National Museum of the American Indian

Harry Wright's ethnographic films from Mexico

Summary

Collection ID:
NMAI.AC.429
Creators:
Wright, Harry, 1876-1954
Myers, Edwin Forgan
Dates:
1939-1946
Languages:
English
.
Physical Description:
38 Film reels
16mm
Repository:
This collection includes 13 16mm films, consisting of 38 reels, produced by Harry Wright and filmed by Edwin Myers between 1939-1940 among the Yoeme (Yaqui), Lacandon Maya, Purepecha (Tarasco), Oxchuc Tzeltal Maya (Occucero), Tzotzil Maya, Chamula Maya, Lachiguiri Zapotec [Tehuantepec], and Tacuate communities. These were part of two series' titled The Harry Wright Ethnographic Series: Indian Tribes of Unknown Mexico and Harry Wright's Mexican Indian Series.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
This collection includes thirteen films (38 reels) that were shot in 16mm between 1939 and 1940 as part of an expedition funded by Harry Wright and filmed by Edwin Myers. Sound was later added in post-production between 1941 and 1946. The original films were organized into two series: The Harry Wright Ethnographic Series: Indian Tribes of Unknown Mexico and Harry Wright's Mexican Indian Series, but since this collection is incomplete, the films are currently organized by catalog numbers assigned by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation: 3015-3024, 3026-3027, 3043.
The films include the following titles: Yaqui Deer Dance (1 reel); Voladores: Dance of the Flying Men (2 reels); Five Mexican Dances (1 reel); Lancandones: A Lost Tribe of Jungle Savages (4 reels); Tzintzuntzan: The Tarascan Indians Re-enact the Passion Play at Tzintuztan (1 reel); The Tzeltzals Have Many Strange Customs (4 reels); The Unknown Taquate Indians (4 reels); Tenejapenos Cling to Pagan Rites (5 reels); Tehuantepec (5 reels); Rain Fiesta of the Tzotzil Indians (4 reels); Zincantecos: They Look like Arabs (4); Chamula Pow-wow in Honor of their Black Monkey Ancestors (2 reels); In the Village of Huachinango, Puebla: Typical Mexican Fiesta (1 reel). Many of the titles of these films include terminology that is no longer used, or appropriate, to describe the Indigenous communities represented in them.
The films, narrated by Myers and Wright, were made among the Yoeme (Yaqui), Lacandon Maya, Purepecha (Tarasco), Oxchuc Tzeltal Maya (Occucero), Tzotzil Maya, Chamula Maya, Lachiguiri Zapotec [Tehuantepec], and Tacuate communities. Many of the films show Myers interacting with community members who are demonstrating everyday activities as well as rituals for special occasions.

Content Warning

Content Warning
Please note that the language and terminology used in these films reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation and includes what is considered derogatory and harmful language today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.

Arrangement

Arrangement
Arranged by catalog number.

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Harry Wright was born in Bedford, Virginia in 1876. Following the death of his father, Wright began working for the Joseph Iron and Equipment Co. and was sent by the company to Mexico in 1900. His brother, Samuel Bolling, joined him in 1902 and the two started their own Foundry "La Consolidada S.A." which made both brothers millionaires within five years. Wright developed a passion for filmmaking, becoming a founding member and president of the Cinema Club de México, in 1937. Wright built his own private projection room in Mexico City, the "Kraal Theatre" which held a collection of more than two thousand films and became a meeting place for amateur filmmakers.
In the late 1930s, Wright hired photographer Edwin Forgan Myers to travel to indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Pueblo and Hidalgo to shoot material for sixteen travelogues. Myers, born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1901, arrived in Mexico in 1932 and held the position of "Sports Director" at the Mexico City Country Club between 1933 and 1938. Financed by Wright, Myers travelled through some of the most remote and inaccessible regions of Mexico with the purpose of "preserving for posterity the customs, dances, religious ceremonies, and the life of these little-known Indian tribes, before they totally disappear." The travelogues were shot in 16mm and organized into two series: The Harry Wright Ethnographic Series: Indian Tribes of Unknown Mexico and Harry Wright's Mexican Indian Series. Wright added audio to the films in a specialized studio between 1941 and 1943 and would screen the shorts at his Kraal Theater in the early 1940s.
Harry Wright's collection of films was eventually purchased by the Library of Congress from Ruth B. Wright, the widow of Harry Wright's nephew, Harry Wright Conger. A second collection of Wright's films from Mexico, formerly in the possession of Edwin Myers, was gifted to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation by Mildred Walter, in 1974.
Sources:
Acosta, Magdalena. "Indian Tribes of Unknown Mexico una serie etnográfica pionera," El ojo que piensa. Revista de cine iberoamericano Núm. 13 (Julio/Diciembre 2016).
Arrendondo, Isabel. "Telling Stories About Unknown People in Faraway Countries: US Travelogues About Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s," Storytelling in World Cinemas, Volume 2. Columbia University Press, 2013.

Administration

Author
Rachel Menyuk
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Mildred H. Walter, 1974.
Processing Information
Processed by Rachel Menyuk, Processing Archivist, 2023.
Existence and Location of Copies
The majority of the films are included on two VHS videocasettes (#3 and #4) that were part of a film preservation project by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation in the 1980s. This collection of 12 videocassettes can be found in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation ethnographic film collection, NMAI.AC.001.001.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Access
Collection is closed until the materials have been digitized.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center. Please submit a written request to nmaiphotos@si.edu. For personal or classroom use, users are invited to download, print, photocopy, and distribute the images that are available online without prior written permission, provided that the files are not modified in any way, the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice (where applicable) is included, and the source of the image is identified as the National Museum of the American Indian. For more information please see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use and NMAI Archive Center's Digital Image request website.
Preferred Citation
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Harry Wright's ethnographic films from Mexico, NMAI.AC.429; National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials
A collection of Wright's films were donated to the Library of Congress by Ruth B. Wright and 39 reels were transferred to Betacam SP tapes and sent to the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico.

Keywords

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Yoeme (Yaqui) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lacandon Maya Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Purepecha (Tarasco) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tzeltal Maya Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tzotzil Maya Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Chamula Maya Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lachiguiri Zapotec [Tehuantepec] Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

National Museum of the American Indian
4220 Silver Hill Rd
Suitland, Maryland 20746-2863
nmaiarchives@si.edu