Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism (Digitally Remastered Version)
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.
Note: Our DVD copies are now made directly from a newly restored (2016) and color-corrected digital master painstakingly created under the supervision of director Jerry Leach from the original 16mm film footage. Customers who previously purchased DVD (or VHS) copies are strongly encouraged to contact us for special discounted upgrade pricing on new DVD copies.