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THE MOUNTAIN PEOPLE by Colin M. Turnbull Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

This anthropological field study has a cross-cultural message -- fair warning that kindness, friendship and love are expendable luxuries when survival is the issue. Turnbull (The Forest People, 1961) lived with the Ik, an African tribe driven into the mountains when their former hunting ground became a National Game Reserve, and observed a people so close to starvation that a ""good"" man meant one with a full stomach. The family is an early casualty under such circumstances; children are left to fend for themselves at the age of three, food is grabbed from the lips of aging parents, dead relatives are stripped of their possessions and tossed into shallow pits. There is nothing to bind Icien society together. Individuals survive by diligent attention to their own needs while ignoring those of others. Daily occurrences like a sister snatching a mug of tea from her dying brother and laughing gaily at his condition and her own cleverness are bearable for the reader only because they have been filtered through the anthropological eye, allowing vicarious disassociation from the horror -- or could it be that the reader like the anthropologist begins in self defense to adopt an Icien perspective in which suffering becomes a source of amusement? The price the Ik have paid for survival is the loss of their humanity. In this literate, appalling and compelling book Turnbull suggests that Western society with its expanding population and unchecked pollution may have set itself on the same disastrous course.