A Papuan man from Sibil Valley with the glasses of J.C. Anceaux, the linguist joining the Star Mountains expedition


Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

It is the glasses that make this photo special. Expedition leader L.D. Brongersma probably took the photo. What exactly happened when they took it is unclear. Yet it is obvious, especially in conjunction with the other photos taken at the time, that when the Dutch expedition met the man, the atmosphere was relaxed. The photo gives pause for thought about encounters between people of completely different cultures. The glasses symbolise the limited perspective in which people view each other. Anceaux, a linguist, viewed Papuans through a Western lens. And that was precisely what he removed and gave to the man who put on those glasses and looked back at the Dutch team through those same glasses. A black-and-white photo of the man appeared on the cover of a book about ethnographic photos published in 2002 by Museum Volkenkunde (Leiden). The compilers considered it such a powerful image that they called the book ‘Anceaux’s Glasses’.

Sibil man
The photo is also a source of information about the decorations men wear in the Sibil Valley. Men and boys from the region rub a mixture of red earth and pig fat over their body. They also knead lumps of clay into their hair. In addition, the man in the photo has a bamboo plug in a nose piercing. It is unclear what else he has in his nostrils, possibly rodent ribs. He has two wide rings as necklaces, made from primary feathers of the cassowary, a large flightless bird related to the emu. The sharp end of each is inserted into the hollow end of the other. In his pierced and stretched earlobe he is wearing a chalk white bamboo disc.

Media circus
The Star Mountain expedition was organised by the Royal Dutch Geographical Society (KNAG). It attracted scientists from all kinds of disciplines. And the expedition was surrounded by enormous publicity. Press, radio and television regularly reported their progress. Film reports by the Netherlands Government Information Service were shown in cinemas. The expedition cameraman was Pieter ter Laag, a film-maker who worked at the information office and radio station in the capital of Netherlands New Guinea, Hollandia, today’s Jayapura.

2,4 x 3,6cm (15/16 x 1 7/16in.)

Source: collectie.tropenmuseum.nl

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  • Title: A Papuan man from Sibil Valley with the glasses of J.C. Anceaux, the linguist joining the Star Mountains expedition
  • Date: 1959/1959
  • Location: Sibil-vallei


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