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Among the Cannibals

Cover of Among the Cannibals

Among the Cannibals

Adventures on the Trail of Man's Darkest Ritual
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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.

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.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    For almost three hours the Indonesian jet has been crossing the Banda Sea high above the clouds. We departed from Bali at 5 am, and the drone of the engines has lulled me into an uneasy slumber, until my neighbor, a soldier in camouflage fatigues, nudges me in the ribs. He points out the window to a turquoise coastline fringed with gardens of coral. Beaches and mangrove swamps give way to dense jungle that flows inland for several miles to be met by steep hills. Beyond the jungle rises an enormous spine of purple mountain, a towering massif crowned with jagged chunks of slate. The mountain is an omen; distant, elusive, dangerous. We are crossing the coastline of the world's second biggest island, a place once thronged with cannibals and headhunters.

    "Papua," the soldier says in a soft voice that belies his hard dark eyes and grim smile, using the name for the province that forms the western half of New Guinea.

    It is like returning home, because I came to New Guinea for the first time in 1961 as a youngster and have been back many times, lured by the seductive opportunity for adventure among the great island's fierce tribes. But this trip will be unique because I come in search of the last cannibal tribe on Earth.

    Beyond the coast, New Guinea is a land of massive sheer-sloped mountains soaring as high as sixteen thousand feet, rammed together for hundreds of miles on end, and swathed in jungle. I keep glancing out of the window at the purple mountain, gripped by its majestic power. But banks of cloud drift in from the north-east and, with a suddenness that surprises me, the mountain disappears, leaving only the coastline and a thick cover of cloud that stretches from just above the jungle canopy to the top of the sky.

    I have come to this distant place to revisit the tribe of cannibals known as the Korowai, who live in treehouses in one of the island's most far-off jungles. Ten years earlier, led by a guide, I had encountered the cannibals along a remote river one hundred miles in from the southern coast. But because it was too dangerous to go much further into their tribal territory, my guide would only take me a few hours' walk into the jungle to a Korowai treehouse. I spoke with the clansmen there, but as they had been in contact with Dutch missionaries for several years, they were familiar with the horror outsiders feel about cannibalism. They would not show me any evidence that they had killed and eaten other men.

    Nothing is holding me back this time. I am going to trek deep into Korowai territory, far upriver where there are clans who have never seen an outsider. For four decades I have roamed some of Earth's most remote places, seeking out people still living in what anthropologists call the Paleolithic era, but have never found a tribe that has not yet seen Europeans. I am perversely intrigued to discover whether the cannibals will welcome me with smiles or with arrows.

    The Korowai tree-dwellers are among the most isolated people on Earth. They live in a country that was ruled by the Dutch for more than a century, but has been wrapped in the rough and often violent embrace of Indonesia since 1963. Their ferocity and the rugged terrain have warded off outside influences.

    Most Korowai still live largely as they have for millennia, with little or no knowledge of the outside world, apart from the Citak headhunters who inhabit the rivers that sweep around the cannibals' jungles. When they were not fending off attacks by the Citak, who were ever eager to lop off heads, the Korowai have been constantly at war with each other, killing and eating with gusto male witches they call the khakhua.

    An hour after crossing the coast, the jet descends over a...

About the Author-
  • Paul Raffaele has scored many world scoops for such magazines as Reader's Digest, Parade, and Smithsonian, including stories on North Korea, Saharan slave traders, and East Timor's fight for independence. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 2, 2008
    Australian Raffaele's quest for cannibals sent him around the world from the New Guinea highlands to the streets of Mexico City. Along the way he encountered necrophiliac Indian holy men, the brutalized child-victims of Uganda's civil war, and the iron-pumping king of Tonga. Raeffele's primary goal is to explore exactly what leads different cultures to violate one of humanity's greatest taboos. Yet Raffaele (a Smithsonian feature writer) is not above taking detours and his itinerary includes lessons in Tantric practices, drinking bouts with Tongan transvestites, and a tour of a Frida Kahlo exhibition. Raffaele is a competent adventure writer and has no problem asking questions along the lines of: "Have you eaten human flesh?" Unfortunately, he displays a less-than nuanced perspective, leading him to statements such as: "He is a mass killer whose humanity seems to have been almost entirely sucked out of him."' The fact that a number of the cultures he investigates haven't engaged in cannibalism in centuries makes his quest often seem misguided. Raffaele also needlessly tries to force the drama by phrasing his issues in the most lurid terms imaginable. What could have been a serious investigation of the most extreme varieties of human experience becomes a kind of cannibal farce.

  • Peter Carlson, Washington Post (January 8, 2007)

    "Raffaele is a fun writer who has proved his ability to illuminate the oddness of the world. Maybe it's time for Smithsonian's editors to bring him in from the boondocks and set him loose in the USA."

  • Peter Nichols, author of A Voyage for Madmen

    "[A] modern, non-fiction version of Conan Doyle's The Lost World: a time-warp glimpse into man's most primordial nightmare; exciting, fantastic, horrific - and a very well-written travel narrative."

  • Kirkus Reviews

    "Swashbuckling...A dark thrill ride to the extremes of behavior... reaches beyond adventure anthropology and achieves a tone of urgent humanity."

  • Associated Press

    "Simply fascinating... Raffaele's book is worth devouring."

  • New York Post, One of the top 10 picks for Summer Reads

    "Travel writer Raffaele's adventures in search of real cannibals...Curl up with this book and a nice Chianti."

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Among the Cannibals
Among the Cannibals
Adventures on the Trail of Man's Darkest Ritual
Paul Raffaele
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