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Where Hornbills Fly: A Journey with the Headhunters of Borneo [Paperback]

Erik Jensen
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Aug 2013
Once headhunters under the rule of White Rajahs and briefly colonised before independence within Malaysia, the Iban Dayaks of Borneo are one of the world's most extraordinary indigenous tribes, possessing ancient traditions and a unique way of life. As a young man Erik Jensen settled in Sarawak where he lived with the Iban for seven years, learning their language and the varied rites and practices of their lives. In this compelling and beautifully-wrought memoir, Erik Jensen reveals the challenges facing the Iban as they adapt to another century, whilst fighting to preserve their identity and singular place in the world. Haunting, yet hopeful, Where Hornbills Fly opens a window onto a vanishing world and paints a remarkable portrait of this fragile tribe, which continues to survive deep in the heart of Borneo.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: I.B.Tauris; New edition (30 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780767749
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780767741
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 526,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'An engrossing study of 6 years spent among the Iban of Sarawak half a century ago, Where Hornbills Fly is a remarkable testament of a young man's devotion to a remote people, the Iban of Sarawak, and a wonderful fund of first-hand knowledge about a dying culture' (Colin Thubron)

'Fascinating and insightful, light-hearted and humorous, every page of this brilliantly-written book evokes the colours, sounds and even the smells of Sarawak in the 1950s. Every page glistens with the reality of a world gone by but needing to be remembered. It was a voyage of discovery for the author 50 years ago but anyone reading it today can only admire the diaries and memories which has enabled him to recreate so vivid a picture of a world no longer with us.' --(Sir Richard Jolly)

'Anyone who has travelled in Borneo will love Where Hornbills Fly... those who plan to go to Borneo will understand so much more of what is left if they read this before going.' --(Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Country Life)

About the Author

Erik Jensen's impressive diplomatic career after Sarawak, which involved postings and missions around the world from New York and London to Bahrain, Pakistan and Bangladesh, East Timor, Nigeria, Chad and Western Sahara, culminated in his appointment as an Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. He holds degrees from Oxford and Harvard and honorary doctorates from Connecticut and Seoul and has been Senior Associate Member of St Antony's, Oxford, Visiting Fellow at the LSE and Warburg Professor in International Relations at Simmons College, Boston. He has contributed articles to The Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Telegraph and written several books, including 'The Iban and their Religion' and 'Western Sahara, Anatomy of a Stalemate'. Erik Jensen was an original Fellow of the Borneo Research Council and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The vanishing world of the Iban Dyaks of Borneo 11 Mar 2011
"Where hornbills fly" is as colourful as the `stars' of the story, the Iban Dyaks, reformed headhunters of Borneo and their unique culture centred on rice cultivation, dreams and bird omens. In common with many indigenous forest peoples, they were and remain under tremendous pressure from the modern world. By the time the author first arrived in Sarawak, the Iban had given up more than headhunting; they were prevented from practicing shifting cultivation - moving en mass to new forest areas when the soil of their upland rice plots became exhausted. Their way of life was in the balance. The delicate ecological system of which the Iban had become an integral part over generations of social evolution was disintegrating. They were facing starvation and cultural extinction. Erik Jensen, a 26 year old research student from Oxford, had long been fascinated by the Dyaks. Confronted by the circumstances of these proud people, he resolved to help if he could. He learned the Iban language and when asked for advice and help by the colonial administrators devised a modest yet highly successful development project, long before 'small is beautiful' or 'people-owned projects' had entered the development lexicon. But this not a "do-gooder' story. The author realised that many of the Iban, particularly those of the Lemanak River where the project was based, would have liked his efforts to fail. This, they hoped, would strengthen their case for a return to shifting cultivation. The author has a lively style and provides a wealth of detail, not just about the people he meets, but also the places, wildlife and what happens around him. In fact, the book reminds me of the works of other social anthropologists who have made their studies accessible through popular writing. He tells things as they were. Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Development Work was Idealist 10 Feb 2011
These days the British Civil Service and NGOs working on "Development" in poorer countries are full of experts with their Ph.ds, most of whom rarely spend a night out of capital cities or stray far from their air-conditioned 4x4s. Millions of pounds of "ring fenced" tax payers funds are transferred to overseas governments and consultants but the impacts are hard to see. But it wasn't always like this. This book tells the story of the origins of professional development work just at the point it was emerging as a way of working, distinct from the missionary managed activities that had gone before. Erik Jenson was one of those rare people who had the degrees from Oxford and Harvard but still went to a remote part of Sarawak without roads or electricity with only his wits to help him. He began by living in a tiny shack, learned the language, slowly built trust and eventually created an effective development programme, with little outside money. While it is easy to idealise the traditional life style of shifting cultivation, a growing population meant that either people settled and gave up slash and burn agriculture or the remaining rain forest would go. The government of the day took the decision to preserve the rain forest, even by force when necessary. Without people like Erik Jensen working as midwife to the transition, the process of adapting to the demands of a changed world would have been more prolonged and painful. This book will be of interest to Development Studies students, people working in development and anyone interested in a fascinating story of how someone with great grit and determination and willing to make personal sacrifices can help make the world a better place. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Way above average 18 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book fell into the none of the traps that I was expecting it to. Although written about events 50 years previously, it came across as fresh as something that happened today. By the end of the book, I was left with a real sense of the swiftness with which the Iban people have had to change as a society. I normally don't write reviews, but the way Erik Jensen could put across the big picture while focusing on very close relationships was so impressive, I felt almost obliged to put in my few comments. I travelled in Borneo briefly just before this book was released, and feel now that some of the blanks in my knowledge of the history of Sarawak have now been clarified. Clear, concise writing. The author didn't get hung up on any egotistical wanderings, and captured his time there perfectly, focusing on the driving points of Iban life, giving a book which was compulsive to read. Thank you for a great book, which I believe is in the same vein as Tim Flannery's retrospective writings on research he did several decades ago.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting study of Borneo's Headhunters' lives 26 Oct 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written book about the author's time in Borneo as a young man working with Headhunters. It is slow, but gives an amazing insight and background to Sarawak tribes' lives about 50 years ago.
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