The ritual process of single cultural institution has probably never been filmed and produced in more epic proportions than in Ian Dunlop's outstanding film Towards Baruya Manhood. W.E. Mitchell

Total running time for nine films 7 hours and 45 minutes Colour 1972
Film-maker: Ian Dunlop
Anthropologist: Maurice Godelier

This series is the result of a remarkable project accomplished in 1969 by Maurice Godelier, the Baruya, and Ian Dunlop of the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit. On the condition that the series never be shown in Papua New Guinea, the Baruya allowed a film crew to record an entire set of male initiation rituals. The edited result is a 7 hour film that gives viewers with the stamina to sit through the entire series at once, the closest possible approximation of the reality of the ritual available outside the New Guinea Highlands.

The Baruya live in the eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea and the male initiation that is the subject of these films was apparently held every two years. This initiation is in four stages, the first stage beginning when a boy is about nine and the final stage when he is about twenty.

In the films initiates of each of the four stages are referred to by Baruya terms:

YIVUPMBWAYA (first stage initiates)

When they are about nine years old, uninitiated boys are taken from their mothers to become Yivupmbwaya. Their noses are pierced and their flat womens skirts are cut short in front and removed behind. They must remain shrouded in a full bark cape.

KAWETNYA (second stage initiates)

When they are about twelve years old, Yivupmbwaya become Kawetnya. They wear a long cassowary quill nose peg, a man's many-layered skirt in front, a narrow dutnuya bark cape behind and other insignia of approaching manhood.

CHUWANYA (third stage initiates)

When they are about sixteen years old Kawetnya become Chuwanya. They receive a black feather and other insignia and wear the hornbill and pig-tusk headdress during the initiation. They are the new warriors.

KALAVE (fourth stage initiates)

When they are about twenty years old, Chuwanya become Kalave. They receive the coveted white feather of a full warrior.

Initiation ceremonies for the Kawetnya, Chuwanya and Kalave are held concurrently, usually over two years. Individual initiates usually move up a stage every alternate initiation, that is about every four years. So, for example, after the ceremonies there will be two groups of Chuwanya, one newly initiated and one of two years' standing.

The ceremony to make uninitiated boys into Yivupmbwaya occurs at irregular intervals and normally on its own. However, in 1969 there were several boys who were old enough to be Kawetnya, but who had not yet become Yivupmbwaya, probably because they had been away at a mission school for several years. During the ceremonies these boys were made Yivupmbwaya and then immediately pushed through to the next stage to become Kawetnya. One other boy was pushed through two stages to become a Chuwanya.

The films make an excellent teaching aid for anthropology classes. If possible, the series of films should be shown in sequence, but each film also stands alone.


This film provides an introduction to the Baruya village and daily life. Several aspects of the society are introduced: the role of the shamans; the cultivation of the gardens; the importance of the pigs; the value of salt in trade; and the complexity of the kinship system. This section of the series describes both the historic changes that occurred after contact and the effect of more recent changes. Several points about the male initiation ceremony, which is a part of every man's development, are made which serve to introduce the rest of the series. Catalogue number (16mm): 6RA150 55 minutes £18.


The introduction continues with this second film, providing the viewer with more aspects of daily life to give a better understanding of the initiation ritual. This film also covers certain aspects of marriages; the use of irrigation; the hunting of cassowary (a large flightless bird); and more on the ritual use of pigs. Of particular interest is the implicit comparison between the Western medical team that comes to give influenza injections and the local curing ceremonies used to try to stop an epidemic. Catalogue number (16mm): 4RA151 44 minutes £9.


The ritual activities begin with this film during which the Baruya clear a site and bring materials for a ceremonial house (chimya). The preparation, displaying and erection of the poles used for the scaffolding of the ceremonial house takes several days and each aspect is performed by men at varying levels of the four stages of initiation. Again, the complexity of the society as a whole is revealed through explanation by the narrator as it is illustrated by visual example. Women play a part in the ceremony here by collecting roofing material: each bundle of roofing grass represents a boy to be initiated. Finally, fully initiated men build the walls of the ceremonial hut. They each plant a post that represents the foundation of the tribe, then each man binds his post to the others to become part of the whole. Catalogue number (16mm): 6RA152 56 minutes £18.


This film shows the men building the ceremonial house (chimya) and the rituals that must accompany this construction. The construction of the ceremonial house is completed in the next few days and the visitors who are coming for the initiation (including an enemy group) begin to arrive. Only certain men have the sacred knowledge to build the chimya.

