Ngarali: the tobacco story of Arnhem Land is a documentary (click on the photo above) produced to address the high rates of smoking (around 70 per cent) amongst the Yolgnu people of East Arnhem Land.
As its makers say:
This resource is unique in that it brings together new knowledge in health communications and behavioural concepts, underpinned by an ethnographic understanding of Yolŋu people, their culture and traditions around tobacco use.
The documentary showcases the cultural position Yolŋu take towards tobacco and the role of the health workforce in addressing this deadly substance. It will contribute to shaping beliefs and attitudes around smoking and health-seeking behaviour, lending support to the efforts to de-normalising tobacco use.
It’s been made by Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation (in collaboration with Round 3 Creative) as part of its comprehensive Tobacco Program, led by the team of Yolngu Tobacco Action Workers, particularly Elder Oscar Garrawirtja from Galiwin’ku and producter/director Dr Kishan Kariippanon.
The documentary has been screened at the United Kingdom Public Health Film Festival a screening planned for the American Public Health Association Film Festival, an open lecture at the University of Stockholm and the St. Petersburg State Paediatric University (Russia)
There’s hope it will be screened too on NITV.
In the article below, Kishan describes how the documentary came about and what the makers tried to do to address both the issue of smoking and the cultural environment.
Kishan Kariippanon writes
North East Arnhem Land, is the home of the Yolngu nation. More than 200 years ago, it was a second home to Macassan traders from Sulawesi and eventually their tools and trade items, including tobacco, began to influence Yolngu culture and lifestyle.
Under the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation Regional Tobacco Program, we decided to document this deep-rooted connection to tobacco, which was introduced in the 1700s.
My close connection with the tobacco program and particularly to Yolngu Elder Datjarranga Garrawirtja and the Miwatj Health Cultural Advisors enabled me to understand and map out the historical and cultural influence of tobacco in the region.
My aim was to unpack on film the social and cultural determinants of smoking in the region, in order to engage young people via social media with cultural and intellectually relevant content.
This is based on my understanding of what is a dignified and empowering approach to Indigenous health communications: one that seeks to be respectful and uses a strengths-based approach in the process. This idea came about during my doctoral research where I am now writing a thesis on the ethnography of social media and mobile technology in the community.
After 14 months of living amongst Yolngu families, youth and elders, it was evident that smoking is not only an addiction. Tobacco has strong cultural meaning and smoking is governed by an explicit Yolngu law attached to emotions and nostalgia of the days when Yolngu were trading internationally on their country and travelling to Makassar.
The solution to reducing the rates of smoking or the uptake of smoking amongst young people is far from just increasing awareness on the harms of smoking or even increasing the price of cigarettes. Access to cigarettes is still very high due to demand sharing in the communities. Buying a packet of cigarettes is part of the priority grocery list in this region.
Tobacco is also part of the kinship system as you will understand from the documentary. We needed to create a resource that showed how, in the words of Datjarranga:
“…new knowledge in the form of tobacco was introduced by Macassans, and we adopted it but now that we know it is killing us, we must adopt the new knowledge of prevention.”
We selected Round 3 Creative, an organisation with experience in working with remote communities and cross cultural engagement. We needed to form a multicultural team that was able to connect with the community, and with individuals, and make them feel comfortable in front of the camera. We wanted to hear the real struggle with tobacco and why it is so entrenched in the community from Yolngu themselves. We travelled to communities in Milingimbi, Galiwin’ku and the Gove Peninsula under the stewardship of the Tobacco Action Workers.
Miwatj Health Tobacco Action Workers in the communities were an important source of knowledge and guidance. They withstood many hours of questions and discussion. We walked around the significant places, and took footage of the tamarind trees, and the beaches where the Macassans would have sat with Yolngu to smoke their long Macassan pipes, and where the missionaries brought ration supplies on the barge.
We used this style, in order to show how behaviours were formed and how smoking has become widespread when, in the past, only certain Elders were allowed to smoke tobacco.
We re-enacted Oscar Munyarryun’s experience as a young child, watching his community line up for rations and tobacco sticks, during the days of the Methodist Mission in Milingimbi in order to show the normalisation of smoking in the community.
There were many people with a wealth of knowledge who came forward to help us but many others were apprehensive as they did not want us simplifying their issue as had been done by others in the past. They didn’t want us to “take their information and distill it or generalise it, to simplify our needs as filmmakers creating a piece for a health organisation” says Vidad Narayan, who with Bryce McCoy, make up Round 3 Creative. It was a great responsibility and one that we took seriously as we did not want to disappoint the Yolngu community, whose trust we worked hard to gain.
The animation and film
The film combines animation, footage and interviews to bring together a multidimensional tool that reflected the natural story-telling style of the Yolngu. As Miwatj Health Board Member Djuwali Burrawanga said on Facebook: “In the Yolngu world, we have a library in the land”.
This is why the footage is also important whilst the interviewees share their views and concerns on tobacco. The sunset, the tamarind trees, the ocean, the Mission church, all tell the story of how tobacco became ingrained in Yolngu society, how it was systematically socialised.
Everyone can take a piece of information with them after watching this documentary, whether they be a policy writer, academic or health professional.
We admit that this film only touches the surface of a very deep problem but it calls for us to connect with Yolngu on a more profound level, beyond health promotion posters and pamphlets, guidelines and protocols. We want to help Australians connect with a health risk facing our Indigenous nation without being judgmental but through empathy.