Thursday, June 23, 2011

Human contacts

This is an amazing and beautiful video of initial contacts, back in 1976, between Papua New Guinea natives and a white-skinned visitor.

We dream about meeting up with Martians. Meanwhile, some of our close cousins have met up with Martians who were simply… us!

CORRECTION: Sorry to disappoint my readers! This charming video is in fact a fake, which has nothing to do with Papua New Guinea. The white man you see in the video is a Belgian moviemaker, Jean-Pierre Dutilleux. The "Papua New Guinea natives" were in fact members of the Toulambi tribe of indigenous Amazonian "Indians" (what a silly word for people in South America). This fake "first encounter" between the natives and a white-skinned visitor was filmed around 1999. Before then, these excellent actors had played similar fake roles for at least three ethnologists: Jadran Mimica (in 1979), Pierre Lemonnier (in 1985) and Pascale Bonnemère (in 1987). Maybe, with the help of an imaginative film director such as Baz Luhrmann, this document might inspire acting careers among my Aboriginal cousins down in Australia. The only sad thing about this otherwise joyous document is that the Toulambis lived in a malaria-stricken zone of the Amazon jungle, and that Jean-Pierre Dutilleux might have been acting in a more humane fashion if he had paid his actors (most of whom have since died) with massive supplies of quinine tablets.

SECOND CORRECTION [Saturday, June 25, 2011] : I must apologize for an error in my interpretation of the French-language source of this story. The Toulambi tribe does in fact inhabit Papua New Guinea (not the Amazon, as I wrongly stated). But this error has no bearing on the fact that anthropologists have been shocked by this video, in which the Toulambis appear to be acting. I have heard, too, that they were in fact supplied with certain pharmaceutical products in payment for their acting. I should add that most of the individuals participating directly in the controversy stirred up in France by this video are anthropologists, with in-depth knowledge of Papua New Guinea, its peoples and its problems. As for me, I am not an anthropologist and I have never visited Papua New Guinea. So, I do not intend to pursue the question of this controversial video any further.


  1. What are your sources for the updated info about the fake video? I'd love to be able to share them with others. Thanks!

  2. Like much of the offbeat stuff on my blog, this story came from a French-language source. In this case, it was a pair of articles in the web publication called Rue89. In the first article, the well-known journalist Pascal Riché presented the video enthusiastically, naively believing it to be an authentic anthropological document. The following day, he published a second article revealing that numerous readers with anthropological knowledge had contacted him to let him that it was a fake video. Apparently these images were first presented, a few years ago, on a major French TV channel. At that time, shocked specialists of Papua New Guinea were quick to point out that there was no way in the world that the indigenous actors could be from Papua New Guinea. And it was rapidly ascertained that they were in fact Amazonian natives. Here in the dense intellectual climate of France, it would be highly unlikely for a hoaxer to get away with something like this for very long.

  3. Have you watched the original and unedited footage of this documentary? If not, please have a look, it is on youtube. And in that documentary it clearly shows that they are giving them medicine but they dont look like they are acting. If they are acting they must be real professional actors ever.

    Full documentary is here

  4. As I indicated in my previous comment, my blog post on the question of the controversial video of Jean-Pierre Dutilleux was based upon a secondary source: an article by the French journalist Pascal Riché in the website of Rue89. Apparently I drew a false conclusion from my initial reading of Riché, leading me to suggest that the natives were Amazonian. I have just appended an explicit correction to my blog post concerning this error. The Toulambi natives in the Dutilleux video were truly from Papua New Guinea.

    A comment attached to the latest version of Riché's article indicates the existence of two French-language documents that would appear to be required reading for observers wishing to become acquainted with the background of this affair: a short article dated 1996, and a 17-page PDF paper dated 1999. The latter paper was published in a scholarly journal on ethnology named Terrain. Incidentally, the first article indicates that the video was aired on the French TV channel TF1 on January 6, 1996. So, the video was produced a few years earlier than what I suggested earlier on.

