Pururambo: Into the world of the Cannibals


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.

The other half of the island of Papua New Guinea is Papua Indonesia where this film took place.

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.

These are the kind of houses the tribe slept in. One for the men and one the women.

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 took 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)

5 thoughts on “Pururambo: Into the world of the Cannibals

  1. I recently watched this documentary and found the ending a bit open ended, so I decided to look into it. Upon my search for Knowledge (with a capital K for emphasis) I stumbled across this…
    EMPATHY! how would you feel if someone kicked in your door and forced you to listen about the great flying spaghetti monster coming to wipe away your sins? My first thought was this: This person is so stupid they don’t know it.
    Nobody should force their believes down others throats.

    • Hi Karen

      Thanks for reading the post and commenting! I would define the term “false religion” as used in this quote,

      …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.

      to basically mean, any belief system that doesn’t exclusively look to the person and work Jesus did on the cross as the sole means of being reconciled to God is fundamentally flawed.

      That is a really simplified answer and probably comes across pretty abrupt. My intention is not to be offensive but I figured you weren’t looking for a really long answer :). If you’d like a more detailed explanation of my reasoning, I’d be happy to share it.

      In regard to your second question/statement, I don’t mean to say “false religion” is what ever differs from my own personal view. I understand False religion to be that which is not objectively true in reference to certain fundamental tenets. Some may balk at my use of “objectively true” but let it be acknowledged that all people, myself included base all reasoning on presuppositions.

      I hope that helps clarify my term. Thanks again!

  2. Thanks Tom and that is an interesting thought about needing “western Christianity” here. I don’t think cultural expressions of your faith that fall within in the boundaries of God’s principles are bad, in fact they are the necessary channels to live out the Biblical principles. But when our western Christian culture becomes the end and not the means to the end I agree it is outside of it’s proper boundaries and perhaps has out lived it’s usefulness altogether. A missionary I was staying with way out in the bush in PNG told me about how that village that he had evangelized and worked with for years view the church. This was their understanding, they were the church. That’s it. The idea that the church was a building had never even crossed their mind. The idea of putting some kind of sign out front saying 1st church of Kaoulong wasn’t on the radar. It was such a beautiful thing. They sang because Jesus saved them, not because it’s what you do. They shared the message with other villages because their neighbors were lost without it, not to check an item off of a to-do list. I know they weren’t perfect and if I stayed longer than 10 days I would have seen more of their “warts” but their view of the church was so refreshing! What would it look like for an American church to drop or start over with it’s “western Christianity?”

  3. It is great to see you critically thinking about what you see. So many in our western culture do not do this. They take things in without considering the reality of the truth. One question you brought back to my mind that has bothered me a long time however is this: do we really need “western Christianity” here in America, or do we need true Christianity? Is it time for a change here as well so that we might see what True followers of The Way look like?

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