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FIU - ANTH 3241 - Class Notes - Week 7

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FIU - ANTH 3241 - Class Notes - Week 7

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background image ANT MODULE 4 
Film Analysis: Guardians of the Flute 
The  ethnographic  film,  Guardians  of  the  Flute,  is  the  edited  accumulation  of  footage  and 
images  obtained  of  the  Sambian  people,  living  in  the  eastern  highlands  of  Papua-New 
Guinea,  as  collected  and  iterated  by  anthropologist  Gilbert  Herdt.  The  film,  as  well  as 
Herdt’s  written  ethnography,  focuses  specifically  on  the  Sambian  people’s  male  initiation 
rites, which involve the consumption of semen and the practice of fellatio. The film certainly 
will  call  many  a  Western  viewers  concept  of  and  confidence  in  cultural  relativism  into 
question, but in an analysis rooted in anthropological theory and method, the film was very 
effective. If ethnography strives to be objective, this one comes very close in the sense that 
the filmmakers did interview as many different members of the culture as they could. Also, 
they made the film without strict adherence to the “ethnographic present”, which seriously 
hinders  and  warps  the  impression  of  a  people  to  its  viewers.  Hearing  members  of  the 
Sambian community talk about how their world was changing as the old traditions go “out 
of style” is almost more telling of their cultural values than the traditional practices alone. 
   In Deborah Elliston’s (1995) Erotic Anthropology, which critically discusses in depth Herdt’s 
written  work,  she  talks  about  how  Herdt’s  use  of  language,  like  the  term 
“homosexual”,  “imputes a Western model of sexuality to these Melanesian practices, one 
that  relies  on  Western  ideas  about  gender,  erotics,  and  personhood  and  that  ultimately 
obscures the meanings that hold for these practices in Melanesia” (Elliston 849). The same 
critique  can  be  used  for  the  film  version  of  the  ethnography  of  the  Sambian  peoples, 
although  the  film  lacked  the  (as)  graphic  detailed  descriptions  as  the  text.  In  the  film,  the 
word  “homosexual”  does  come  up  a  lot,  but  the  visual  representation  of  the  Sambian 
people and their ability to talk about their cultural practices in many ways does counter the 
subjectivity of the filmmakers. 
The  Sambians  have  an  interesting  society  which  differs  greatly  from  that  of  the  western 
world.  However,  one  basic  concept  is  present  throughout  much  of  the  world.  That  is  that 
females  are  viewed  as  being  inferior.  All  cultures  have  their  own  way  of  expressing  its 
opinion of gender roles and status. In the Sambian culture, females are viewed as being a 
form of pollution. Sambian men only have sex with women in order to procreate. They do 
not believe in having sex with women for recreational purposes. It is believed that men will 
become  polluted  by  this,  perhaps  by  temptation.  The  Sambian  culture  is  very  much  so 
divided by gender. There are separate paths and residences for each gender. This can be 
seen in Gilbert Herdt’s article on the Sambia “There are two other types of dwellings. One is 
a  menstrual  hut  built  slightly  below  the  village,  wherein  birth  and  menstrual  events  occur 
and women’s ceremonies are held. The other is a men’s house, where are all males dwell 
after  initiation  (at  age  7-10)  until  marriage  (in  the  late  teens  to  early  twenties),  when  a 
separate residence is built. Military and secret male ritual activities occur in that clubhouse. 
The menstrual and men’s houses are taboo to the opposite sex.”(Herdt 1998: 
 direct quotes 

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School: Florida International University
Department: Evolutionary Anthropology
Course: Anthropology, Myth, Ritual and Mysticism
Professor: Jean Rahier
Term: Fall 2016
Tags:
Name: Guardian Of The Flute - Video Notes
Description: These notes include everything in the videos from Module 4
Uploaded: 09/19/2016
2 Pages 11 Views 8 Unlocks
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