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January 1, 2023

Tribe Meets White Man for the First Time, 1993

Released in 1993, this charming documentary portrayed Papua New Guinean tribes members meeting a white man. The tribe, named the Toulambi, believes those who have died can sometimes come back to haunt the living world as white people.

In fact, this is a film by Belgian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Dutilleux. The white man you see in the video is Dutilleux. The Papua New Guinea natives are members of the Toulambi tribe. This fake “first encounter” between the natives and a white skinned visitor was filmed around 1993. Before then, these excellent “actors” had already met with at least three ethnologists: Pierre Lemonnier in 1985, Jadran Mimica in 1979 and Pascale Bonnemère in 1987.

Anthropologist Pierre Lemonnier who denounced this documentary as fraud in an article for the French newspaper Liberation, studied the Papuans of the district of Marawaka for over a decade and says that the supposedly “unknown tribe” lives less then four days away by foot from an administrative center with teachers, a landing strip, a radio, nurses and of course a preacher (it’s important for the natives to know that they’re going to hell). They also use the Vailala River to travel to the coast to exchange handmade tableware made out of tree back for modern tools.

In an article that Lemonnier gave to the French magazine Terrain published in 1999, he explained that a male nurse from the administrative center spread rumors about a new undiscovered tribe. That he send a Papua guide ahead of the camera crew to “coach” the tribe on how to act. They were also told to hide their metal tools, plastic goods and “regular clothes” (jeans and T-shirts).

Why did the nurse do it? Well the tribe lived in malaria stricken zone and the nurse got six months worth of quinine tablets and various other medicines for his troubles. Sadly, the lead actor of the “skit” told Lemonnier that he felt so much shame from having to pretend to be afraid of his own reflection, tasting matches and spiting out rice that it drove him to tears.


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