Kalman "Kal" Antal Muller is a photographer and author who spent several years during the late 1960s and early 1970s living with and documenting kastom (in Bislama; tradition or custom, in English) communities in Vanuatu, an island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The Kal Muller films and photographs of Vanuatu (New Hebrides) consists largely of unedited reels of 16mm film and 35mm photographic slides that Muller shot on multiple trips to the Banks, Malekula, Pentecost, and Tanna islands from 1968-1974. Supplementary textual materials include correspondence, production records, and published articles related to Muller's time in Vanuatu.
Scope and Contents:
The Kal Muller films and photographs of Vanuatu (New Hebrides) contain Muller's extensive visual documentation of traditional Ni-Vanuatu practices, including Small Nambas funerary practices; ceremonial dances and preparation of kava by followers of the John Frum movement on Tanna Island; yam harvest and preparation; and the naghol (land dive) carried out by the Bunlap community on Pentecost Island. The bulk of the collection consists of unedited reels of 16mm film and 35mm photographic slides that Muller shot on multiple trips to the Banks, Malekula, Pentecost, and Tanna islands from 1968-1974 with support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, the National Anthropological Film Center, and National Geographic. The collection also contains supplementary textual materials, such as correspondence between Muller and E. Richard Sorenson, production records, and published articles related to Muller's film projects. The collection also includes a small number of photographic slides taken in Hong Kong.
Films and slides are organized in separate series by format, then by geographic region/film project.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or National Anthropological Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.
Kalman "Kal" Antal Muller is a photographer and author who spent several years during the late 1960s and early 1970s living with and documenting kastom (in Bislama; tradition or custom, in English) communities in Vanuatu, an island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Born in Hungary in 1939, Muller moved to the United States at age twelve. He first visited Vanuatu in 1966 following a sailing trip across the Pacific. As he developed ties with Ni-Vanuatu communities, Muller filmed and photographed traditional practices on different islands across the archipelago, including the Banks, Malekula, Pentecost, and Tanna islands. Muller filmed the naghol (land dive) carried out by the Bunlap community on Pentecost Island, resulting in the film Land-Divers of Melanesia, a collaboration with Robert Gardner and the Harvard Film Study Center. Muller also performed the naghol himself and wrote about the experience in a 1970 article for National Geographic, "Land Diving with the Pentecost Islanders," which was illustrated with his photographs. His time in Vanuatu provided Muller with material for other published pieces featuring his photographs, including a second story for National Geographic and several articles in the Journal de la Société des Océanistes. His photographs and films of kastom communities garnered interest and support from several cultural anthropologists at the time, including E. Richard Sorenson and Alan Lomax, as well as from NIH scientist D. Carleton Gajdusek.
From 1973 to 1975, with backing from Sorenson and Gajdusek, Muller also spent time with the Wixárika (Huichol) community in San Andrés Cohamiata, Jalisco, Mexico, and shot extensive film footage focusing on Wixárika religious practices.
Muller completed a PhD in Modern Language and Literature with a Major in French from the University of Arizona in 1973. Since 1976 he has lived in Indonesia, mainly Papua, where he went on to write English-language guides to traveling and diving in the region. He has also worked as an art dealer and promotor of Komoro sculpture, and as an advisor on indigenous history, culture, and social development to Freeport, a mining company operating in Papua.
Dalton, Bill. "Dr. Kal Muller: Champion of the Kamoros." 2014. Accessed February 28, 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20210613082307/https://www.baliadvertiser.biz/kal_muller/.
Jolly, Margaret. Women of the Place: Kastom, colonialism, and gender in Vanuatu. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2002.
Muller, Kal. "Land Diving with the Pentecost Islanders." National Geographic, December 1970.
Muller, Kal. "Taboos and Magic Rule Namba Lives." National Geographic, January 1972.
Tabani, Marc. "The Carnival of Custom: Land Dives, Millenarian Parades and Other Spectacular Ritualizations in Vanuatu." Oceania 80, 3 (November 2010): 309-328. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20877382.
Kal Muller's film footage and photographs focusing on the Wixárika (Huichol) community in San Andrés Cohamiata, Jalisco, Mexico, are also held by the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA.1989.03, Kal Muller films of Jalisco).
A group of Muller's photographs taken in Mexico was received by the archives with the Vanuatu materials; those photographs were interfiled with HSFA.1989.03, Kal Muller films of Jalisco.
Films and a portion of the slides were received from Kal Muller and the National Institutes of Health in 1974 and 1975. An additional group of slides was received from Kal Muller in 2019 (accession 2019.21).
Please contact the archives for information on availability of access copies of audiovisual recordings. Original audiovisual material in the Human Studies Film Archives may not be played.
Some of this material contains sensitive content and is not available for access. Please contact the repository for more information.