THE BAMBOO FIRE: An Anthropologist in New Guinea by William E. Mitchell

THE BAMBOO FIRE: An Anthropologist in New Guinea

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This engaging memoir concerns the interactions of a University of Vermont anthropology professor and his family with a New Guinea people. Transplanted from an isolated farm to a Wape village in the hills above the Sepik River (near an area studied by Margaret Mead), the Mitchells settled into cramped and primitive quarters, and tensions erupted. The situation eases, when Wape men build them a spacious house and they begin their integration into village life. As one might expect, their two preschool children are the first to adapt. Mitchell's wife Joyce, a very private person, never completely accepts the social overload that burdens all anthropological research of this type. She flees regularly to a mission station to renew her sense of identity and find some privacy. Eventually, though still somewhat ambivalent, she comes to terms with field work and is enriched by it. Mitchell's study, focusing on ritual life in the context of changing values, occasions some sensitive and vivid descriptions of ceremonial activities. Of particular interest is the shotgun cult: the beliefs, social regulations, and ritual activities centered on this new and valuable object used--by a single, delegated individual--to obtain scarce game. Occasional cliches at the beginning disappear as the Mitchells' story unfolds, reflecting their experience in the situation and with each other. As a personal account, this is a positive addition to the small but growing literature on the curious, self-searching experience of anthropological field work.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1978
Publisher: Norton