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First Contact: New Guinea's Highlanders Encounter the Outside World Hardcover – August 3, 1987

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; n edition (August 3, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670801674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670801671
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #412,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the early 1930s, a team of Australians ventured into the unexplored highlands of New Guinea looking for gold. They found more than a million tribespeople who never had experienced contact with the outside world. One of the prospectors, Michael Leahy, recorded the confrontation between 20th century and Stone Age cultures in photographs and film footage. This documentary evidence was forgotten for 50 years, until filmmakers Connolly and Anderson stumbled across it. Fascinated, they tracked down both the surviving prospectors and tribespeople for a series of interviews that produced an extraordinary portrait of the two sides of "first contact." Village elders tell how they reacted when white men and their weapons appeared: "We thought the gun was just for shooting pigs and that it couldn't hurt men." The Leahy brothers saw the contact from a different perspective; they never attempted to learn about native culture or to regard the people other than as objects to be exploited. The opposing viewpoints presented here interact to create a classic story of colonialism and its aftereffects. Photos.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In 1930 when the Leahy brothers of Australia led a gold-prospecting expedition into the highlands of Papua New Guinea they came into contact with a primitive civilization that had never before met people from the outside world. A cache of films and photographs taken by the brothers was uncovered in 1980 by the authors, who produced a highly acclaimed film titled First Contact in 1983. Further investigation, including interviews with survivors and archival research, resulted in this fascinating, well-written, and well-documented account of the episode and the consequences of the encounter. The numerous photographs capturing the expressions of the natives are truly rewarding. Recommended for interested laypersons as well as scholars and specialists. Sondra Brunhumer, Western Michigan Univ. Libs . , Kalamazoo
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on January 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Michael Leahy, James Taylor and their indigenous crews searched for gold in the New Guinea Highlands during the 1930's. They found perhaps a million previously unknown people of some 5,000 different tribes speaking 2,000 different languages - each tribe isolated by mutually enforced strict boundaries. When Leahy first entered the Highlands in 1930 he took a camera but rarely used it. By 1933 he saw himself as not only a gold prospector and entrepreneur but an explorer with an unparalleled opportunity to document a unique event. In 1980 the authors found some 5,000 professional quality 35mm photos and several hours of 16mm videos. This resulted in a TV documentary and this book which presents dozens of the more spectacular photos.

The exhilaration of first contact between modern explorers and people from primitive culture is re-enacted repeatedly as Leahy and Taylor travel with the impunity that the tribal folks cannot - the security of their guns always available. They admit to causing some 40-50 unavoidable native fatalities when things got out of hand.

Authors Connolly and Anderson interviewed not only the explorers, but many of the New Guineans who remembered the first contacts. It was easier than you might think. All they had to do was retrace the paths of Leahy and Taylor, well-documented in their journals and photos. When kids invariably welcomed them to a village, usually similarly named from 50 years before, they just asked to speak to the old people.

Captivating photos document the emotions of the "discovered" on every third or fourth page of this remarkable memoir. Definitely worth reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M Apple on September 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first discovered the work of the Leahy brothers flipping the channels and landing on PBS one day. The documentaries- now hard to find- are even more captivating. If you ever see they are being shown, be certain to take the opportunity to watch them.

This book was absolutely thrilling. You feel you are right there, discovering long-lost stone age tribes who are seeing white men for the first time. The wonder of the experience is fascinating for both sides. Even more fascinating is how the word gets around, and they end up escaping with only their lives intact.

The first contacts are innocent, and as they gain more familiarity, the dark side and superstitions on both sides of the encounters begin to exhibit themselves. In the documentaries, they actually reveal both sides of the experience- with incredible stories of what each perceived.

This book caused me to seek out and read many more on the subject of these early explorations and encounters in PNG. I think that anybody with an ounce of adventure will find themselves captivated from the first paragraph. Some of the pictures are incredible as well.

For the armchair adventurer, this rates right up there with books like "South" South: the story of Shackleton's 1914-1917 expedition, and shall ever occupy a special spot in my library.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By SteveB on April 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many other books and movies try to imagine what it was like for an indigenous people to encounter the modern world for the first time. But in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea there were 1 million residents unknown to the outside world until 1930 when a small group of Australian gold prospectors trekked through. In 1985 the authors still had hundreds of first-hand recollections to draw upon to put together the narrative. Fascinating and easy reading. Lots of surprises. Amazing photos.
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Format: Hardcover
This book, published in 1987, was written by two Australian writers. It documents the experiences of many highland Papua New Guineans when encountering white men from an outside world unknown to them at the time. Incredibly, this occurred as recently as the decade of the 1930s. Other areas were not reached until as late as the early 1960s. The events depicted in the book revolve around the gold prospecting expeditions of Australian Michael Leahy and his brothers. Most of the book is based upon interviews conducted by the authors with numerous people. The strength of this book is that it relates the history of Australian colonialism, both the good and the bad, alongside the perspective of the Highlanders themselves in what I thought was a fair and balanced account. The book is profusely illustrated with Leahy's photographs.
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