Before the Harvest

unknown; cinematographer, Harold Reimer
Harry Bollback
Production Date: 
Harold Reimer, Jack Wrytzen
Run Time: 

Establishing shot: Long shot through pine trees of green hills and lake—presumably Schroon Lake in the Adirondak hills, home of “the Word of Life island, ranch, and inn.”


Named locations: Adirondak mountains (1:20); Word of Life island (1:53); “the jungles of Brazil” (5:19); Nigeria, Peru, Liberia, Panama in a series (39:44)
Major themes covered: This missionary film details the horrifying and bigoted exploits of a group of men from Jack Wyrtzen’s Word of Life church.  The group ventures into the Amazon to find and baptize Xavante peoples.  In the course of evangelizing to the Xavante Indians, the group witnesses the outbreak of an epidemic and the subsequent death rituals.

Individuals Named: Harry Bollback, Harold Reimer

Native language spoken: none
Noteworthy elements: 

Native activities shown:  Xavante activities depicted in the film: very large group of Xavante people standing on sandy shoreline watching the approach of the missionaries, talking, pointing (19:50); taking “gifts” that appear to be cups of water and, later, articles of clothing from the missionaries (20:40); woman distributing articles of clothing, flannel shirts (20:57); woman putting on red dress (21:28); two men wrestling (21:50 – 22:48); man “wrestling” with one of the missionaries and the writer of the film, Harry Bollback (22:50); man with headdress identified as chief looking into camera while rowing canoe (22:13);  group of young Xavante men gathered around listening to missionaries play what are said to be hymns on trombone, accordion (23:55 – 24:43); group of young Xavante women with children sitting on ground against some mud/wood structure (24:17); woman grinding what was presumably a potato with mortar and pestle, mixing it with water (24:43); women pounding and rolling out dough, packing it into brick-like loaves (25:12); processes of making and frying potato bread (24:43 – 26:40); young boy receiving medicine/treatment for unknown illness—woman swabbing inside of boy’s mouth (28:00); man sitting in canoe weaving belt (28:21); Xavante woman with elaborate feather headdress, sitting in canoe, looking at herself in handheld mirror (28:41); Xavante man fixing white feather headdress on his head (28:53); man painting himself and looking into handheld mirror (29:06); man with red paint in hair painting face (29:18); pan of men and women with feather headdresses, face/hair paint, and/or earrings looking into camera (29:30); group of Xavante with full body paint and what appear to be weapons huddled together in wooded area (30:13); men and women marching, carrying supplies along dirt road (30:19); men with chalky white body paint handing out fry bread to young boys and girls (30:51); group of men and presumably women too planting large tree branch into ground before group of men who are identified as candidates for chief (31:26); woman without face or hair paint looking straight into the camera (31:36); two men with body paint playing didgeridoo-like instrument (31:43); Xavante dance, identified as “death dance” (31:50 – 33:06); young men in full white chalky body paint holding long arrows looking off camera right, presumably toward dance (32:13); men receding from dance into straw hut (32:55); boys drinking liquid from cauldron (33:16); men emerging from straw hut one-by-one, rushing out with arrows in hand, proceeding to dance, confront other group of Xavante (33:26); men throwing arrows (which appear to be blunted) at one another while hiding behind large bundle of sticks (34:51 – 36:04)

Xavante activities implied or alluded to in the film: attacking friends of missionaries, splitting their heads open (7:53); trying to put a belt and earrings on Harry Bollback, wanting to wrestle Bollback (22:40); epidemic among Xavante population in the film: many Xavante people, especially children and elders, dying of unknown illness (26:42); man identified as chief dying (27:54); attending church, being baptized (people depicted at this point in the film probably not Xavante) (37:20).

Other notes: Jack Wurtzen presents; played by Harry Bollback with Don Lough, Kurt Peria, Kurt Finsterbush, Jud Carlberg; with the cooperation and courtesy of the South America Indian Mission

Print resources:

Coimbra, Junior C. E. A. The Xavánte in Transition: Health, Ecology, and

          Bioanthropology in Central Brazil. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,  


This study of the anthropology, epidemiology, and ecology of Xavante peoples and environments aims at producing an understanding of the interactions between Xavante peoples and Brazilian society.  Includes chapters on health and disease among Xavante.


