"Among the Cannibals" began when Paul Raffaele, Australian travel writer, made his first trip up an obscure New Guinea river in search of one of the last practicing cannibal cultures on Earth. What he found were a people who conflate disease with sorcery, and who exact vengeance for their loved ones' deaths by hunting, and eating, the "sorcerers" they hold responsible. Such practices are thankfully quite rare today, but it exists, whether in the memory of the leader of a Pacific cargo cult - a group that parades each February in the hopes that John Frum, a legendary American sailor, will return bearing boxes of spam and other more conventional foodstuffs - or in the religious practices of the Aghori sect of India, whose idea of saintliness is certain to mystify and fascinate readers.It also existed elsewhere in the past, and Raffaele journeys to these peoples' homelands, mixing travel, history, and anthropology in an engaging and illuminating look at why different cultures have ever sanctioned man eating. The book will be well illustrated with photographs Raffaele has taken during his journeys, and told in his inimitable, self-deprecating style.
A mix of Indiana Jones and John Belushi, Raffaele's telling of his journeys with cannibals is sure to be a pleasure for anyone interested in the out-of-the-way and forgotten.
Buy Among the Cannibals book by Paul Raffaele from Australia's Online Bookstore, Boomerang Books.
(229mm x 152mm x 25mm)
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Inc
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US Kirkus Review »
Smithsonian writer Raffaele travels around the planet to study "the most repugnant and forbidding" violation of society's taboos.Unsurprisingly, the more exciting and disturbing places he visited were the ones where cannibalism was still an ongoing concern. In New Guinea, Raffaele journeyed far upriver to the Korowai, a Stone Age tribe whose belief in khakhua (malign spirits causing disease) obligated them to kill and eat purportedly khakhua-possessed tribemates. He found the Korowai a lovely people, actually, unlike the Aghoris, a creepy Hindu cult whose holy men fed on the remains of corpses that had been cremated and dumped in the Ganges. Raffaele's narrative becomes truly horrific, though, when he describes venturing into northern Uganda, where rebel factions regularly kidnapped children, then forced them to kill and eat their compatriots. In the author's portraits of rehabilitation camps holding hundreds of spiritually shattered children, his book reaches beyond adventure anthropology and achieves a tone of urgent humanity. Next to that, trips to Tonga (whose famously hefty islanders were once feared warrior-cannibals) and Mexico City (to examine the debate over whether the Aztecs were cannibals) seem like little more than sideshows. Raffaele isn't afraid to toss himself into the mix here, hamming up the role of devil-may-care travel writer and citing his preference for "walking along the edge of every cliff I encounter in life." This swashbuckling attitude makes for a swift read and some shallow thinking. "Eating human flesh, unless you have no prospect of other food and are starving to death, is an evil act," the author writes at one point, "and no amount of religious mumbo jumbo can sanctify it" - true enough, but also blindingly self-evident; Raffaele himself refers to "the taboos placed upon [cannibalism] throughout much of human history."Not deep, but a dark thrill ride to the extremes of behavior. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Paul Raffaele
An Australian now living in Hong Kong, Paul Raffaele is currently a feature writer for Smithsonian Magazine.