FIRST CONTACT by Bob & Robin Anderson Connolly


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A fascinating account of the encounter between Stone Age men and Western adventures in the Highlands of New Guinea in the 1930's, based on recollections of both natives and explorers. Michael Leahy and his brothers pushed into the unmapped territory of the New Guinea Highlands in 1930 in search of gold--and though a mother lode eluded them, they did discover thousands of men who had never seen Westerners before. Leahy, a ruthless prospector, had little interest in understanding native society, and had no doubt about its inferiority to Western civilization. He was nonetheless aware enough of the importance of his encounter to document it with his Leica camera. Filmmakers Connolly and Anderson originally interviewed numerous New Guinea Highlanders about their memories of this first appearance of white men 50 years ago for their documentary First Contact (1983). They also got together the diaries, reports, photographs, and film footage of the Leahy brothers. What is unusual about their approach is that they focus on how the natives perceived the strangers. From Leahy's pictures we can see how the natives reacted to meeting their first white man--with shock, fear, and curiosity; from the interviews, we learn that they thought they were seeing their own dead ancestors. Connolly and Anderson, though extremely uncomfortable with Leahy's attitudes, do no slip into either sentimentalizing the natives or vilifying the prospectors. Instead they focus on the interaction of the two groups and their equally mistaken first impressions of each other. Leahy, no less than the Stone Age highlanders, seems to be the last representative of a doomed culture. An important historical moment is presented with great intelligence and sensitivity.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1987
Publisher: Viking