It's the stuff of nightmares, the dark inspiration for literature and film. But astonishingly, cannibalism does exist, and in Among the Cannibals travel writer Paul Raffaele journeys to the far corners of the globe to discover participants in this mysterious and disturbing practice. From an obscure New Guinea river village, where Raffaele went in search of one of the last practicing cannibal cultures on Earth; to India, where the Aghori sect still ritualistically eat their dead; to North America, where evidence exists that the Aztecs ate sacrificed victims; to Tonga, where the descendants of fierce warriors still remember how their predecessors preyed upon their foes; and to Uganda, where the unfortunate victims of the Lord's Resistance Army struggle to reenter a society from which they have been violently torn, Raffaele brings this baffling cultural ritual to light in a combination of Indiana Jones-type adventure and gonzo journalism. Illustrated with photographs Raffaele took during his travels, Among the Cannibals is a gripping look at some of the more unsavory aspects of human civilization, guaranteed to satisfy every reader's morbid curiosity.
Those seeking tales of serial killers a la Hannibal Lecter will be disappointed in these books, as both authors favor in-depth examinations of cannibalism across a wide variety of cultures. Likewise, both discredit the conclusions of William Arens's The Man-Eating Myth, instead asserting that cannibalism has been a very real human practice around the globe. Travis-Henikoff (coauthor, Star Food Revisited), a scholar of paleoanthropology, covers the phenomenon's many raisons d'Etre, from survival to politically motivated terror. Her perspective as a gastronomist helps to situate cannibalism within a wide range of global culinary practices from the Amazon to the American Southwest to Polynesia. Some sections, e.g., those on archaeological dating and on the Inquisition, could have been shorter, but the book's range is impressive. Raffaele (Smithsonian magazine) focuses on cannibalism in a few particular regions: New Guinea, the Ganges basin, Tonga, and Uganda. He meets with cannibals, the locals who condemn them, and descendents of other known cannibals. His beautiful descriptions of life among these cultures show that cannibalism is a local belief that, unlike the rapidly changing landscape, is still going strong in some places. Unlike Travis-Henikoff, Raffaele maintains that cannibalism not related to survival is an "evil" act, yet his portraits of cannibals show their essential humanity. Both books are highly recommended for public libraries; endnotes and a bibliography additionally recommend Travis-Henikoff.--Dan Harms, SUNY at Cortland Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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June 02, 2008
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