Among the Cannibals: Adventures on the Trail of Man’s Darkest Ritual by Paul Raffaele
Reviewed for HarperCollins First Look
One of the strongest taboos in many cultures is the consumption of human flesh. Cannibalism both revolts and fascinates us. Not everywhere in the world, however, is the practice a taboo. Cultures on likely every continent have had people eating other people at some point in their history, however cannibalism is not entirely a thing of the past.
In “Among the Cannibals,” Austrialian Paul Raffaele, travel writer and feature writer for Smithsonian magazine, goes on search for some of the last remaining pockets of cannibalism. There are superstitious/religious incidences of cannibalism in Papua New Guinea, religious holy men who consume the remnants of bodies burned in funeral pyres in India, and a rebel leader forcing children into cannibalism as a method of psychological warfare (seriously, this is happening right now, why is this not the lead story on the news every night?). Raffaele also goes in search of the not-too-distant cannibal past in Tonga and the ritualized warfare and cannibalism of the Aztecs in pre-columbian Mexico.
This was a pretty fascinating journey, and I was happy to take it from the safety of my own home. Raffaele was generally exposing himself to danger from mild/moderate to severe in his attempt to get the story of cannibalism in the modern world. In Uganda, in particular, it would not have been terribly surprising if he had been caught in a rebel ambush. The only portion that seemed to drag for me was Paul’s research in Mexico. His story tended to flow better when told through his interaction with other people, instead of primarily through more scholarly research. That being said, this was overall a very good, very interesting book. Don’t let the subject matter scare you away, Paul Raffaele is ready to introduce you to cultural oddities you would never otherwise experience.