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Where Hornbills Fly: A Journey with the Headhunters of Borneo Hardcover – 2 Dec 2010

4.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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  • Where Hornbills Fly: A Journey with the Headhunters of Borneo
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: I.B.Tauris (2 Dec. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848855001
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848855007
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 3 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,257,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


'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

'...intricately and tenderly observed' --The Rough Guide to Malaysia 2012

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.

Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
"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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Format: Hardcover
Book jackets are always fulsome in their praise of the contents; this is one of those rare books which not only lives up to the superlatives, but exceeds the expectations raised.
It is indeed the story of the Iban Dyaks, the former head-hunting tribes of Sarawak and the clash between their traditional way of life and the encroaching modern world of the 1950's and 60's. It is also the memoir of seven years in the life of a highly-educated and idealistic yet practical man who set out to help them by first learning their way of life from within. There were steep learning curves both for the Dyaks and for the author, whose interests ranged from the practicalities of what crops could be grown, education and hygiene to respect for the traditions of the tribes and the philosophical question of how societies and religions interact.
What sets this book apart is the quality of the writing. There is clarity from short crisp sentences, but each is loaded with a rich texture of words. The author brings alive the subject like a deft painter with a brush.
When I first saw the book I wondered if more photographs could have been included, but the descriptions conjure the place and the people as only good writing can, producing in the mind's eye something more vivid than any picture or film. There are also delightful little black and white drawings to discover at the head of each chapter.
This book has many of the qualities of a good novel: eminently readable; characters one grows to care about; philosophical questions tackled with a light touch and vivid descriptions of place to transport the imagination. This would make an ideal choice for a reading group.
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