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The Gilliard Sepik Expedition

Identifier: Film Collection no. 188

Scope and Contents

Filmed during the AMNH-National Geographic Society Gilliard Sepik Expedition to Papua New Guinea, 1953-1954. Ernest Thomas Gilliard, AMNH ornithologist, and his wife Margaret went to Papua New Guinea in 1953- 1954 to study the birds of paradise of the Sepik River region and the headwaters in the valley between the Victor Emanuel and Hindenburg Mountain ranges. He made this film as he traveled but the narration, which he originally gave as a lecture to accompany the film, was added later. The film opens with the Gilliards' journey up the Sepik and includes extensive footage of the Iatmul people of Kanganaman, Malingai and Gaikarobi. In Kanganaman, an enormous tamberan (men's spirit house) is examined, as is the process of building a canoe, in which only fire and iron adzes are used. In an elaborate launching ritual, men dressed as women occupy the new canoe and are besieged by men in another boat in mock combat. At the direction of missionaries upstream a Christmas sing-sing (a dance celebration) is held in the tamberan. In Malingai a wedding takes place; the bride price, a large collection of ornamental shells, is carried to the bride's new home. The young bride, in her wedding finery, walks to the groom's house and a dance follows. The clothing, jewelry, body paint, and cicatrices of the people are all photographed and discussed. The Gilliards then fly to Telefomin, where an Australian outpost is located. As the expedition arrived a group of Mianmin prisoners accused of killing two white patrol officers were brought in and the expedition party was not permitted into the Telefomin area until the atmosphere quieted down. One of the prisoners, Femsep, became ill and was released. A naturalist himself, he helped Thomas Gilliard locate many birds of paradise, and also arranged for Thomas Gilliard to film another tamberan and the surrounding women's houses. The next sequence is a stunning photographic study of a Queen Carola bird of paradise. In the Miramar Valley a park-like clearing provides the setting for three months of celebration, an occasion that takes place once every five years. The people cook, weave, make arrows, play instruments, dance, and sing. The vast array of headdresses and costumes accentuate the festive atmosphere.


  • 1953-1954

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.


1 Film Reel (57 minutes) : sound, color ; 16 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (57 minutes)) : sound, color ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 16 mm. print.



Ernest Thomas Gilliard, photographer and narrator.

The Gilliard Sepik Expedition, 1953-1954
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
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