Ten Canoes

I loved this film from 2006 but I have to say that I enjoyed it more on the second viewing when more things fell into place for me.  There is a story within a story in this Australian movie and a helpful switch between black and white scenes and colour.

The film is set in Arnhem Land in a time before contact with white settlers.  Ten men are hunting for goose eggs.  While out they hunting, their leader tells the story of a great warrior from times gone by. This warrior accused a man from another tribe of kidnapping his wife.  He kills him but is mistaken and must now face the consequences of the wrongful killing.  Tribal laws say that the killer must face the spears of the offended tribe. The killer is allowed one person to stand by his side and he chooses his brother. By standing a certain distance away his fate is determined by the skill of the spear throwers. Once they have hit him or his brother, they must stop.


In this case the killer is hit and wounded but he survives long enough to return to his camp.  After his death, his wife returns. She had been kidnapped but by another tribe and the laws state that she can now become wife to a much younger brother.

The story is told as a warning to the hunters not to follow in the path of their ancestors.   The story is told in Aboriginal languages but the famous actor David Gulpilil narrates it in English.

The title comes from a famous photograph taken by the anthropologist Donald Thomson in the 1930s.  It shows a group of ten hunters each on their own canoe paddling across a swamp.

‘Ten Canoes’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


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