This paper analyzes the film, “Mother Dao – the Turtle-like.” The film depicts life in colonial Indonesia by highlighting the class differences that existed between the colonizers and their subjects. Developers of the film made the documentary by merging a collection of internationally acclaimed film excerpts shot by Dutch filmmakers from 1912 to 1932 (Rony 129).
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This paper argues that the film is part of a wider representation of historical literature that supported “white supremacy” during the colonial era. Evidence of this paper highlights the acculturation of the Islanders, by their European masters, and the depiction of native Indonesians as poor people who needed “saving,” as examples of “white supremacy.”
Lastly, this paper argues that the addition of a spiritual connotation in the film shifts the focus of the audience from the exploitation of Indonesians by their colonial masters. To understand this thesis, it is, first, important to comprehend how the film represents Indonesia, its people, and the colonizers.
The Film’s representation of Indonesia
The Indonesian people were the main subjects of “Mother Dao – the Turtle-like.” The first impression (of the Indonesian people) that one could get from watching the film is the “traditional” nature of the inhabitants. Albeit open to interpretation, the documentary portrays the Asian country as a retrogressive society with deep cultural beliefs (Rony 129).
However, when the colonizers came, they stopped enjoying the rich cultural heritage they used to have because the westerners took over their natural resources and cultural pride. For example, they put oil barrels on the fields and cut down the forest to burn charcoal. This is one type of exploitation perpetrated by the supremacists over their subjects. Cultural domination is another representation of colonial supremacy.
Conditions of Life in Indonesia and the Overall Message of the Film
“Poor” and “needy” are suitable adjectives that depict the lives of the Indonesian people in “Mother Dao, the Turtle-like.” Screenshots of the Indonesian inhabitants depict them as poor and impoverished people, while, on the contrary, it depicts white people as wealthy rulers who give orders and have their subjects do as they say (Stern 46).
Overall, the film portrays white people as supreme powers who came to liberate Indonesia from their primitive cultures by starting new factories and orienting them to a new culture and lifestyle. This depiction occurs through the contrasting lives of native Indonesians, who wore traditional regalia and the working class Indonesians who wore suits and ties to work.
The film depicts the latter group as a more civilized section of the Indonesian population, while the former group as a “needy” demographic, which needs help from the Dutch colonialists. Ironically, Stern (89) observes that the intention of the filmmakers was to portray the positive effects of colonization to a Dutch audience.
Although such representations elicit negative feelings, it shows how the filmmakers mainly targeted the Dutch (colonialists), as their main audience, by highlighting Indonesia’s impoverished life to justify their invasion.
The relationship between the sound and the Film
The lack of sound in “Mother Dao, the Turtle-like” made it difficult for the presenters to provide a good narration of the story. Instead, the film looked like a collection of film excerpts, which depicted life in colonial Indonesia. Rony (129) agrees to this understanding by saying the lack of sound made the film seem a surreal depiction of colonial Indonesia. He takes a deep analysis of this fact by evaluating how such films manifest across different types of media.
Furthermore, he investigates how films could account for surrealism outside the conventional form of the concept (Rony 129). To mask some of the limitations attributed to the film (because of the lack of sound), the film developers introduced poetry in the film to create action and minimize the dullness associated with documentary films. Although it made the story more interesting, introducing a voice-over could have further strengthened the film’s storyline.
Spiritual Justification of Colonial Exploitation
Unlike other literature that explore the lives of native communities and their masters, “Mother Dao, the Turtle-like” introduces spirituality to its narration. The name “Mother Dao” represents a spiritual god that birthed the world by conceiving its inhabitants through an unknown conception process (Rony 130).
Some analysts say the spiritual being is a phantom. For example, Rony (130) refers to the film by saying that meeting Mother Dao is like coming face to face with a phantom. This reference shows the symbolism of Mother Dao as a goddess, who created the earth from dirt.
However, its addition to the film detracts us from understanding the original plot of the story – white domination. Spiritual connotations make it appear unnatural, thereby making it difficult for the audience to relate to real-world events that characterized the economic exploitation of the Indonesian people by Dutch colonialists.
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This paper shows that the film, “Mother Dao, the Turtle-like,” is part of a wider group of films that promoted white supremacy. Although the main audience of the film was the Dutch people, its plot represents an unfair representation of the islanders by portraying them as poor and oppressed people who needed “saving.”
Based on the same representation, the film depicts white people as superior human beings who, despite invading the land of the Islanders, control the natives by giving orders. Overall, this representation highlights the old class differences that existed between European colonialists and their Asian subjects.
Rony, Toibing, Fatimah. “The Quick and the Dead: Surrealism and the Found Ethnographic Footage Films of Bontoc Eulogy and Mother Dao: The Turtlelike.” Camera Obscura 18.1 (2003): 129-155. Print
Stern, Lesley. The Smoking Book, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.