What is a jungle child

Hanisauland: Lexicon @todo: from Preprocess

Roland Suso Richter, based on the novel by Sabine Kuegler
Country and year of publication:
Germany 2010
Age rating of the FSK:
free from 12 years
Age recommendation:
worth seeing from 12 years
Theatrical release:
February 17, 2011

At the age of eight, Sabine emigrated to West Papua with her parents and two siblings. Her father, a German linguist, is supposed to research the language of the indigenous Fayu tribe in the jungle. For the family it means a stay of several years in the middle of the jungle and far away from any civilization. Despite the big change, Sabine in particular quickly settles into the new environment. For them it is all a great adventure that arouses their curiosity, even if the natives are initially suspicious of the strangers. She befriends other children of the Fayu tribe. She quickly learns her language and her other way of life. The changeover is much more difficult for the mother and the older sister. In the warm, humid climate of the rainforest, supplies and even clothing begin to go moldy. There is only running water at the nearby river and the half-naked natives look terrifying with their body paintings. In addition, the family witnesses acts of war with the hostile neighboring tribe of the Fayu, who could also threaten their lives.

When Sabine and her little brother find a badly injured boy from the neighboring tribe in the jungle, her family takes in the boy Auri. In doing so, she violates the laws and the traditional rites of the Fayu. They are convinced that illnesses are the expression of a curse and that the boy is therefore doomed to die. They are all the more astonished when Auri actually gets well again thanks to the medical care provided by Sabine's mother. That brings Sabine's parents additional respect. Because the Fayu now believe that they are powerful enough to defeat an evil curse. Auri is allowed to stay with the family with the chief's consent. Sabine and Auri grow up together in the jungle. From their inseparable friendship, a deep bond develops over the course of the following years, which is to become a bond for life. But fate means it differently with the two jungle children. When 16-year-old Sabine returned to Germany, she felt alien and uprooted in the unknown society.

Sabine Kuegler is the author of the bestselling novel after which this film was made. She came with her parents in 1978 to West Papua, the part of the island of New Guinea that politically belongs to Indonesia. In the film she is already eight years old, in reality she was only five at the time. It was not until eleven years later, in 1989, that she left the jungle and returned to Europe. Adapting to western civilization was not easy for her at the time. Today she lives in Bavaria and actively campaigns for the threatened rights of the natives on the island. It was not until 16 years after her return that she published her experiences with the Fayu tribe in an autobiographical novel. It came on the market in 2005 and has now been made into a cinematic film by Roland Suso Richter. Since it was impossible to carry out complex and lengthy filming with a large team on the original locations in West Papua, the film was shot in a national park in Malaysia in East Asia. There are still untouched rainforests there, which can be seen in impressive pictures. Although the story had to be slightly changed and dramatized for the film, it should still be as believable and coherent as possible. So natives were recruited from the real Fayu tribe from West Papua and brought thousands of kilometers west to Malaysia for the filming.
The several months of filming were a great challenge for the German leading actors, which they mastered brilliantly. Both the Berliners Stella Kunkat in the role of eight-year-old Sabine and Sina Tkotsch as a 16-year-old had acting experience. In the end, Stella almost didn't want to leave. She had imagined the jungle to be much more colorful than it actually was. And she hadn't expected the noises there either: "Some insects made such a noise that I thought they must be very large animals or technical devices."

Roland Suso Richter's film tries to avoid common stereotypes about the life of natives in distant lands. He wants to show us the real life of these people and their traditional way of life. And he wants - in the spirit of Sabine Kuegler - to awaken an awareness of foreign ways of life and peoples in the audience. This also includes showing the Fayu from the perspective of a curious child as the author experienced it. The Fayu let their dead rot in the forest, a heavily pregnant woman simply died because they believed she was under a curse. They robbed women of the neighboring tribe and practiced strange rituals in their warfare. The film does not show all of this sensationally, but with the eyes of a child who first has to classify the processes. Even if a lot has changed in the Fayu tribe to this day and there are no longer tribes completely untouched by modern life: the film shows the natives by no means only as backward indigenous people. Rather, it seems as if we - like Sabine at the time - can also learn something from the Fayu. And if it only comes down to the question of whether our view of life is really the only correct one.

Thomas Werner