weapons were in use.

Footage later in the film of the fighting is more distant because of the danger perceived by the filmmakers. There were times when Connolly would leave the four-wheel drive on the road facing away from the turmoil with the engine running and the doors open, so he and Robin Anderson could make a quick escape when they needed to. When only traditional weapons were used there were far fewer casualties and the tribal leaders could sit down and negotiate compensation and an end to the conflict, but this all changed.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

The clip shows fighting between two groups in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the treatment of wounds arising from the conflict. Large numbers of warriors swarm over the mountainside, chanting and shouting. Fighting with bows and arrows and spears ensues, contrasted with an image of an anxious Joe Leahy sitting on his verandah. The last part of the clip shows the men returning after battle and the treatment of two wounded men. An arrowhead is partly removed from the forehead of one of the men. There is no commentary. Subtitles are used.

Educational value points

  • Firsthand footage of warfare and the resulting casualties provides confronting images of what war means for the participants. Men are engaged in close hand-to-hand fighting in which the bowmen protect the warriors with spears and enable them to attack. Men with clearly painful and serious wounds are not treated in hospital due to a police strategy to stop tribal warfare by having hospitals charge 100 kina to treat war wounds, a prohibitive amount for PNG Highlanders with little access to cash.
  • Traditional medical treatment is shown in graphic detail, with focus on the methods used to remove arrowheads and cope with pain. One man tries to remove an arrowhead from another man’s head by gripping the end with his teeth and pulling. The point remains inside. A traditional ‘fight doctor’ sharpens bamboo knives with an axe to probe for a broken arrowhead in a man’s leg. The man is held down and given wood to bite on. Many men treated in the ways depicted later develop fatal infections.
  • Returning after the battle the Ganiga leaders carry guns rather than the traditional bows, arrows and spears otherwise shown in this clip. When only traditional weapons were used there were far fewer casualties as the tribal leaders would call a halt and sit down and negotiate. This particular conflict escalated to become one of the worst tribal wars in post-independence Papua New Guinea. It lasted years and caused many casualties.
  • The documentation of warfare and the graphic depictions of the outcomes of the violence are made possible by the presence of the filmmakers – Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson – in the midst of the action. The noise and jerkiness of the camerawork indicates the volatile situation. The view through long grasses suggests the filmmakers’ attempt to stay out of trouble, but the camera is clearly very close to some of the running men, and Connolly and Anderson were in danger.
  • The image of a lone and anxious Joe Leahy on his verandah, apart from the conflict, indicates his difficult position in the area where he lives and works – a major focus of the film. The conflict erupted when the Ganiga responded to a call by allies from a neighbouring tribe. It meant that the men were not available to harvest the first full coffee crop they shared with Leahy. Moreover, the conflict occurred at the same time as a disastrous fall in world coffee prices,
  • Traditional PNG Highland warfare as shown in this clip arises as a way of solving problems when negotiations have broken down. The clan raises support from its allies and goes into battle until leaders call a halt and begin to negotiate again. Warfare is used to resolve or maintain conflicts that arise between clans and alliances of clans. Disputes over land or failure to settle compensation claims after offences such as theft or murder commonly lead to warfare.

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