The Mursi


1974 / 52 minutes

Directed by
Leslie Woodhead
Country of production
United Kingdom
Disappearing World Series
In Search of Cool Ground: The Mursi Trilogy

The Mursi, an unadministered tribe living in remote south-west Ethiopia, are a cattle-keeping and agricultural group without chiefs or leaders. This film, made under extremely difficult conditions, focuses on the way decisions are made in this society at a time of crisis. The crisis occurs when a shortage of grazing land, during a drought in 1974, led to warfare with their neighbours, the Bodi. The greater part of the film is concerned with a debate over the Bodi peace proposals. The Mursi reach their political decisions in formal debate at which point each warrior who rises to speak is heard patiently until all the important issues have been raised and a measure of agreement has emerged. The Mursi is a serious and important film, both ethnographically and as a contribution to the understanding of political systems.

W. James and T.B. Selassie, 1976. Review of the film. RAIN, 16, pp. 6–7.
Woodhead, Leslie 1988. A Box Full of Spirits - Adventures of a film-maker in Africa. Heinemann, London.

What made this trilogy special was that, unlike most television reportage, it had a temporal dimension. That is to say, it offered not a brutal, intrusive and uncomprehending snapshot, but a sympathetic, well-informed and thoughtful history of ten difficult years in the life of a tribe. Its insight derived from an anthropologist, David Turton, who has been studying the Mursi for years and who was able to provide the absolutely essential explanations of the mysterious events filmed by the Granada crew. This is the kind of illumination which is often provided by books or by personal experience, but almost never by television. (John Naughton)

W. Shack, 1987. Review of the trilogy. American Anthropologist, Vol. 89, pp. 780–81.

Language and subtitles
English with English Subtitles
North and Northeast Africa
War / Conflict / Reconciliation Social Organisation