PEOPLE OF THE VALLEY: Life with a Cannibal Tribe in New Guinea by Wyn Sargent

PEOPLE OF THE VALLEY: Life with a Cannibal Tribe in New Guinea

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Wyn Sargent is the intrepid American photo-journalist who previously ventured into the jungle of Borneo to record the lives of the Dyak (My Life With the Headhunters, 1974). A couple of years later, in response to a personal invitation issued by Sukarno before his ouster as president of Indonesia, she went on a similar safari to the Baliem Valley of West Irian to live with the Dani, who like the Dyak, are one of the most primitive tribes in the world. War between the kains (overlords) of the various Dani villages is a part of their tradition -- or was, until Sargent arrived. ""A six-foot tall red-head in men's clothing,"" she immediately became the most sought after prize more desirable than pigs which form the basis of the economy and religious ritual. Since each village wanted Sargent -- ""Mama Wyn"" they called her -- for their very own, she took the opportunity to play Kissinger-style diplomacy among the warring factions, encouraging fraternization among the rival kains. When she wasn't Kissinger to her Stone Age charges she was Schweitzer dispensing pills and ointments for fevers, infections, etc., and obviously enjoying her Great White Mother status enormously. The problems began when Sargent began filing complaints on the maltreatment of the Dani by Indonesian officials who beat, tortured and swindled them, and kidnapped their children for Western-style education. The Indonesian officials responded by kicking her out, using the pretext of her ""marriage"" to one of the native chiefs. (According to Sargent it was strictly pro forma and celebrated to unite hostile villages, not as the government charged because she wanted to ""study"" sex among the cannibals.) Sargent has the UN to support her: it has placed Indonesia on its blacklist for gross violations of human rights. The book was written primarily to draw attention to the abuse of the Dani, and it is filled with warmth and humor. On the other hand, it is the sort of reportage that will shock academic anthropologists and officials; there is nothing detached about it; Sargent is completely involved with the Dani whom she cares for with motherly solicitude. An outspoken iconoclast, the author, despite her lack of credentials, wins your admiration.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1974
Publisher: Random House