From event to ethnography
E. D. Lewis
WithFilm-making and ethnographic research in Tana 'Ai, Flores, eastern Indonesia The heuristic film, or, on not working to a script
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The Tana 'Ai film project, which Tim Asch, Patsy Asch, and I began in 1980, had three main objectives. The first was to make a recording of a major ritual which would be of use in my research on the religion of the Ata Tana 'Ai of Flores in eastern Indonesia. The second was to test and refine techniques by which film and video are used with informants to elicit data for the ethnographic description and analysis of the life of a community. The third aim was the production of films on the ritual life of the Ata Tana 'Ai for university teaching and public screening. Among other things, we filmed three rituals which were central to my research in Tana 'Ai: the gren mahé, a large-scale and rarely performed complex of rites in which all members of the community participated; the exchange of a woman between two clans; and a second-stage mortuary rite. We planned to produce a film about each of these rituals, the first of which, A Celebration of Origins, treats the gren mahé and is now in distribution. Drawing upon our work in Tana 'Ai, I will here address three topics pertaining to the method and theory of using film and video in anthropological research and the construction of a cinematic account of an event of paramount importance in a Tana 'Ai community.