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Film Catalog » Subject Areas » Arts & Humanities » Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism

Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism

Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism - Image Produced by Gary Kildea,Jerry Leach.
54 min. Color. 1976.
Available as: VHS and DVD
Captioned: No
Catalog #: 0133
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One of the world's best-known and most honored ethnographic films, this classic documentary depicts the many modifications made by Trobriand Islanders, in Papua New Guinea, to the traditional British game of cricket. The film demonstrates how the islanders have transformed the game into an outlet for tribal rivalry, mock warfare, community interchange, sexual innuendo, and an afternoon of riotous fun.

The Trobriand Islands are a small group of coral islands off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea. The 15,000 inhabitants have one of the most famous traditional cultures in the world, largely resulting from the research and publications of Bronislaw Malinowski, one of the founders of modern anthropology.

"Trobriand Cricket" is a fascinating and utterly compelling ethnographic document about cultural creativity among the Trobriand Islanders. The film shows how the Trobrianders have taken the very controlled game of British cricket, first introduced to them some 70 years earlier by Methodist missionaries, and changed it into an outlet for mock warfare and intervillage competition, political reputation-building among leaders, eroticized dancing and chanting, and wild entertainment. The game is a major symbolic statement of the Trobrianders' feelings and experiences under British colonialism.

Trobriand cricket players still bat, bowl, score runs, field, and make outs. The sides, however, are no longer eleven players plus a reserve but are made up from all the men of the competing villages. Teams average 60 players or more, the main rule being that the sides must be roughly equal. Each team brings its own "umpire" who overtly declares outs and keeps his own side under control while secretly performing war magic against the opposition. The main purpose is not to win by scoring but to put on a fine display.

A central feature of the film is the chanting and dancing that are a major part of the repertoire of each cricket team. Each side has a varied set of chants and dances created and choreographed around its name and symbolic theme. Intercut film sequences of predatory seabirds, marching soldiers, airplanes, and the preparation of tapioca show the concrete imagery that inspired some of the teams' creations.

The performances occur as the teams march on and off the field and as they celebrate each out with a dance between the wickets in the middle of the ground. The symbolism of these events is heavily laden with double meanings, sexually provocative innuendo aimed at the female spectators, and ritualized insults for the opposing side.

The bulk of the film follows an actual game, played between two teams called "The Scarlet Reds" and "The Airplane." This game illustrates all the basic rules. The film concludes with an exchange of yams and betelnut between the two sides, climaxing the politics underlying the event.

"Trobriand Cricket" is one of the most important and most celebrated ethnographic documentaries ever made. It is a timeless classic that is sure to inspire amazement, thought, and discussion in a wide variety of courses in anthropology and any other discipline that studies human culture. It was produced by Jerry W. Leach and Gary Kildea, and directed by Jerry W. Leach.


"One of the most powerful and interesting ethnographic films." -- Journal of American Folklore

"One of the most unusual anthropological films ever made." -- Margaret Mead Film Festival Program Guide

"Quite apart from the obvious nostalgic interest for any social anthropologist, the film represents something of a breakthrough in methodology. It is not so much an ethnographic image of a famous corner of the Disappearing World viewed by sympathetic European outsiders, as a piece of propaganda by indigenous Trobrianders in favour of their national game, which, with good reason, they consider to be far superior to the English 'rubbish' from which it is derived." -- Sir Edmund Leach, President, Royal Anthropological Institute, London

"The film began with the sort of stereotyped image that one is used to after years of television. In this case, it was of so-called 'stone-age men' leaping about in disorganized chaos. Slowly, clearly, the film took that stereotype apart. Eventually, every element in that initial image had been explained. By doing this, it illuminated the lives of the people it filmed. It revealed their wit and humor. It allowed them to say what they thought about us, the whites. It gave them the dignity of subtitles. But it also did more. By using film of marching Western soldiers, English-style cricket matches and the like, it exposed our own hidden ceremonials. Instead of clichés about basic man, Trobriand Cricket said something vivid and pertinent about homo ludens." -- Prof. Brian Winston, National Film School of Great Britain


  • George Sadoul Award, Paris Film Festival
  • Margaret Mead Film Festival honoree
  • American Film and Video Festival Blue Ribbon Award
  • American Anthropological Assn. honoree
  • Society for Visual Anthropology honoree
  • Royal Anthropological Institute (Great Britain) honoree
  • Selected for screening at more than a dozen major film festivals worldwide



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