One of Jean Rouch's classic ethnofictions, JAGUAR follows three young Songhay men from Niger--Lam Ibrahim, Illo Goudel'ize, and the legendary performer Damouré Zika--on a journey to the Gold Coast (modern day Ghana).
Drawing from his own fieldwork on intra-African migration, the results of which he published in the 1956 book Migrations au Ghana, Rouch collaborated with his three subjects on an improvisational narrative. The four filmed the trip in mid-1950s, and reunited a few years later to record the sound, the participants remembering dialogue and making up commentary. The result is a playful film that finds three African men performing an ethnography of their own culture.
JAGUAR begins at the marketplace in Ayouru, Niger where the three men work. Seeing a group of men just returned from the Gold Coast, where many Nigeriens have migrated for job opportunities, they decide to make their way to Accra. They leave on foot, following the old slave and warrior routes through the bush.
Lam heads to Kumasi with a Fulani herdsman, while the other two men try their fortunes in Accra. Damouré quickly rises through the ranks at a lumberyard. He makes money, and learns the ways of the city, becoming a cool, urban sophisticate - or "jaguar." Unable to read, Illo makes much less money as a laborer in the port, and is forced to sleep outside. Both discover the lures and snares of the city: alcohol and bar life, abundant romantic opportunity, and naked social inequality.
Having earned some money, and gotten their fill of Accra, Illo and Damouré leave Accra to join Lam in Kumasi. Drawing on their newfound urbanity, they open a hip marketplace stall together, called "Little by Little the Bird Makes Its Bonnet". They return to Niger full of experience, tall tales, and more money than they would have made at home.
Driven by Rouch's notion of "shared ethnography", JAGUAR offers a more complex portrait of African life than most Western films. The collaboration between filmmaker and subjects reveals a wide range of ethnic, geographic, and cultural differences within just a small piece of the African continent, as well as the social changes and patterns of migration that defined mid-century African life. More than plain ethnography, Rouch and his collaborators have created a new kind of myth.
"Exhuberant...In its spontaneous good humor, it is like something the Beatles might have made." —Karl G. Heider, Ethnographic Film
2012 African Studies Association Conference
"Rouch's most thorough examination of the African experience under the colonial regime, and an early example of his concept of provocation, the practice in which the camera's presence is intended to cause those being filmed to react, thus creating, rather than merely recording, events." —Matt Losada, Senses of Cinema
"Infused with what Italo Calvino called the brilliance of "lightness"... Rouch forces us to confront a wide array of colonialist assumptions: that in their "backwardness" Africans have no sense of the wanderlust; that in their "backwardness" Africans do not extract wisdom from their journeys. With great humor, JAGUAR shatters our expectations." —Paul Stoller, Visual Anthropology Review