Mentawai Shaman – Jungle Knowledge Keeper

by Glenn Reeves

Once upon a time the only film footage on Mentawai was in the form of Reimar Shefold’s contribution to the 1974 Disappearing World series, The Sakuddei.

The film, as with the series overall, was based on the same audience-grabbing scheme that works like a charm to this day. “Ancient cultures are being obliterated by the rapacious modern world. Check ’em out before it’s too late”. Cut to credits via an image of the grim reaper.

Of course 40 years on things have changed a bit as in individuals might have disappeared, but the culture is still there. But as a selling point it’s a winner. If you want the audience, you have to press the right buttons. Some things never change.

The main point here is that Schefold’s piece is also classic example of that older style of film-making. The narrator takes the shot and tells the story. He speaks completely on behalf of the film’s subjects. Well maybe they get to say a few token words on their behalf here and there.

Recently produced videos films made have not been by professional anthropologists. But they often do a better job. You get to hear much more about the local people from those people themselves.

Mentawai Shaman – Jungle Knowledge Keeper by Argentinian film production company DruidaFilm is one of them.

It opens with Masin Dere  talking about his origins. No narrative voice over. Great stuff. However…

as he finishes, a Javanese Gamelan fades in just after he tells us he’s Mentawaian. No doubt we’re in Indonesia anyway.

Although there is no “disappearing culture” hysterics, we do get the very closely related hook: modern life sucks and life in the jungle is the only place to be. Masin Dere’s wife sells it well. No need to struggle for a living in the city.

A little later on we get treated to some Dangdut, hip modern music, a product of urbanized Islam no less. The singer celebrates a journey from Jakarta to Surabaya to see her grandmother- one heaving metropolis exchanged for another. Meanwhile the girls continue fishing the river.

Putting these several contradictory moments aside, it’s a nice glimpse of Mentawai family life. Well, in a small corner of Siberut anyway. The Jungle looks to be in good hands.

It’s a well filmed tale. Check it out.

Mentawai – Jungle Knowledge Keepers from DruidaFilm on Vimeo.

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