Världens Mest Användbara Trad [The Most Useful Trees in the World] (1936) – dir. Paul Fejos *

9 mins., b&w, sound – voice-over commentary and titles in Swedish.

Production : Svensk Filmindustri and Nordisk Film.

This film was made in the Seychelles as a side trip from the expedition that Paul Fejos made to Madagascar in 1935. The subject of the film is the many uses to which the coconut palm may be put. Although it is beautifully shot and offers a number of idyllic scenes, there is very little on the social and cultural significance of the coconut tree and as such, it is a film of limited ethnographicness.

Text : Andersen (2017)

Våra fäders gravar [The Graves of Our Ancestors] (1936) – dir. Paul Fejos *

10:29 mins., b&w, sound – voice-over commentary and titles in Swedish.

Production : Svensk Filmindustri and Nordisk

Source : ?

A film about a remote burial ground in southern Madagascar, final resting place for, amongst others, an Antandroy chief. The carved anthropomorphic images are very arresting and the commentary interesting, but not a single living person appears in the film.

The camerawork is also decidedly inferior to that of other films that Paul Fejos made in Madagascar. Is this perhaps a film that he shot himself rather than rely on Rudolf Frederiksen,  the professional cameraman who was with him?

Text : Andersen (2017)


Jungle Dance {Djungeldansen} (1936) – dir. Paul Fejos *

10:19 mins., b&w, sound – Swedish titles and voice over.

Production : Svensk Filmindustri and  Nordisk

Source : ?

One of several films made by Paul Fejos in Madagascar.

This film shows a series of remarkable dances performed by the Bara people of southern Madagascar, contrasting these with the “miserable spectacle” of acculturated Bara and Antanosy dancing a French quadrille wearing pith helmets and fedoras, and European-style clothes.

Text : Andersen (2017)

Beauty Salon in the Jungle {Skönhetssalongen i djungeln} (1936) – dir. Paul Fejos *

9:40 mins., b&w, sound – Swedish narration and titles.

Production : Svensk Filmindustri and Nordisk Film

Source : ?

This is one of several short films that Paul Fejos made in Madagascar.

The opening titles identify this film as being part of a series called Svarta horisonter (literally , black horizons) but the voice-over also distinguishes the film from the kind of film made in the past in Africa, that is “exotic travelogues with clear racist connotations”. However, this is pronounced over a short sequence in which a Swedish hunter is confronted by a rhinoceros, which he shoots dead, while his African porters climb a nearby tree.

The main body of film shows the daughter of a Bara chief having her hair styled. The voice-over adopts an ironic tone, but this is more sexist than racist in that when the chief’s daughter’s hair is being twisted into shape, it suggests that like their white “sisters”, African women are prepared to suffer to achieve a beautiful hair-style. The final part of the film shows what it claims is the current hair fashion of Anastosy men.

Text : Andersen (2017)

Danses soudanaises [Dances of French Soudan] (early 1920s) – dir. J. Lejards *

The Hare mask – ‘Danses soudanaises’ – dir. J. Lejards

2:06 mins (Baby-Pathé version), b&w, silent – French titles and intertitles

Source : Stephendelroser playlist

A reportage film that shows a short playlet involving masked dancers as performed by the Dogon of the Bandiagara Escarpment in what is now Mali, but was then still the French Soudan (hence the title of the film).

Although the interpretation of the meaning of the playlet is dubious, the film offers some interesting shots of Dogon masks, including the Hare mask, above (erroneously identified in the film as being of a ‘little monkey’).

The film-maker, J. Lejards was a Pathé cameraman who made various films in West Africa, and also later in Cambodia and Andorra. This film was clearly shot on the same occasion as Les Danses Habéswhich shows the masked dancing performed at a dama, the ceremony to bring a period of mourning to an end. In the background in Danses soudanaises, one can see the kanaga masks, in the shape of a double-armed cross, that are a defining feature of the dama ceremony (see the image above).

The Stephendelroser website dates this film to 1915, but  it seems very unlikely that a Pathé cameraman such as Lejards would have been making films on ethnographic topics in West Africa at the height of the First World War.

