During this election year, I'm finding that I'm learning a great deal about the rest of the world. Aside from traveling, I think one of the best ways in which to accomplish this is through stories. In my case, I've been hankering after memoirs. A while back, I picked up a travel memoir by the inimitable J. Maarten Troost. His time spent in the South Pacific resulted in two books, The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned With Savages. I picked up the latter after randomly finding it in a bookstore and reading a few sentences.
Sometimes when I find odd books in stores, or books of which I've not yet heard, I forgo reading the back cover in favor of reading a few paragraphs or pages from the first chapter, in order to get a feel for it and see if it draws me in. Getting Stoned With Savages succeeded, big time, and as I'm now in the middle of it, I'm getting more cultured by the second.
Aside from the joys of reading how the residents of Vanuatu handle government coups and general political upheaval by getting stoned, there's also the joy of the "savages" part of Vanuatu. In order to encourage you, dear reader, to drop everything immediately and go read this book, I offer a few favorite parts that had me in fits of laughter.
First, there's the part where Troost tries to figure out exactly how cannibalism in the area was not out of spite or necessity, but out of custom, or enjoyment:
Typically, the men of a particular village ambushed the men of another village. The goal was to capture one man, who would then be triumphantly carried back to the attackers' village, clubbed, and chopped into pieces. Good manners dictated that an arm or a leg be sent off to a friendly village. Again, here I sputter in disbelief. Imagine receiving such a package. "Oh, look, honey. Bob and Erma over in Brooklyn have sent us a thigh. So thoughtful." Of course, now you are obliged to reciprocate, and so you gather your friends and off you go, hunting for a man, and when you capture one, you will thoughtfully hack an arm off and send it along to Bob and Erma, together with a note--Thinking of you.
As if that wasn't enough, Troost expounds on some of the history of the islands:
When Westerners began to arrive in some numbers in the nineteenth century, they too found themselves participating in Vanuatu's exciting culinary world. John Williams, the very first missionary to arrive in Vanuatu, landed on the island of Erromango on November 18, 1839. Sponsored by the London Missionary Society, which had considerable success in converting much of Polynesia to Christianity, Williams stepped ashore, no doubt confident that very soon he would be breaking bread with the islanders. Within minutes, he was dead, killed by a fusillade of arrows. And then he became lunch.
Perhaps it's morbid fascination on my part, but with every page I turn, I become increasingly more fascinated. It's certainly nice to read a book in which the author draws you in to the point that you may as well be living next door. So what are you waiting for? Get started on your vicarious trip out to the South Pacific. I'm going to keep enjoying mine.