    When I decided to mention this subject in my Antipodes blog, I had no idea that the intriguing Dutilleux video would blow up into such a widely-viewed but controversial affair. It remains however an affair for experts in ethnology and anthropology.

  5. Jamie: The only way of throwing light upon this question (acting or not acting?) would be to examine closely the arguments of anthropologists in the two above-mentioned French-language documents. For the moment, I haven't attempted to do this...

  6. A French-language article by Sylvestre Huet, dated January 13, 1996, appeared in Libération after the airing of a version of the Dutilleux "first encounter " video by the French TV channel TF1 on January 6, 1996. While I do not intend to provide a detailed translation of this article, I would like to summarize its main points.

    Huet's article refers above all to a critical text, concerning the video, signed conjointly by ten anthropologists attached to prestigious French organizations such as the CNRS [National Center for Scientific Research]. One of these critics, Pierre Lemonnier, was a French specialist in the Papua New Guinea domain. He exclaimed: "I'm outraged!" Lemonnier described the Dutilleux production as "untruthful, racist, revolting". Apparently Lemonnier recognized immediately the place where the fake "first encounter" had been filmed. The stream is known as New Year Creek, and the members of the "unknown tribe" probably walked for about a day, from their settlement, to reach the appointed well-lit meeting-place… which had been conveniently cleared for the filming, with a few logs thrown into the creek so that the natives could emerge confidently from the jungle (most unusual behavior) and move naively towards the camera crew. Lemonnier adds: "At that spot, they were about a four-day walk from an administrative center with a school teacher, an airstrip, radio, nurse and Seventh-Day Adventist preachers. Nearby, the navigable river Vailala enables the Papuans to reach the coast, where they exchange bark capes for tools."

    In the video, a native burns his fingers in the flame of a match… as if he were discovering fire! A native picks up a spoon by the wrong end… in spite of the fact that they manufacture wooden spoons! He is astonished by the taste of salt… in spite of the fact that the natives in this region are experts in extracting salt from certain plants. They are astonished by the moviemaker's metal tools… in spite of the fact that all the natives of Papua New Guinea had got around to owning such tools, including those (in a remote corner of the land) who still persisted in manufacturing stone axes.

    The article by Sylvestre Huet indicates that the moviemaker Dutilleux did in fact reward the natives for their acting services by giving them medical supplies planned to suffice for six months.

  7. Thanks for shedding some light on the truth behind this video. It was obvious to me that it was a fake within the first few minutes. It was too contrived to create a "touching moment" and reeked of BS.

    I read a ton of comments saying how this video made them cry and it's the most touching thing they've ever seen. That's pretty pathetic that some staged video creates the most touching moment someone has ever experienced.

    Also, this video, even if it were real and not staged, is exploitative. We're looking at them like they're animals and they're meeting the all-superior white man for the first time like we've come to give them heaven. The premise is bullshit and the video is bullshit as well.

  8. In an earlier comment, I spoke of a relevant 17-page PDF document in French. The title of this paper is La chasse à l'authentique (In pursuit of the real thing), and the author is Pierre Lemonnier. He's the anthropologist who had harsh words to say after his first viewing of the Dutilleux "first encounter" video back in 1996.

    I've just had an opportunity of reading Lemonnier's interesting and easy-to-understand paper, which reveals that he has indeed worked a lot with the kind of indigenous folk who appear in the Dutilleux video. I don't intend to go into details here, but let's say that Lemonnier surely knows what he's talking about in the case of natives of Papua New Guinea known as the Ankave.

    I was particularly alarmed by an unexpected element that I came upon in the notes at the end of this paper. I learn that Pierre Lemonnier was once condemned for slander [diffamation], involving an unidentified plaintiff, and in circumstances of which I am not yet aware [Tribunal de grande instance de Paris, première chambre, première section, judgment rendered on May 12, 1997]. Since Lemonnier has alluded to this dispute in the middle of his scholarly paper about the people of Papua New Guinea, I have the impression that the case may have had something to do with alleged revelations in the French media, in the mid-1990s, about the discovery of primitive natives who had never before set eyes upon white people.

