2000 Since the Company Came . Brooklyn, New York: Icarus Films.
Notes: VHS color; 52 minutes
Reviewed 3 Feb 2003 by:
Keith Prufer <email@example.com>
Department of Anthropology, Auburn University, Alabama, USA
Medium: Film/Video Subject
Haporai Tibe, Solomon Islands are losing their land to a Malaysian logging Company. Disputes over land custody and royalities divide the tribe; and the film raises important questions about the ongoing legacy of colonial attitudes towards land and people.
ABSTRACT: Local perspectives on ecology, global economics, and processes of ethnocide merge in subtle and not so subtle ways in Russell Hawkins' Since The Company Came, a film set in a traditional fishing and agrarian village in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific. The Solomon Islands consists of numerous culturally, linguistically and biologically diverse communities that have been of anthropological interest for years. In this film the Haporai people of Rendova Island confront both their past and future by negotiating how they will utilize their limited natural resources.
This film revolves around recent decisions by village leaders to allow a Malaysian company to log their tribal lands. This venture falls on the heels of several failed collective economic enterprises attempted in recent years, and the deal creates discord within the community. Attempts at figuring out how to balance economic needs and desires against traditional life-paths results in pitting communal conflict resolution strategies against more western promises of material wealth and increasing pressures of modernity.
The Hapoarai trace their descent matrilineally, and the film portrays opinions related to the logging being drawn along gender lines. Some of the men view the chance to earn money positively and want to participate in the modern economy; many of the women are more concerned with preserving local ecosystems and cultural pathways. While decisions related to land ownership are determined by women, men are responsible for negotiating monetary issues. The film centers on issues raised at a village meeting, attended only by men, where there is heated discussion over the logging enterprise. The main proponent of the logging is the chairman of the logging project, Timothy Zama. He is well versed in aggressive business tactics, applies pressure to the village men to renew the logging venture, and repeatedly browbeats his opponents in a manner that is portrayed as clearly outside of traditional meeting decorum.
The village chief, Mark Lamberi, finds himself the target of Chairman Zama when he questions the tribe's finances. While others look on, the chief is berated in one breath while in another the villagers are told that logging will solve their fiscal problems. The chief responds to the attack in a wounded fashion, deferring to the will of the people and imploring the value of traditional tolerance and patience in dispute resolution. The villagers are prodded by Zama with the threat that they will lose the opportunity to gain logging royalties if they do not agree to continue contracts with a Malaysian logging company. They are told that if they are ignorant of modern economics they should 'keep their mouths shut', as big time economic decision-making is the realm of those versed in western financial enterprises.
The other side of the dispute encapsulates the views of villagers Mary Bea and Katy Soapi who are desperate to prevent further logging before their lands are destroyed. While as women they are the traditional owners and guardians of land, they are clearly marginalized in the decision making process. Despite this impediment they make it clear that the logging process can be slowed or stopped if women do not agree to relinquish their rights to land tenure, and they seem determined to maintain a unified opposition. They are well aware that traditional people are affected detrimentally in non-sustainable resource exploitation enterprises. They also realize that traditional cultural systems of kinship and social organization can fall victim to hasty entrances into modern global systems.
The logging issue does not polarize all the Haporai men, though for the most part they are shown as less conflicted and more passive. Two men who work for the Malaysian company were interviewed. Both recognize the environmental and social hazards of logging and see that they are recipients of only token payments for their communal resources. Even so, they continue to work for the company opportunistically, though both uncomfortably reflect on how their ambivalence might affect the future constructions of their communities.
As the film progresses it becomes clear that the logging interests intend to impact the entire Haporai universe. With Rendova's forests being rapidly depleted the loggers shift their focus to Tetepare, a nearby-uninhabited island considered to be a sacred ancestral refuge. Tetepare's mythic past makes it a fundamental part of the construction of Haporai historical consciousness, and both women and men worry about the impact of logging and potential tourism development on this sacred landscape. They recognize that if they relinquish control and acquiesce to initial outside exploitation of the Island they face certain marginalization and poverty in the development that will follow. It becomes clear that since Tetepare is underutilized as an economic resource, it is ripe for development, regardless of its historical value as a place of religious importance and the fact that it is currently being exploited in a sustainable manner.
Hawkins' cinematography is at times journalistic, which in some ways lends a sense of realism and sensitivity to the film. There is no narration. Each shot is either visual description or interview. Interspersing the documentary footage are archival clips from the 1920's, originally produced as propaganda legitimizing Britain's colonial enterprises in the South Pacific. The intent of these temporal shifts is to illustrate the ongoing legacy of colonialism. We come to see that the manner of exploitation, which plays on vulnerabilities within traditional societies to the pressures and promises of westernization, has not changed much in the last century. The major difference is that the justification of a "white man's burden" has now been replaced with threats of being left behind in the march towards economic modernity. The effect is still social disjunction and refocusing of values away from sensible and sustainable relationships with the land to market economies.
This film has significant pedagogical value in anthropological, ecological, and economic instruction. I showed this film to over 200 students in an introductory anthropology class and then polled them for their impressions. Students uniformly recognized in the film issues of kinship, gender, colonialism, and the social impacts of environmental degradation by multinational corporations. Here, I think, the lack of narration was a clear asset. Guided only by visual imagery and indigenous voices, students saw beyond western representations of global processes and were faced with actual human impacts. What they saw was that actual benefits of logging to Haporai society are marginal compared to the ecological and cultural damage. Several students noted that culturally sensitive and sustainable enterprises would more adequately meet the economic needs of the Haporai while at the same time conserving values deemed critical to cultural survival.
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