Joe Leahy’s Neighbours: Soot-blackened arrows
At a village gathering, the father of a wounded Ganiga man, shot by a Gaimelka man, has a stand-off with a Lutheran pastor who had been trying to calm things down. Taking no notice of the pastor, the Ganiga men prepare and practise for war with the Gaimelka. Summary by Pat Fiske.
Bob Connolly, in an interview on the DVD of Joe Leahy’s Neighbours, speaks about the highlander speechmaking being allegorical and full of metaphor. In this clip, the filmmakers did not have enough time in the subtitles to fully translate the father’s speech and keep the story flowing. One of the things not translated was the father saying, ‘You see, I stand before you with these soot-blackened arrows’. What he was saying was that he was a man of peace, that he didn’t use his weapons very often but he was coming now to do war. His weapons are blackened by soot because they are stored in the rafters of the hut and the smoke comes up from the cooking fire and blackens them.
Joe Leahy's Neighbours synopsis
Joe Leahy’s Neighbours is the sequel to First Contact (1983) and is the second documentary in The Highlands Trilogy. This well-constructed film traces the fortunes of Joe Leahy, one of the highlander sons of the gold prospector Michael Leahy. Joe was raised in the highlands, worked his way up on coffee plantations, learned from the white colonials and adapted to Western ways. He bought Ganiga land, established a coffee plantation and became wealthy while all around him are his Ganiga neighbours, who live a subsistence existence. Joe understands the highlander protocols and values of sharing wealth and resources but also feels free from tribal obligation. Joe Leahy’s Neighbours explores Joe’s troubled relationships with his employees, members of the Ganiga tribe and the many tribal factions. The film is about new ways versus old and the momentous struggle to adapt to changing circumstances. Joe Leahy’s Neighbours is shot in an observational style with narration, some interviews and excerpts from First Contact (1983).
Joe Leahy's Neighbours curator's notes
In 1985 Robin Anderson and Bob Connolly received the AFC Documentary Fellowship and this enabled them to go back to PNG to make another film which became the second film in the The Highlands Trilogy. The filmmakers felt that this could be an excellent opportunity to make a contemporary film about the Papua New Guinea highlands and explore what sort of society was forming in the wake of Western contact.
During the making of First Contact (1983), Joe Leahy – one of the sons of Michael Leahy – had acted as a guide and introduced Connolly and Anderson to highlanders who remembered the first Europeans (the three Leahy brothers) coming into the highlands in the 1930s. Joe Leahy wasn’t like any highlander they had met before as he was flamboyant, self-confident and very wealthy.
While Joe was driving them around, he talked about his life on the Kilima coffee plantation and his relationship with the Ganiga tribe who lived all around him and whose land he’d bought to establish the plantation. Joe had been trying to get the Ganiga people onside since he started the coffee plantation. Coffee growing was very lucrative and his 300-acre plantation was flourishing. Joe was bringing in about 1.3 million Australian dollars a year but the Ganiga people still lived a traditional life where there was very little cash coming in.
Connolly and Anderson set up in Mount Hagen in October 1985 thinking they would spend a few months filming around the plantation but ended up building a house on the edge of Joe’s plantation and living in the highlands for 18 months. The filmmakers tried to remain as neutral as they could (which would have been very difficult to do) as they followed the many strands and conflicts in the story.
Joe Leahy’s Neighbours captures the conflict between Joe’s modern business outlook and traditional tribal values of sharing wealth and resources and sets the scene for the third film in the series, Black Harvest (1992).
Joe Leahy’s Neighbours won many awards, including the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Documentary in 1989; the Australian Film Critics Circle prize for Best Documentary in 1989; Festival Cinéma du Réel in Paris, the Grand Prix; Society for Visual Anthropology Award of Excellence; Royal Anthropological Institute, Basil Wright Prize for Best Documentary; Earthwatch Award; and the Festival d’Aurillac, Grand Prix.
Joe Leahy’s Neighbours screened in many film festivals around the world before it was broadcast in Australia on the ABC in 1989 and then in many countries including the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan.
Notes by Pat Fiske
The clip shows a village gathering of some of the Ganiga people in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Highlands. The father of a wounded man who had been shot by a Gaimelka man explains publicly why and how he will avenge his son if his son dies, despite his Catholic and Lutheran beliefs. The Lutheran pastor stands silently while the man speaks. The Ganiga men then prepare and practise for war using spears, shields, bows and arrows. The clip is without commentary. Subtitles are used.
Educational value points
- This clip reflects the tension in PNG Highland society between Christian values and traditional values, as the Ganiga father explains his decision to reject the pastor’s peacekeeping should his son die, and to do ‘Satan’s work’ by seeking to avenge his son in the traditional way. The contrasting images of some of the Ganiga men in traditional dress practising their fighting skills and the Lutheran pastor in Western clothes holding a book reinforces the contrast in values.
- The potential conflict in this clip, in which the Ganiga clan is responding to the wounding of one of them, is an example of traditional ‘payback’ in PNG Highland society. Payback means that justice is not simply related to the individual who committed the offence but to the whole group, and so retribution may involve any member of the clan. Payback may be achieved through fighting, destruction of property and compensation agreements.
- As shown in this clip warfare is a major part of a man’s role in traditional Highland society. Men engage in warfare to settle land disputes and to settle compensation claims arising from unresolved disputes, offences against people and crimes such as damage to property. Compensation arrangements after a war would involve resources from one clan passing to another so that balance between competing clans could be re-established and maintained.
- In this clip Ganiga warriors are shown practising with spears and shields to improve their footwork and posture. There is seriousness in the advice not to ‘stick your bum out or you’ll get a spear in it’. When the clip was made in 1988 it had been ten years since the last war. Arrows and spears needed shaping and sharpening and younger men needed schooling. The wounded Ganiga man was in hospital, and the preparations for fighting were being made in case he died.
- This clip highlights the use of traditional weapons and fighting methods by the Ganiga. They are shown practising using spears to attack, shields to defend, and using shouting and body decoration to impress and frighten. In traditional fighting there were not usually many deaths but after the 1980s when this footage was filmed guns became more common in Highland disputes and casualties more serious.
- The filmmakers did not have enough time to fully translate the speech, and so not subtitled here is the father’s reference to his ‘soot-blackened arrows’. He meant that he was a peaceful man who had not used his weapons much, and so his arrows had been stored in the rafters of his hut, and were blackened from soot and smoke from the cooking fires below. This use of symbolic language and imagery is an example of the oratorical skills prized by Highland men.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia