Ethnographic films have been able to give a more complex and multi-sensory access into the lives of people than words alone, or audio recordings and still photography can convey. Film materials, however, can often be enriched further by providing supplementary verbal materials to go with them. One of the most famous ethnographic films of all time, from Papua New Guinea (or elsewhere), is the film ‘Ongka’s Big Moka’, directed by Charlie Nairn with Andrew Strathern as consulting anthropologist, shot in 1973 and produced as a part of the documentary series Disappearing World by Granada television. The film records the struggles of the pre-eminent leader Ongka to bring off a complex exchange event in which the Kawelka clans would together make a large prestation of pigs and other goods to their allies and neighbors among the Tipuka tribe as a part of an extended peace-making history following inter-group warfare in pre-colonial times.
Much later, in 1993, Charlie Nairn returned to Papua New Guinea to make another film among the Kawelka, again with Andrew Strathern as consulting anthropologist. Ongka figured in this film as in the 1974 one, along with a younger generation of Kawelka leaders, grappling with issues arising from the death of a young man in a tavern brawl, in which some Kawelka men were implicated. The film shows the negotiations, disagreements, and collective efforts by leaders to raise the wealth goods, especially state money (the Kina currency introduced in 1975), needed to pay a large compensation payment for the death in question.
The film, ‘A Death to Pay For’, falls into line with a long series of writings on the topic of compensation in Papua New Guinea, most recently culminating in our co-authored book ‘Peace-making and the Imagination: Papua New Guinea Perspectives’ by Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart, published by University of Queensland Press in association with Penguin Australia, 2011.