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Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism (1976)


Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism is an anthropological documentary about the unique innovations that the Trobriand Islanders have made to cricket. Trobriand Cricket uses observational coverage of a demonstration cricket match, historical footage and stills, and narration to tell a very engaging, entertaining and thought-provoking story.

Curator’s notes

When cricket was introduced to Papua New Guinea, it largely remained the standard international version except for the Trobriand Islands, east of PNG. Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism is a fascinating look at one of the ways the Trobriand Islanders have coped with imposed social change. They have taken the very proper game of cricket and transformed it into an outlet for mock warfare and tribal rivalry, inter-village competition, wild and erotic dancing, chanting and pure entertainment. A Methodist missionary from Britain, William Gillmore, first exposed them to cricket in 1903. He hoped it would reduce tribal fighting and rivalry and encourage a new morality. The islanders have creatively adapted the sport to the needs of their society in a way that reflects the effects of colonisation by British and American troops during the Second World War.

In his early twenties, filmmaker Gary Kildea became very interested in Papua New Guinea. His father had been there during the Second World War as an electrician and told the family many stories and showed them countless photographs. PNG was a United Nations mandated territory that was administered by Australia from 1919 until 1975 when they gained their independence. In the early 1970s Kildea got a job in PNG at the Department of Information Film Unit as a director-cinematographer and made films for the administration. Later he started making ethnographic films. Kildea made two films in PNG before Trobriand CricketBugla Yunggu (1972), about the Chimbu pig festival, and Concerning the Lives of the People (aka Bilong Living Biling Ol, 1973) which was his first cinema vérité film (see Taking Pictures, 1996, clip one). Anthropologist Jerry Leach, who had been working in the Trobriand Islands, contacted Kildea about working on a film with him, which became Trobriand Cricket. The film introduced Kildea to anthropology, which he found a ‘wonderful philosophy’.

Trobriand Cricket follows a ‘demonstration’ game played between two teams (‘Scarlet Red’ and ‘The Airplane’) and shows all the basic rules. It is contrasted by historical footage showing the British way of playing and various ideas appropriated from colonisation. The cricket the Trobriand Islanders play still uses a bat and a ball (although they are carved out of wood and each bat is different); players score runs, field and make outs. The number of players, however, depends on how many turn up – there may be 40, 50 or even 60 on each side. The only rule here is that the sides have to have around the same number of players. The teams, which come from different villages around the islands, bring their own umpires to affirm the outs and perform war magic against the opposing team.

The teams each have a repertoire of chants and dances which they perform in formation as they march on and off the field and throughout the game as they celebrate every ‘out’. The dances have special meanings and may show the prowess of a team or mock the opposing team. Some dances have erotic themes or display provocative sexual innuendo intended for women spectators. The game has been altered so that the host team is always the winner. For the players, it’s not the scoring so much as the fine and entertaining display they put on that matters.

Their cricket has evolved to take on warlike characteristics. The players are adorned in colourful warrior dress and body paint. Their bent-arm bowling looks very much like spear throwing. Historical footage (such as soldiers marching in formation, airplanes flying, and preparation of tapioca) is intercut with the game to show the inspiration for the imaginative modifications the Trobriand Islanders have made. The film ends with an exchange of food between the two teams and the host team putting on a feast. Trobriand Cricket provides a remarkable example of how a society can make something imposed uniquely their own. Trobriand cricket continues to evolve and adapt to contemporary circumstances.

Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism was broadcast on Australian television and the BBC in 1976. It screened at more than a dozen major film festivals worldwide, winning the George Sadoul Award at the Paris Film Festival, and the American Film and Video Festival Blue Ribbon Award. It was also an honoree at the Margaret Mead Film Festival, the American Anthropological Association, the Royal Anthropological Institute (Great Britain) and the Society for Visual Anthropology. In 2006 filmmaker Gary Kildea won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Festival Jury of the American Anthropological Association.