    Let me simply conclude by explaining that, in France, when I learn that a distinguished scientific researcher such as Lemonnier has been dragged into court and condemned for slander, I prefer to get up in silence (as it were) and leave, because I get the impression that I've set foot inadvertently in a minefield, and it's dangerous to hang around. So, having said that, I formally withdraw any of my previous suggestions that there might have been anything of a "fake" nature in the video excerpts I've seen concerning this marvelous first encounter between savage natives and a white-skinned visitor. And that is truly all I have to say on this intriguing affair.

  9. This is what Liberation (15 May 1997) had to say in their news story:

    Le tribunal a reconnu le bien-fondé de la démarche du chercheur [Lemonnier] et le sérieux de son propos, mais a estimé qu'il avait manqué de prudence dans les termes employés.

    So it seems that the court ruling was not based on *what* Lemonnier said but rather on *how* he said it.

    Intriguing affair indeed. Maybe neither "fake" nor "first".

  10. That's an interesting finding... which makes me all the more curious to know what that 1997 trial was all about. In the space of a few years, a group of Papua New Guinea natives had encountered white men for the first time ever, and then found itself at the heart of subtle legal wrangling in Paris! Civilization certainly moves at a fabulous speed!

  11. people liking people: It seems as though someone is projecting quite a bit...

    "We're looking at them like they're animals and they're meeting the all-superior white man for the first time like we've come to give them heaven."

    Please don't lump the rest of us in with how you chose to view this video. Although it was clear to me from the outset that this was a staged event, I never once thought of the natives as "animals" or of the white men as "all-superior" and I never felt that the video was aiming to give that impression either.

    Not everything needs to be taken as an opportunity to demonize white people.

  12. Jake, I'm white myself so trust me I'm not out to demonize white people. My comment is speaking of the people behind this trash, not a reflection of white people. When I say "We're looking at them like" I'm not referring to you specifically Jake, I'm referring to how the video is put together and how the producer is subtly conveying that message. It's how the producers want us to look at it, which obviously is fabricated and not reality.

  13. People: I see what your point is, but I simply disagree. I don't think that the makers of this film were intending to portray the natives as animals or the white men as superior, subtly or otherwise.

    Also, I had no doubt that you were white.

  14. I´m Brazilian and "indian" people from Amazon jungle are not black;they are browned with smooth hair; Excuse me, but you are wrong in your comment

  15. Great website, looks very clean and organized. And very interesting to read Your the article!

  16. It's not just you! housands and thousands

  17. There's no way in hell that those people are indigenous Americans. They may be actors, and it may be staged (it is likely that it is), but I think that the "exposure story" of this video is an urban legend. Especially as the people in the video actually does look distinctly Papuan!
    How do you think that Native Americans suddenly look Papuan? Trust me, the people in this video look Papuan, and nothing else. They ARE definitely Papuan. To believe that those people are Native Americans is really far off.
    You've been had bigtime. The video is probably a fake contact event, but it was made in New Guinea, no doubt whatsoever about this.
    In my disbelief I had to look it up, and sure enough, just read this link:

  18. Having watched the video and read all the comments, I think the next question is: are there any REAL first encounter films around?

    It would be interesting to see the real thing, even though it would probably be a lot less "well-lit" etc.

  19. no amazon people.. amazon people is red, and the tribe in video is black.

  20. I'm sorry but your corrections are wrong, the toulambis are not americans, I'm brazilian and I now, they aren't Indians... They live in Papua New Guiné, but the right correct is: This is not the first time they saw the white human.. please, stop to say silly things...

  21. Bom o filme pode ate ser falso, mas os nativos que aparecem no vídeo não possuem características morfológicas das tribos amazônicas não .