Sabine’s Papua Song
A film about a young German girl who lived with a primitive tribe in Papua. The film left quite an impression on the German public.
DSCHUNGELKIND (Child of the Jungle)
Cast: Thomas Kretschmann, Nadja Uhl, Stella Kunkat, Sina Tkotsch, Tom Hossbach, and Milena Tscharntke
Screenplay: Richard Reitinger, Sabine Kuegler, Natalie Scharf, Beth Serlin, and Florian Schumacher
Producer: Universal Studio Pictures Germany.
SABINE Kuegler’s eyes filled with tears at the sight of the lush Jayapura jungle from the helicopter that was to take her away, back to Europe. Her heart was still there, down below. Among the Fayu tribe, a primitive cannibalistic society, who still use bows and arrows to hunt and kill their enemies, she had found peace and unlimited freedom.
It is from there that the film titled Dschungelkind (Child of the Jungle), based on a true story as told in Sabine Kuegler’s best-selling book of the same name, begins. The film opens with narration by Sabine (played by Sina Tkotsch) relaying her confusion in discovering her identity. She lives in two worlds. Physically she lives in Europe, but she left her heart behind in Jayapura. “That is my hometown. In my heart,” the writer told Tempo.
The young Sabine (played brilliantly by Stella Kunkat) was only 5 years old when her parents brought her into a tribal environment where men still wore traditional penis sheaths (koteka), and the people had dark skin and broad noses. Her older sister Judith (played by Milena Tscharntke), who often cried because she did not feel at home in the new environment, and her twin brother Christian (played by Tom Hossbach), who always did what he was told, were there too. Her father, Klaus Kuegler (played by Thomas Kretschmann), was a missionary and linguist with a great enthusiasm for studying the isolated tribe’s language. Her mother, Doris (played by Nadja Uhl), was a nurse, who took care of the daily household tasks in the wooden house where they lived.
The adventures of the young, blonde-haired Sabine is revealed chapter by chapter, just as it is in the book. There is the scene when the Fayu tribe chief touches his forehead to hers—the traditional way for the Fayu tribe to receive guests. Sabine was elated to discover this new practice and murmured, “I’m in the jungle, I’m in the jungle...” to express her enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Judith began to cry. On the way to their new house, Sabine saw another new thing: a human corpse rotting in a heap, swarming with flies. That is the way the Fayu tribe bury their dead, by just leaving them sprawled in the middle of the jungle.
The story is told in the film of how her father then raised a boy from the tribe, called Ohri, as his own. When Sabine and Christian found the boy, many bows and arrows were pointed at his chest. His hands had been tied in the middle of the jungle by Gohu, the head of the Fayu tribe. Sabine told her brother to wait with the poor child while she ran through the dense jungle to find help. Her brother obeyed, although he cried from fear at being left alone in the jungle. “Sing loudly so that when help arrives, we know where you are,” Sabine said. That is where the friendship between Sabine and her adopted brother began (who passed away at the beginning of the story from tuberculosis), by linking their pinkie fingers together.
The film was not made in Papua, but in the jungles of Malaysia, with similar panoramic scenery and atmosphere to the original setting. The characters from the Fayu tribe were also true to life. “Their acting is excellent. Natural. This is a film to refresh the souls of its viewers,” said Martin, an audience member. Roland Suso Richter (a television drama film specialist known for Der Fluch (The Curse), Der Tunnel (The Tunnel), Mogadischu, and Dresden), who directed the film, was successful in inviting viewers to enjoy adventure by gripping adventure while at the same time pleasing Sabine. He was able to successfully portray how a society that appeared frightening was also full of ‘heart.’ Meaningless factional warfare must have disturbed Mr Kuegler’s family. In fact, they were ready to stop a battle when Klaus became angry because Judith was crying from fear.
The film was inundated with viewers in Germany as well as in German-speaking countries (like Austria and Switzerland). The film was also shown at the Berlin International Film Festival-Berlinale in February. Film critic Alexandra Watch said: “Thumbs up for Roland Suso. He is able to make a family film that touches the heart, while unfalteringly expressing the fear of living in a foreign place.” Another film critic, Walli Mueler, said: “The spiritual struggle in the life of Sabine Kuegler between two worlds is also felt by the audience.”
Many films are set against the backdrop of a dense jungle—just think of Crocodile Dundee or George of the Jungle. But more than that, Dschungelkind relays the true story of what happened to this child of the jungle. Dschungelkind is not a Hollywood flick, full of action scenes, blood, and tears. It is a personal diary. Or, as Sabine says at the end of the film, “This is my story, the story of a girl and the beauty of life.”
Sri Pudyastuti Baumeister (Germany)