THE WILD BOY OF BURUNDI: A Study of an Outcast Child by Harlan & Richard Pillard Lane

THE WILD BOY OF BURUNDI: A Study of an Outcast Child

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Don't be misled: there is no wild boy of Burundi. Lane was notified of an allegedly wild child by former mentor B. F. Skinner just as Lane's book, The Wild Boy of Aveyron, was published in 1976. He followed up the lead, signing on psychiatrist Richard Pillard, negotiating funds for the journey, and loading up with medical-test gear and assorted trinkets--a process which takes up more than a third of this book. Once in Burundi, they found John the monkey boy quickly enough but knew immediately that ""feral"" was an inappropriate designation, that the reports had been highly exaggerated. No matter. His weird behavior was a puzzle, Burundi an intriguing place, so they proceeded with the investigation. They carried on the tests despite classically primitive conditions--""What can you do"" is a recurring expression. They also traveled rutted local roads and traced John's roots through parish registers and orphanage records--an impressive detection--then flew him to Nairobi for a definitive examination. The conclusion? John, born Baithazar Nsanzerugeze in 1966, spent most of his early life in orphanages when his mother died just after his birth. His development was considered normal until late-onset autism appeared at approximately 30 months. He never lived with monkeys and his condition was unrelated to the national violence of the early 1970s. Have Lane and Pillard taken us on a wild goose chase? Yes and no. The title is deceptive but the book, for all its good-time-Charlie particulars, does show how the expedition was mounted, how recent Burundi history and contemporary conditions figured in the case, how the two men uncovered John's past, and how they turned their research into a real adventure.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1978
Publisher: Random House