Garfield, Seth. Indigenous Struggle at the Heart of Brazil: State Policy, Frontier

           Expansion, and the Xavante Indians, 1937-1988. Durham, NC: Duke University  

           Press, 2001.

Discusses politically fraught history of Xavante interactions with Brazilian government.  Covers period between Getulio Vargas’s expansionist “March to the West” to integrate indigenous tribes and 1988 Constitution that granted new legal rights to Xavantes.


Graham, Laura. "A Public Sphere in Amazonia? the Depersonalized Collaborative

          Construction of Discourse in Xavante." American Ethnologist. 20.4 (1993): 717-


This article compares the discourses of Western philosophy of language and Xavante political orders.  From the abstract: “Specifically, [the present article] focuses on the relationships among discourse, the individual, and the collectivity.”  The article concludes that “Speech performances effectively detach individuals from the content of their speech, counteracting Xavante factionalism and promoting social cohesiveness as well as egalitarian relations among senior males. Simultaneously, speech practices recreate and reinforce age- and gender-based relations of dominance.”


Maybury-Lewis, David. The Savage and the Innocent. Cleveland: World Pub. Co,


This oft-cited but dated study gives an anthropological/ethnographic account of Xavante customs, folklore, and social life, with a view toward Amazon geography.


Robinson, John G, and Elizabeth L. Bennett. Hunting for Sustainability in Tropical


Forests. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

This useful anthology presents a variety of articles on sustainability practices in indigenous tribes throughout the world.  Features an article on the management of hunting in Xavante communities, and how such management impacts sustainability practices.


Santos, Ricardo V, and Nancy M. Flowers. "Tapirs, Tractors, and Tapes: the Changing

          Economy and Ecology of the Xavánte Indians of Central Brazil." Human

          Ecology. 25.4 (1997): 545-566.

Informative article on Xavante adaptations and interactions in Brazilian society.  From the abstract: “ This paper explores the process of change in a Brazilian indigenous community, relating it to historical, economical, and political forces at the regional and national levels, as well as to environmental variables…. We find that in the case of the Xavánte community entry into the market was more the result of a top-down government plan to implement mechanized rice production on Xavánte reservations. With the collapse of the project the Xavánte have, on the one hand, returned to a more “traditional” economy based on hunting, gathering, and swidden agriculture and, on the other hand, are innovating by marketing their cultural image through connections with national and international environmentalist organizations.”


Welch, James R, Aline A. Ferreira, Ricardo V. Santos, Silvia A. Gugelmin, Guilherme

          Werneck, and Carlos E. A. Coimbra. "Nutrition Transition, Socioeconomic

          Differentiation, and Gender Among Adult Xavante Indians, Brazilian Amazon."

          Human Ecology. 37.1 (2009): 13-26.

Article explores relationship between indigenous involvement in market economies and nutrition.  Studies group of Xavante adults from a single community to determine the nutritional and socioeconomic, and gender effects of transitioning between indigenous and market cultures. 


Xavante, Jerônimo, Bartolomeu Giaccaria, and Adalberto Heide. Mitología Xavante:

          Mitos, Leyendas, Cuentos Y Sueños. Quito, Ecuador: Ediciones ABYA-YALA,


Spanish-language book offers summaries of Xavante religious traditions and beliefs.


Web resources:

Encyclopedia Britannica entry for “Xavante”:

Discusses history and interactions between Xavante and Brazilian government, “outsiders.”  Brief description of nomadic lifestyle and diet.


Ethnologue site on Xavante:

Includes statistical information on Xavante peoples, including language usage and disease contact with “outsiders” in the 1950s.


Every Culture page on Xavante:

Fairly comprehensive but not academic page includes information on history, language, rites of passage, recreation and food of Xavante.


“Effects of Modernization on the Xavante” by Laura Graham:

Discusses role of Xavante and Xavante issues in present-day Brazilian government.  Health care, land rights, and community-building are among the topics that Graham says need to be re-considered by Brazilian officials.


“Indigenous Peoples and Conservation Organizations”

This online volume presented by the World Wildlife Fund features case studies of collaboration between indigenous peoples and conservation organizations.  Includes an article on the Xavante/WWF Wildlife Management Project by Laura Graham.


Cultural Survival page on Xavante:

Provides a wealth of information on Xavante history and livelihood, as well as current problems and issues.  Also includes links to other articles and a reading list.