Headhunters from the swamps : The Marind Anim of New Guinea as seen by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, 1905-1925

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In 1905, the Tilburg Missionaries of the Sacred Heart established their first mission post among the Marind Anim on the southwest coast of New Guinea. These Dutch missionaries were to witness the swift and dramatic demise of an ancient cultural tradition. They recorded its intricate cosmology, complex initiation ceremonies, spectacular art and intensive headhunting in writing and photographs. “They are veritable human beings, sensible beings, with a delightful language, unwritten literature, and an appreciation for all that is good and beautiful,” one missionary reported. “How low, how unfathomably low these people here have stooped, […] disgusting, […] animals are more estimable,” another wrote. Dismay and fascination, suppression and research went hand in hand. The author was granted permission to publish the remarkable photographs of the Sacred Heart congregation’s archive. With its amply documented photographs, Headhunters from the swamps is a fascinating resource for anyone with an interest in the history and culture of New Guinea. Professor R.H.A. Corbey is affiliated with the Department of Humanities at Tilburg University and the Department of Archaeology at Leiden University.

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