Finally, the young boys are covered with clay. They were taken from their mothers two years ago, but still wear the clothes that signify that they are not yet men and are still between the male and female worlds. Then the boys see the playing of the sacred flutes. The women throw their bundles of thatch onto the chimya and in a moment of power shout in exuberance. Catalogue number (16mm): 5RA153 49 minutes £15.


In this film the elaborate ritual costumes are prepared and firewood brought for the ceremonial fire. More guests begin to arrive for the ritual. Some of the decorations are bark head-dresses and many layers of grass skirts. Other decorations include beautiful feathers that are carefully unwrapped and prepared for the boys. During the second half of the film, the issue of female pollution and power in relation to the ceremonial house is raised. At the end of the film, the ceremonial house is complete. Catalogue number (16mm): 5RA154 46 minutes £15.


The action of this sequence is at night with ceremonial dancing both outside and inside the ceremonial house. This sequence is particularly thrilling. The second and third stage initiates endure an almost total ban on eating and drinking until later when they receive sacred food. The dancing continues through the dawn. In this film, the feeling and power of the initiation comes through strongly and breaks through the distance created by the series's use of a narrative style. Beginning with outside dancing that continues inside the ceremonial house, the action of this sequence is intense. A scene in this film was re-enacted for the film crew, a point that is made clear in the film. This kind of care and accuracy is a consistent aspect of films made by Ian Dunlop. Catalogue number (16mm): 5RA155 47 minutes £15.


This sequence covers more of the ceremonies, of initiates dancing, listening to lectures, and learning the knowledge they need for adulthood. The beginning of this film consists of over-exposed stills (apparently the film footage was not available) which makes it, in a cinematic sense, less exciting than the other films of the series. For the anthropologist who wishes to see the entire ceremony, however, these still shots make this possible. The boys undergo more ceremonial ordeals (such as being rubbed with nettles) and rest afterwards in exhaustion. Catalogue number (16mm): 6RA156 61 minutes £21.


This sequence shows a purification ceremony, the dismantling of the head-dresses, a concluding feast, and an eloquent speech for the initiates. A sacred betelnut ceremony is conducted and the lecture, which begins as an address on warfare and hospitality, in the end is directed towards the anthropologist, Maurice Godelier. Two feasts of pig and possum are given, but the initiates must still be purified by being beaten with stinging nettles. Catalogue number (16mm): 6RA157 57 minutes £18.


This film records preparations for the final feast and the feast itself. The sacred circles in the ceremonial house are secretly removed and then the house itself is dismantled. Soon new grass begins to grow on the site and the ceremony is completely finished. Catalogue number (16mm): 5RA158 50 minutes £15.

S. Bell (ed.), 1987. Papua New Guinea People in Change: A Study Guide for Teachers. Film Australia, Lindfield, New South Wales. [Relates to an integrated teaching unit for children aged 11 and 13 years. Much of the unit is focussed on detailed study of video excerpts from Towards Baruya Manhood.]

I. Dunlop, 1987. `Notes on the making of Towards Baruya Manhood' in S.Bell (ed.) Papua New Guinea People in Change [see above], pp 71-76.

M. Godelier, 1969. `Land Tenure Among the Baruya of New Guinea'. Journal of the Papua New Guinea Society, Vol.3, pp 17-23.

M. Godelier 1973. Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology. (Chapter 5, `"Salt Money" and the Circulation of Commodities among the Baruya of New Guinea', pp 127-51 and Chapter 9, `The Visible and the Invisible among the Baruya of New Guinea', pp 196-203).

M. Godelier 1979. `Stone Tools and Steel Tools Among the Baruya of New Guinea: Some Ethnographic and Quantitative Data', Social Science Information, Vol.18, pp 663-678.

M. Godelier 1982. `Social Hierarchies Among the Baruya of New Guinea.' In A.J. Strathern (ed.) Inequality in New Guinea Highland Societies. Cambridge University Press.

M. Godelier, 1986. The Making of Great Men: Male Domination and Power Among the New Guinea Baruya. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. [Main source]

M. Godelier, 1989. `Betrayal: The Case of the New Guinea Baruya'. Oceania Vol.59, No.3, pp 165-80.

G.H. Herdt (ed.), 1982. Rituals of Manhood: Male Initiation in Papua New Guinea. University of California Press, Berkeley.

W.E. Mitchell, 1975. Review of the film. American Anthropologist, Vol. 77, pp. 707-709.

R. Nichols and G. Sellar, 1973 (October). `Towards Baruya Manhood: Ian Dunlop's Eight-hour Film Record of a New Guinea Lifestyle' [with an interview with Ian Dunlop about the films and how they were made.] Lumière (Australian Film Media Monthly], No.28, pp 8-14. [A letter from Ian Dunlop making certain corrections is published in Lumière, December 1973, p2.]

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