Travels with Borneo's Head-Hunters
Wild People is the story of one man's experience living among a rare and almost extinct culture. The Iban are a primitive people who live in the hilly jungles of Borneo'whose peaceful existence of hunting, fishing, tending their crops, and worshipping their gods belies a fierce legacy of head-hunting. This, however, is no ordinary work of travel anthropology"if Andro Linklater takes us into the heart of this world he also take us into our own, and the clash of cultures he documents produces not only memorable insight but ample and sharp-witted humor.
The author's sympathetic effort to truly understand this utterly alien and exotic culture is where the book's greatest value lies. Far up the Katibas River, where the maps grow vague, he finds a traditional longhouse agreeable to his three-month stay, and a world that makes no distinction between the physical and spiritual, animal and human, waking time and dream time. He learns how to interpret the oracles of birds, signs and omens of every kind, what gods to sacrifice to for a bumper rice harvest. He takes part in a gawai kenyalang, a rare and complex ceremony performed once in a man's lifetime to ensure his prestige in this and the spirit world. He becomes involved"even in matters of the heart. Seduced and beguiled by the culture he has come to respect and admire, the author asks himself a genuine question: Why not? It seems to work for them"they are not only handsome and brave but happy as well.
Wild People gives us a palpable sense of what it might be like to live in a primitive culture. In the tradition of such English travel writers as Colin Thubron and Redmond O'Hanlon, it also tells of a personal journey"the story of one civilized and slightly cynical man's brief and poignant romance with a dying culture.
Atlantic Monthly Press, 9780871134776, 216pp.
Publication Date: January 25, 1994