Edited film produced by the Smithsonian Institution documents anthropologist Paul Taylor's expedition into previously unexplored and undocumented rainforest on the island of New Guinea. Featured are the Korowai, a people who live above ground in tree house clusters in the midst of dense rainforest. Footage depicts the process of building a tree house, including site selection, erection, and roof and floor formation; forehead bands worn by women; geometric scars burned into girls' skin for aesthetic purposes; paddling upriver in dugout canoes; and trekking through rainforest. Animal footage includes shots of grasshoppers, bats, boa constrictors, beetles, arthropods and insects. Second part of the expedition documents the journey upriver beyond the pacification land into an area of tribal warfare where cannibalism is said to be practiced. Taylor explores the myth of cannibalism and theorizes it functioned not only as a means of intertribal warfare, but as a highly effective criminal justice system as well. The structural contrast between the placid domesticity of treehouse life and the darker side of cannibalism is a theme explored throughout. Various rituals examined are preparing the sago flour from the sago palm tree, post funeral practices where distant relatives come to claim material posessions of the deceased to compensate for their emotional losses, and moving in process upon completion of a new treehouse.
Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, MD