A film directed by Thomas Balmès (Director, Author, Director of Photography, Producer)
« Christ comes to the Papuans » is a full length documentary made from « Waiting for Jesus » and the « Gospel according to the Papuans ».
Year of Production : 2001
Length : 83′
Production : TBC Productions, Canal +, Les Films d’Ici, Millenium Films
Broadcasters : BBC, RTSR, YLE , TV2, ARTE, TVE Spain
Award : Best documentary TSR, Visions du réel, Nyon
Sheffield International documentary festival, New York Margareth Meade film festival, New York, Nashville Film Festival, IDFA
The Huli tribe is one of the largest among 950 tribes of Papua New Guinea. They live in one of the most remote parts of the island and saw the first Whites, Methodist missionaries, arrive in 1955.
Since then, these missionaries have had to compete with other hundred churches to convert the most Papuans as possible. If women could see baptism as a way of enjoying a new recognition, the same was not true for men. For them, baptism meant giving up polygamy, tribal warfare and most of heir traditions.
We followed the last weeks preceding the baptism of old Huli warriors, led by their chief Ghini, who had just destroyed the ancestorís house to build a church in its place to prepare their baptism.
As many other missionaries all over the country, Salomon, the Pastor, had just convinced theses last resistant to convert to Christianity by announcing them the return of the Christ, the Antichrist and the Apocalypse for the arrival of the new Millennium. One year later, while they were still waiting for the return of Jesus, life had changed in the village of Mundugya.
After the arrival of the missionaries who had considerably reduced their power, the traditional leaders had to face the arrival of governmental elections which had seen a woman elected as the new council of the community.
Salomon, by committing an adultery with that new council had just been sacked by Ghini who was now trying to use this story to regain his lost leadership.
“Does your god have any canned meat, canned fish or airplanes?” a Huli tribal elder asks a
tribesman who is refusing to be baptized. The conversion of a Papua New Guinea tribe to
Christianity is inspired less by spiritual commitment than by the desire for the goods white
Christians enjoy. An added incentive is the missionaries’ claim that Jesus is coming back in the
year 2000 to take the converted to heaven. The lush jungles of Papua New Guinea and the
tribesmen’s feathered headdresses and painted faces are visually striking, but the film’s most
vivid aspect is the ambivalence of its central character, the tribe’s chief and oldest member.
He is converting because the Papuan gods “didn’t bring us anything new,” and he oversees
the tribe’s preparations for a Christmas day baptism with a mixture of humor and resignation.
This deceptively simple, sometimes funny film nevertheless raises troubling questions about
the missionaries’ conversion methods and the way governments use them to control tribal
populations. In one revealing scene, a megaphone-armed official interrupts a Huli celebration
to announce that they will be arrested if they do not obey the Ten Commandments. The
Gospel According to the Papuans may seem a bit off, but it’s exactly what the missionaries
have taught them. » —Pam Troy