Trobriand Cricket – An Archaeological Look at the History of the Game
Trobriand Cricket: An Incurious Response to Colonialism is a short anthropological documentary on the folks of the Trobriand Islands, and their many wonderful innovations to the game of Cricket. The film was directed by Gary Kildea and was made in 1990 by the late Jerry Leach. The documentary tells the fascinating history of this cricketing society which, for me at least, is a great example of how a sport can be affected (even though sometimes unkindly) by colonial penetration.
Troibriand cricket was developed as a result of contacts with the people living along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, who had knowledge of playing the game with an ergonomic grip rather than the typical cricket ball. This lead to the forming of what we know today as Trobriand cricket. Many of these early players played in the same teams as some of the famous players of this period such as Bertram Hobbs and Harry Keates who were able to make the game seem as if it was invented in the same mould as some of the world’s best cricket matches.
As one can imagine, many of the dances involved in Trobriand cricket are based on traditional folk dances from the country. A good example is the ‘Paua Dance’ which involves twirling sticks whilst chanting the words “Paua pua, paua pua”. It is possible that this could have been learned from other cultures of the islands, especially those living along the coast. It is however interesting to speculate just how much of this music and dance was influenced by the British.
Two of the most famous dances which form a part of Trobriand cricket are the ‘Wyndhamabal’ and the ‘Taunteraid’. The Wyndhamabal is a very dramatic dance which involves a number of leaps into the air with the dancers appearing to be bounding up the stairs. When performed by a group of people it can be quite thrilling. The Taunteraid is a slower paced dance which consists mainly of two men carrying out a routine of footwork while an accordion-like chord is repeatedly struck by each member of the group. Both of these dancier dances form the basis of much of the music which is commonly played at both matches. The ‘Wyndhamabal’ and the Taunteraid are almost always the first songs played when a match is under way.
Trobriand Cricket has only recently become a very popular subject in British politics.
David Cameron’s government has already promised a series of new grants for community projects in the county. Although these projects are likely to help the development of the park, they have already raised eyebrows in some quarters due to the fact that they seem to go against the government’s policy of spending cuts. One of the projects, a community center was to be built in the town of Newquay, but has now been cancelled after local residents and the town council were reportedly “fed up” with the design. One of the primary attractions of Trobriand cricket is the fact that the counties’ borders are almost entirely surrounded by ocean. This offers the opportunity for the county to host regular matches either on land or on sea.
One of the main features of Trobriand cricket is the use of traditional costumes and hairstyles which clearly reflect the country’s ethnic make-up. Many of the players wear traditional clothing, which often dates back hundreds of years, including blue and white striped scarves and shirts, decorated with feathered hats and colorful stockings. Archaeologists have found evidence of bat dying, a method of removing hair which originally appeared in western Europe. The bat dying method is thought to have been introduced by Scandinavian immigrants who made home in Trobriand before moving on to more sedate climates.
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of bat cave settlements, which were probably constructed around the same time as Trobriand cricket matches were being played. These primitive dwellings have been dated to between the 3rd and 7th centuries, which places them firmly within the same cultural time frame as our earliest recorded cricket games. Some of the structures have been erected right on top of grasslands, indicating that the early occupants of these camps were not contented with simply playing a game of catch. These findings also indicate that Trobriand cricket matches may have been even more complex than previously thought.
Archaeologist Carla Weiler believes that the lack of written records gives us a “bumps” up front before we get to the real meat of the story. This is particularly true when we consider the fact that the game was only established a short time after its arrival in Trobriand. Cricket, like all human endeavors, goes through constant evolution as a result of socio-historical conflict and change. The rise and fall of the English Empire and the like have left us with many questions regarding the nature of sport in those times. For instance, how did cricket gain its recognition in Australia and New Zealand? And why is it not yet playing an active role in world cup qualification?
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