|Man with a movie camera. Vanuatu, 1974.|
Photograph by Kalmun Muller. HSFA, SI.
|Cameraman Ragpa Dorjee recording sync|
sound film for the National Anthropological
Film Center, c. 1980. HSFA, SI.
A large amount of our language-related material was recorded in the 1960's and '70's, a prolific period for ethnographic and research film. Many of the cultures and lifeways documented during that time have seen dramatic changes since then, including language loss. Research film created by the National Anthropological Film Center (NAFC), precursor to the HSFA, in Micronesia, Vanuatu, India, Nepal, Brazil, and the Cook Islands is an invaluable record of language, ritual, knowledge of the land and its resources, and daily life. Other lengthy film records (of the Ju/'hoansi of Namibia, Yanomamo of Brazil, Jie of Uganda, and Kodi of Indonesia, to name just a few) provide materials of enduring value to both scholars and the communities that have been documented.
Even silent film can be a tool for studying or reviving language. HSFA has numerous annotations for film footage. Some annotations were recorded by the filmmaker(s), offering rich contextual information for what is seen on screen. Other annotations have been done by the very people who were filmed, their descendants, or other members of their communities. In these annotations, information the filmmakers could never have known surfaces, as people and places are identified, local names for wildlife and environmental features are given, and new layers of knowledge are added to the documentary record.
Here are a few of my favorites from our language-related collections:
A clip from the John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection documenting storytelling, from 1955. Can you tell who is telling the story, and who is listening?
Annotated clip of ice fishing from Bering Sea Eskimos (1968). Even in this short segment, the annotation provides a wealth of information about the environment and wildlife of this area of Alaska, even identifying the month in which the footage was probably shot.
Audio recording, "Letawai tells a story", from Scott Williams' Micronesian Film Project, 1975. This recording was made on Ifalik or Woleai atoll in the Western Caroline Islands. It is likely an example of the Woleai language, listed in UNESCO's Atlas of Languages in Danger as "severely endangered". We don't have a translation available, so I don't know what Letawai's story is about. But I love to listen to it all the same.
Follow this link to see more online examples of materials relating to endangered languages and indigenous knowledge held at the HSFA. Also, our online catalog records are now open to public tagging! If there are things or places you can identify in our online clips that are not noted in the catalog record, you, too, can add to the recorded knowledge about these materials.
Karma Foley, Human Studies Film Archives