What do anthro­pol­o­gists mean when they claim to study the cul­tur­al tra­di­tions of others by par­tic­i­pat­ing in them? This film fol­lows the Dutch anthro­pol­o­gist Ton Otto, who has been adopt­ed by a family on Baluan Island in Papua New Guinea. Due to the death of his adop­tive father, he has to take part in mor­tu­ary cer­e­monies, whose form and con­tent are pas­sion­ate­ly con­test­ed by dif­fer­ent groups of rel­a­tives. Through pro­longed nego­ti­a­tions, Ton learns how Baluan people per­form and trans­form their tra­di­tions and not least what role he plays him­self. The film is part of long-term field research, in which film­mak­ing has become inte­grat­ed in the ongo­ing dia­logue and exchange between the islanders and the anthropologist. 

Unity through Culture

Soanin Kilan­git is deter­mined to unite the people and attract inter­na­tion­al tourism through the revival of cul­ture on Baluan Island in the South Pacif­ic. He orga­nizes the largest cul­tur­al fes­ti­val ever held on the island. But some tra­di­tion­al lead­ers argue that Baluan never had cul­ture. Cul­ture comes from the white man and is now destroy­ing their old tra­di­tion. Others, how­ev­er, take the fes­ti­val as a wel­come oppor­tu­ni­ty to revolt against ’70 years of cul­tur­al oppres­sion’ by Chris­tian­i­ty. A strug­gle to define the past, present and future of Baluan cul­ture erupts to the sound of thun­der­ing log drum rhythms.