Rather more likely is that it would have been shot in the early 1920s, at the same time as Lejards was shooting a number of other films in West Africa, including La Ville de Djenné (1921). Djenné is also in what then the French Soudan, and is only about 200 kms by road from the Bandiagara Escarpment where this film was shot. Even with the transport available at the time, it is easy to imagine Lejards moving from one location to the other.




Mbuti Film Study: nkumbi initiation ceremony, footage (1971-72) – dir. Joseph A. Towles *

85 mins., col., silent.

Source : NAFC, catalogue no. AF-91.13.5.

[Notes based on NAFC catalogue entry]

Footage shot in and around the Ndaka (Bantu) village of Epulu,
 in the Ituri Forest in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire and the Belgian Congo). This material appears to have been shot primarily under the direction of Joseph Allen Towles, but Colin Turnbull may also have been involved, and in the copy held by the NAFC, Turnbull provides a commentary on the material.

It is generally well shot but it is not clear by whom: certainly it was not by Towles as he appears in shot. Towles and Turnbull were partners in life as well as anthropological work and when Towles died in 1988 of complications arising from AIDS, Turnbull donated not only their joint work, but also all his own work to the Avery Research Center, where it forms the “Joseph A. Towles Collection

This footage shows how both subsistence and ritual practices
 bring the villagers and the local Mbuti ‘pygmies’ into contact. Sequences
 cover a range of topics, including house types, the harvesting of rice, the local market, and digging and kneading clay for use in 
house construction. They also cover the first nkumbi male initiation ceremony to take place in the Ituri forest since the Simba Revolt of 1964. They show the nkumbi camp, the training of initiates, masked dancers and an initiate’s head being shaved. Also included is a flag-raising ceremony at a nearby government post in commemoration of independence from Belgium in 1960.

Boy having his head shaved during nkumbi initiation ceremony, near Epulu, a Bantu village in the Ituri forest, northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (1970-71)

In his commentary, Turnbull analyses the various stages of the nkumbi ceremony but surmises that some of the material must be lost because only the latter part of the ceremony is shown. He also comments that the painting of the bodies of the initiates with a blue colour was an innovation that had been adopted around the time of the Simba Revolt. It was associated at that time with blue plastic, but also with violence and death.

See also Turnbull’s earlier edited film on the nkumbi ceremony, made in collaboration with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation cameraman, his cousin Francis S. Chapman in 1954.

Texts : Turnbull (1962), Turnbull (1965), Grinker (2000)


Mbuti Film Study: subsistence activities and the elima female initiation ceremony (1954) footage – Francis S. Chapman and Colin Turnbull *

108 mins., col., sound

Source : NAFC, catalogue number AF-91.13.3

[Notes based on NAFC catalogue]

Footage shot among the Mbuti ‘pygmies’ of the Ituri Forest, still then part of the Belgian Congo
 (later to become Zaïre, and more recently the Democratic Republic of Congo). It focuses strongly on the relations between Ndaka (Bantu) villagers and the nomadic, forest-dwelling Mbuti. Subsistence activities shown 
include: an Mbuti forest camp, the construction of domed leaf houses, 
barkcloth manufacture, hunting forest deer with nets, the collection 
of honey. There is also a sequence of boys playing on a tree swing.

Ritual sequences show: a  camp on the banks of the Epulu River for
 the month-long seclusion of pubescent Mbuti girls prior to their initiation during the elima ceremony, the elima ceremony itself, and an Ndaka village wedding ceremony.
 The bride is shown being anointed with palm oil (a sign of wealth) and carried on a palanquin into 
the village, where she is regaled by dancers.

This footage was shot by a Canadian Broadcast Corporation cameraman, Francis S. Chapman, based on the field research of anthropologist Colin Turnbull. The HSFA also hold a shorter set of black and white rushes (AF 91.13.6, 35 mins.) accompanied by a recording of Turnbull commenting on them. These rushes show life in a forest camp, and nkumbi male initiation ceremonies at Ngawana village of Musafu and the Bira village of Eboyo.

Chapman and Turnbull also produced an edited colour film about the nkumbi initiation ceremony (Mbuti Film Study, AF-91.13.4)

They also collaborated on making audio recordings of Mbuti music, released in 1992 in the Smithsonian Folkways series. For details, see here

Texts : Turnbull (1962), Turnbull (1965), Grinker (2000)

© 2018 Paul Henley