Although the events around which this film was planned were the final mortuary rites for Les Angabarraparra, the subject of the film became interaction. Interaction between the anthropologist Les Hiatt and the Anbarra people of northern Australia, between the Anbarra and other Aboriginal groups in the area, and finally the relations between various Anbarra and the ever-absent Harry. The film-makers are effective in using this interaction to create a continuity, giving the viewer insights into Anbarra life as everyone grows tense waiting for Harry. Harry is the dead man's maternal uncle and a leader in the community of Maningrida. He is vital for the mortuary ritual because his appearance authorizes the use of motifs on the coffin and bones. Frank Gurrmanamana, instigator and narrator for the film and classificatory brother of the dead man, needs important people such as Harry to give the rites validity and a proper respect for the dead man. The men build a shade structure and prepare a hollow log coffin for the necessary painting. They wait three weeks, but still no Harry. Frank begins the painting without Harry. Then, wonder of wonders, Harry arrives. They make a sand sculpture but Harry has to leave again because his son has a court case. People from other groups arrive for the ceremony, but no Harry. Les Hiatt is an integral part of the film. Both he and Frank cope together in various ways with the frustration of the delays. Finally Frank suggests that Les go into town and get Harry. After some negotiation, Les agrees, Harry returns with him-the magistrate had never shown up for the court case-and the ceremony begins. Another group arrives to inspect the accuracy of the coffin painting. The bones are covered with ochre and smashed, then put in the hollow log. Part of what makes this film intriguing is the triangular involvement of the audience, the film-makers and the filmed. It is as much a film about film making as it is about a ceremony, but it works. Les and Frank negotiate to have the ceremony performed during the day so they can film and we see Frank telling various people who are participating in the ceremony about the film and its purpose.
Language and subtitles
Informant-researcher relationshipIndigenous peoples / First Nations peoplesDeathReflexivity