Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age

Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age

Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age

Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age

Excerpt

This is a book for those who enjoy looking, through the eyes of others and the mediation of the still camera, at scenes that they themselves are most unlikely ever to see. It is unique. Never before has such a diverse group, with such diverse interests and skills, on a complex and lengthy expedition into primitive territory, taken so many pictures that it became possible to select from among thousands a set of pictures which fit together so well that the identity of the individual photographer is almost obscured. Putting together a collaborative photographic book is one of the more felicitous forms of cooperative authorship, even when the photographs are all taken by the same photographer, or when a group of authors select from a given corpus, as was done in The Family of Man. For battles over words and phrases and ideas, one can substitute the expressive "But look, surely this one makes the point better than that one does." Alternative photographs can be arranged as the authors, guided by their central theme, work out their plans in a series of choices.

All of this has happened before. But in Gardens of War something even more complex has been attempted. The photographs by all the members of the expedition became the corpus from which this book was built. Its unity, and no one who enjoys the book will dispute this unity, is provided by the Dani themselves, by the coherence of their Stone Age culture, by the harmony existing between one aspect of their ancient warlike way of life and another, by the metaphor of singing birds and the life of the people.

The book's essays provide background information which could only have been obtained by anthropologists working carefully and soberly to explore the intricacies of the Dani culture. They serve as notes to some of the less easily comprehended pictures. But essentially this is a visual book, a record of what any Western reader might have seen, had he a trained eye, if he had been set down suddenly among the Dani. That such a reader could never experience this abrupt transition--except as a result of a plane accident that would leave him little time for marveling at the people around him--is beside the point. To take these pictures meant many months of patient work, establishing a base, learning to speak and to know and understand the people. But the photographs themselves are of what any one of us might have seen had we been able to go there. They are not candid camera shots stolen surreptitiously from an unaware people; they are not constructed and reenacted events designed for the camera alone, divorced from real life and real participation. They were taken by those who were there--and known to be there-- in the midst of a flourishing society.

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