Single Shot: War Games

Each entry in the “Single Shot” visual anthropology series presents a single photograph or unbroken shot of video taken during ethnographic field work, plus a short description, with an emphasis on the researcher’s reflexive experience. The series editor is Dr. Natasha Fijn. Submit your own Single Shots to

Taking photos and film was not central to my research practice, and as a result, my videos are most remarkable to me for what they didn’t capture. In this case, I caught a brief moment of anticipation: a troop of men walking single file through the forest, carrying fresh-cut throwing staves called bhole, preparing to raid the villages of their friends and neighbors and steal away their chickens and produce.

These raids were part of a ceremony conducted annually by a single clan in the countryside outside Bajawa, Indonesia. The villagers were well-prepared, having locked away most of their chickens and prepared gifts of liquor and coconuts for the raiders. It was great fun, and I was lucky to receive an invitation to participate.

Like the others, I was dressed in a boku headcloth adorned with ra’a beka flowers and a sapu sarong with no pockets, and clutched a bhole in one hand. Unlike them, I was going out raiding with an ungainly shoulder bag containing a large notebook and my phone, which I used to take these images. When the raiding began—as we burst from cover in a long line, shouting, laughing, and brandishing our staves—I gave no more thought to taking video.

Later, reviewing the notes I scrawled in my book during brief moments of quiet, when our party left one hamlet and headed for the next, I wished I had been able to capture the occasion with more immediacy, and in such a way that would have allowed me to make new observations after the fact, noticing details that escaped me in the heat of the fake battle.

Key image: a screen capture from the above video by Ian Pollock

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