Last week I watched a recent documentary called Pururambo (the word means “good”). This self-made film was shot and directed by a man named Pavol Barabás as he explored the interior of Papua Indonesia (the other half of the island that Papua New Guinea is on. Papua Indonesia is also the eastern most part of Indonesia). Pavol begins his journey with another european explorer and two porters in a canoe traveling as far as they can into the south-eastern swamp region of the country. Once they had gone as far as they could by boat they began traveling by foot, laboring their way through the unbelievably dense and dangerous swamps in search of a reported tribe of cannibal headhunters that had never had contact with a white person before.
This film documents the adventures, interactions, thoughts and dangers of the approximately week-long journey into the swamp lands of these cannibalistic headhunting tree people. There are very few places in the world quite as unique and isolated as the setting of this film.
Along the way; he is nearly shot with the arrows of frightened and angry tribesmen warriors; offered grubs, mice, snake, geckos and roots to eat; sleeps in the village communal sleep houses; sees firsthand how civilizations function without metals, leather, plastic or any modern technology whatsoever; and begins building relationships with some individuals in the community through laughter and gifts.
The film ends very abruptly with several men from a village they had passed through the day before coming after them yelling, waving weapons and destroying their camera. No explanation is ever given as to what took place and what happened to the camera man. The film begins its conclusion with Pavol (and hopefully the other three men as well) in a helicopter being evacuated from the jungle. The film then ends with a several minute compilation of very sad-looking nationals that he met along the way and a monologue dramatically describing why missionaries are the worst thing to ever happen to these people.
As I watched this film and listened to the pointed jabs at missionaries as well as the condemning monologue at the end, two thoughts kept running through my mind. First was the fact that past missionaries of false religion as well as many who truly intended to communicate the Gospel have done great harm to remote people groups like this throughout the world and have greatly misrepresented the Gospel. These people do not need American Christianity consisting of a white building with a steeple, neckties and a strict regime of Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night services. Different is not the same as wrong. Missionaries must be very careful that they are communicating Biblical principles not western culture and application. So many places around the world have intentionally and inadvertently been fed that lie that if you match a certain behavioral standard you are a Christian. This philosophy of missions work results is a synchronizing of the belief systems.
The second thought that was continually running through my head was the desperate need these people do have. While our culture has proven to be very destructive in many of these places, the transcendent truths of scripture transforms lives. In the film it becomes very evident that Pavol has bought into the happy tribal person myth. The idea that these tribal people are happy the way they are and are better off being left alone, “The flame in the eyes of these barbaric jungle people flickers out…” (because of the destruction of these people’s culture by missionaries) “A world which is so good, good, ‘Pururambo’” On one hand he describes a life that is filled with revenge killing, cannibalism, head hunting, diseases, fear and loneliness, especially for the women, on the other he calls it good. Good in what way? Just because it’s simple? Just because it didn’t include Jesus? I contend the condition of all mankind is not good by nature.
When I was in Papua New Guinea I had the opportunity to spend some time in the South Lamogai tribe (about 700 miles due east of the setting of this film). On this trip our small group had the opportunity to sit down and talk with a man of the Lamogai tribe who had been a believer for some years. One of the questions we asked him was, “Were you happy the way you were before the missionaries came?” His answer was stunning. After we asked the question the missionary and the man must have talked for 10 minutes trying to get him to understand what we were saying. The problem was that he couldn’t understand why we would ask such a question! He said we constantly lived in fear! We built our houses up off the group so the spirits wouldn’t get us! We would travel miles into the jungle everyday to get water because we feared the spirits that lived in the nearby spring, we were terrified of death because of what might be on the other side and now we know that we were guilty before God because of our sins. We were not happy. We are so grateful for the missionaries who brought is God’s talk.
While Pavol is exceptionally brave, intelligent and shrewd and his footage was incredible, my heart hurts for him. He has seen and tasted the symptoms of sin but he has misdiagnosed the disease. Mankind does not need to be left alone, it needs a heart change.
“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9)
All people fear change and that which is different but from the mouth of a man who has been on both sides, it is not their traditions that are good, it is Jesus alone who is Pururambo.
(Disclaimer! The documentary contains raw footage of remote tribal villages. Some of the images are graphic and most of the tribe wears no clothing. This video is NOT suitable for children and not recommended for most people)