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The Kawelka: Ongka's Big Moka

The Kawelka: Ongka’s Big Moka. © DWS contact RAI

Series Disappearing World Series
Director Charlie Nairn
Anthropologist Andrew Strathern
Country/Production UK
Release 1974
Length 52 mins
Format Colour / DVD or VHS / PAL / All region
Location Papua New Guinea / Pacific
Ethnic Group Kawelka

Order No RAI-200.23
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Ongka is a charismatic big-man of the Kawelka tribe who live scattered in the Western highlands, north of Mount Hagen, in Papua New Guinea.  The film focuses on the motivations and efforts involved in organising a big ceremonial gift-exchange or moka planned to take place sometime in 1974.  Ongka has spent nearly five years preparing for this ceremonial exchange, using all his big-man skills of oratory and persuasion in order to try to assemble what he hopes will be a huge gift of 600 pigs, some cows, some cassowaries, a motorcycle, a truck and £5,500 in cash.  As an example of the big-man familiar from written texts, Ongka is memorable, and the film manages to convey through this main character the importance of pigs, of exchange and of prestige in the life of these Highlanders. The film-crew never in fact managed to film the big moka, as the conspiratorial and complex manoeuvres involved in setting the date thwarted their plans.  But we are shown Ongka replacing tee-shirt and shorts with his ceremonial feathers and setting off to a little moka where he collects pigs he `invested' with his wife's father.  The interview with Ongka's wife raises the issue of the sexual division of labour and the importance of the wife's labour in pig-rearing and moka preparation, as well as the role of women in the establishment of a big-man.  As a teaching aid to complement the written material (listed below) this film is highly effective.

J. Leach, 1975.  Review of the film.  RAIN, 7, pp.7–8.  See reply by A. Strathern in RAIN, 8, 1975, pp.16–17.

A. Strathern,  1971.  The Rope of Moka.  Cambridge University Press.

A. Strathern, 1979.  Ongka:  A Self Account by a New Guinea Big-Man.  Duckworth, London.

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