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5.0 out of 5 stars
A glimpse of the Stone Age from a 21st century perspective, 26 May 2009
PNG is home to several thousand small tribes that are often so isolated by the rugged terrain that until quite recently some tribes have been unaware of their neighbours only a few miles away. The author offers some fascinating insights into cannibalism, Laughing Death, mineral exploitation and the influence of Western culture.
Howard Beck has little to say about actually working in PNG since his priority is to take the reader on a seemingly endless series of adventures: jumping onto moving aircraft; trekking through the jungle to the summit of Mount Hagen; being caught on a battle field between rival tribes with arrows falling all around; negotiating with tribal people in order to explore gigantic caves deep in the jungle.
The authors adventures reach a climax in the final chapters, which describe Howard's eight months in the remote Hindenburg Mountains. This starts with light-weight camping and reconnaissance for the British caving expedition. The 24-man team's arrival leads to the discovery and exploration of 'Selminum Tem' (longest in the Southern Hemisphere). Finally, Howard and his friends make an epic 500-foot vertical descent into 'Tina Bu Tem' which translated from the tribal language means 'a hole to look at but not to go down'.
The author certainly has a way with words: "One is just as likely to see a woman breast feeding a piglet, as a tribesman with a bone through his nose carrying an umbrella." Howard has an engaging style and his pace is fast whilst still containing plenty of detail. Some parts of the text appear to have suffered from over zealous editing (such as page 121) but this doesn't spoil the overall impression.
The book is beautifully illustrated but devoid of maps. I would have appreciated a glossary to help understand conversations in pidgin English, such as he provided in Appendix 5 of an earlier book "Beneath the Cloud Forests" (2003). I certainly enjoyed the book and fully expect to be re-reading as well as quoting from it for many years to come!