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The Issues of Anthropology in Papua New Guinea in the Film Anthropology on Trial

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Throughout history, people never stopped the practice of anthropology. However, many obstacles and difficulties have appeared in front of them. The film “Anthropology on Trial” explained the history of anthropology and how those people overcome the obstacles and eventually become anthropologists that are well known today.

The film explains anthropology in Papua New Guinea: a country north of Australia, and how the people their practice anthropology. Therefore, many interesting points can be drawn according to the film. The first point is the real definition of anthropology. In the film, anthropology is defined as “the study of people and what makes it unique is that field workers actually live with the people in order to record their experiences in their own environment.” Margaret Mead, who grew up in Papua New Guinea, was one of the most famous anthropologists to ever live. However, in Papua New Guinea, she did not receive love only, but criticism also. A member of Papua New Guinea’s parliament said “I didn’t know what anthropology is because when she came to the village, no one knew about anthropology. Until years later, when I was at university studying, and that’s where we for the first time, reading her books.” This shows how people in Papua New Guinea did not like what Dr. Mead wrote about anthropology until they actually study about anthropology.

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The second point is the evolution of writing a specific type of people or people in one place, to everyone around the world. At first, Dr. Mead wrote about Pere. John Killipek, the closest friend of Margaret Mead, said “Here in Pere, there was no one to write a book, we might have lost our story. Margaret Mead wrote the story of Pere; no other places, just here, that’s all.” According to Killipek, Dr. Mead at first was only trying to let people remember the story of Pere. However, it was World War II that changed Dr. Mead. She wrote in her book “only during World War II did we begin to learn that anyone in the world might be listening.” From there, the evolution started. Anthropologists did not just write or study about specific people. Instead, it was everyone.

The last point is the issue between outsiders and insiders. The film explains how to maintain the balance between insiders and outsiders was harsh. For example, Dr. Laura Nader said “it’s not the insiders couldn’t of made the same points as French men who came to study us. You have to stand slantly outside, to be able to see the things he saw, that were great, and that were problematic of our society.” This shows how Dr. Nader thinks that the outsiders see what the insiders do not see from a different point of view. In addition, she also thinks that the outsiders should come and study the insider’s culture and society. On the other hand, Wory, a student in University of California, thinks that “we still are the ones who know more about our own culture.” According to Wory, insiders are the one that knows about themselves the best, even if an outsider can come in and look at the culture and society of an insider’s country. Ongka’s story is also very interesting.


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