WHERE THE SPIRITS DWELL An Odyssey in the Jungle of New Guinea by Tobias Schneebaum

WHERE THE SPIRITS DWELL An Odyssey in the Jungle of New Guinea

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An intriguing blend of travel narrative, anthropology, and homosexual self-discovery in the jungle of New Guinea. Schneebaum, an N.Y.C. artist, has visited the Asmat people a number of times over the past ten years. In an impressionistic narrative he describes his encounters with natives, missionaries, lumberers as he collected and catalogued carvings for a museum in Agats. He writes with great candor of the homosexual bonding among the tribesmen, including his own relationship with one Akatpitsjin. As a homosexual, Schneebaum finally found among the Asmat a culture that completely accepted relationships between men. As a cultural anthropologist, he had a sympathy with these practices that enabled him to find out about a part of Asmat culture carefully kept hidden from missionaries and other westerners. What is remarkable here is that without glossing over the ugly side of native life--the filth and disease and violence--Schneebaum avoids applying western standards. Occasionally he engages in traditional liberal relativistic thinking--a horrifying incidence of rape and cannibalism reminds him of a similar case he saw as a boy on a dock in Brooklyn. But generally he forgoes broad cultural comparisons, preferring to narrate personal impressions of individual natives and missionaries. (In some cases a little more analysis and insight would have been helpful--particularly about the differences between homosexual culture in New Guinea and in New York.) Though it may shock, Schneebaum's account will fascinate anyone with an interest in travel or anthropology.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Grove