Sunday, January 24, 2010


"You have to appreciate that the deforestation of Nias started when they were no longer headhunting!  So it was functional."  Gerard Meijssen often expresses unusual perspectives that make me laugh, but he's seldom wrong.  This photograph was taken in Indonesia.  Here's Gerard's translation of the Tropenmuseum's caption:
Repronegative. The best known island of the range to the west of Sumatra is probably Nias. It was at any rate the biggest and most populous. In the time of the VOC, the island was best known as an exporter of slaves to Atjeh, Padang and Benkoelen. In this way the gentry of the hierarchical Nias earned the gold needed for dowries and the ritual feasts. Nias was a society of warriors who not only enslaved people, they also went head hunting, for instance for the burial ritual of a nobleman. The colonial government tried to end this (P. Boomgaard, 2001). A group of subdued headhunters, Nias “a group of head hunters came to submit themselves” Nias, Northern Sumatra, ca 1920
Go ahead and double check the museum's official metadata if you can read Dutch.  Gerard seems perfectly serious, which is a little hard to stomach if, like me, you envision reruns of Gilligan's Island when the word "headhunters" enters a conversation.

Headhunters really existed.  And after too many formative years of squandering brain cells on the best bad sitcom of all time I'm restoring an actual photograph of headhunters.  Here's a thumbnail version of the image the Tropenmuseum provided at high resolution. 

This was probably photographed in or near the village of Bawemataloeo.  If Gerard is right, these people took heads as trophies in battle.  An effective way to put fear into one's enemies!  Although (per Gilligan's Island) I'm slightly embarrassed to discuss this subject, it is fascinating to see the people who lived that way.  And a relief to know it's historic.  Then I remember the deforestation and my political correctness meter breaks.

This seems to have been digitized from a print on textured paper with directional lighting.  The scratches aren't clear lines: they look like little horizontal nicks stacked over each other.  It's quite difficult to work on.  I've been spending most of my time at 200% and 300% resolution with a healing brush selection three to six pixels wide.  The hardest part of it is repairing this man's face.

When an image has problems that are solvable yet difficult, the mellow approach is best: address the parts that are easy to fix and go work on a different area when it starts to seem frustrating.  Come back after the subconscious has pondered the situation, work on the tough area again, and slowly turn big problems into little problems.

One of the things I do is keep an unaltered version of the image handy and pause occasionally to view sections side by side.  That helps to distinguish photographic damage from real data.  It also sustains my morale through a hard restoration.  Here's how that section looks so far.


Mountaineer said...

Great blog! Appreciate your blog very much. Thanks.

fuddiphat said...

I don't get the Gilligan's Island reference, but headhunting definitely went on in many areas of the world. Don't be shy of it! In Sarawak on Borneo it had been stamped out by the colonial powers (the White Rajahs) by the 1920s, where it had had all sorts of ritual significances, including 'capturing' the strength and spirit of the deceased. The dried heads were hung in groups in the eaves of the longhouses, and can still be seen in some today. During WW2 the Allied forces enlisted the local people in their battle to capture the island back off the Japanese, and the Dayaks were quite happy to revert to their old practices. The Allies were a bit uneasy about it but turned a blind eye, needs must and all that ... Great blog, by the way.