In 1944, seven Americans bailed out of their crippled bomber over the Borneo jungle, where local tribespeople hid them from the Japanese.
Heimann (The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life, 1999, etc.) lived in Borneo and speaks Indonesian; few writers could have tracked down this captivating story. She paints a vivid picture of the indigenous people who comfortably inhabited the dense jungle and carried on a flourishing trade with the coast. Despite the title, they were former headhunters. Some were Christian—it depended on the village headman; if he converted, everyone followed—but they retained most of their ancient culture. The Japanese, who had conquered Borneo in 1942, paid little attention to the interior. Starving and sick after only a few days in the jungle, the airmen followed their tribal rescuers to villages where they were cared for. Everyone knew the terrible consequences of protecting downed airmen; the Japanese were searching hard for them and would surely kill not just the Americans but anyone who had helped them. But the risk seemed small in this remote area, and everyone agreed to keep quiet. Learning of the airmen, the local Japanese commander sent armed patrols into the jungle, but native guides led them astray. Aware they were not getting cooperation, the Japanese grew increasingly abusive, finally provoking the tribespeople to kill them. After four months, Australian special forces parachuted in to organize resistance to the Japanese, but two more months passed before a space was cleared for an airfield, and the airmen were able to fly out.
A fascinating anthropology lesson, delivered with the bonus of a dramatic adventure and a happy ending.