“[Linklater] presents anthropology without the jargon here, an honest and often humorous look at the Ibans’ way of life and that of the modern world.”Bob MacDonald, Boston Globe
Travels with Borneo's Head-Hunters
Atlantic Monthly Press
978-0-87113-477-6 • $16.00 • Paperback • Aug. 1992
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.