Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

First Contact: New Guinea Highlands

May 22nd, 2009 · No Comments


For the second installment of our nascent First Contact series, we’re gonna hit the layup and blog about this classic culture-clash documentary. A prized Microkhan correspondent and former New Guinea resident summarizes the film with far more acumen than we could ever manage:

Basic story is that the initial European settlements in Papua (south side of the East part of the island by the British) and New Guinea (north side and surrounding islands by the Germans) hugged the coasts in part because the interior was rugged, mountainous and inaccessible. It was believed well into the 20th century that the island’s interior consisted solely of uninhabitable mountainous terrain. After gold was discovered in the Morobe ranges in the 1920s some enterprising Australian explorers commenced looking further inland. A party led by the Leahy brothers in the early 1930s discovered that the highlands consisted of a patchwork of large fertile valleys populated by up to a million people who of course had never laid eyes on a white man. Some of these initial contacts were filmed and are shown in First Contact, along with interviews done in the 1970s with some of the now elderly people who experienced first contact.

There’s all sorts of amusing side stories associated with this tale. One was the fact the Mick Leahy, the gold prospector who led the initial expedition, devoted a lot of his later life and fortune to an unsuccessful campaign to gain the respect and membership of the Royal Geographic Society for his discovery, Another of the more curious cross cultural effects of their late discovery was the fact that many highlanders saw an aeroplane before they saw a car – planes could land in the valleys while roads did not extend that far inland until they were built by US and Australian forces during World War II.

The 10-minute preview is above. If you get the itch (and we sense you very well might), you can check out the full flick here.

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