Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More Jungle Books

By Jeff Burns

If you’re like me and fantasize about exploring the remotest rain forests and interacting with indigenous peoples, but realize that you’re better suited for reading about it, here are some more books about wild jungles that might interest you.

In 1961, Michael Rockefeller of THE Rockefeller family, son of New York Governor  and Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller and grandson of John D. Rockefeller,  disappeared without a trace in New Guinea while on a trip to the most remote areas to collect primitive art.  In Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, Carl Hoffman makes his own journey 50 years later to try to figure out what happened.  While the more or less “official” story was that Rockefeller probably drowned while swimming for help after his boat capsized, there have always been rumors that perhaps he was murdered.  The natives he met and dealt with practiced traditional ritualized warfare, headhunting, and cannibalism well into the 1950s, and despite Dutch (The Netherlands controlled the area at the time.) protestations to the contrary, maybe even long beyond.  Hoffman explains why the Dutch were keen to have the death labeled accidental, and he presents a thorough examination of all the government and media accounts of the disappearance.  He also retraces Rockefeller’s travels and meets the sons of the men who may have been involved with Rockefeller’s last days.  Hoffman immersed himself in the Asmat (the tribe involved) culture and brings it to life for the reader while he solves the mystery and proves pretty conclusively what happened.

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon is by Paul Rosolie, a twentysomething naturalist and adventurer who made his first trip into the Amazon jungle at 18.  You may have heard of him  as the subject of a Discovery TV ratings stunt that aired recently called Eaten Alive, in which he was to have been eaten by a giant anaconda, supposedly to call attention to the plight of the anacondas and the threatened Amazon rainforest.  The show was widely condemned, before and after airing as misleading, fraudulent, tawdry, and other things, and unfortunately it colored my perception of this book as well.  If I had never heard of the tv show, I would have been very satisfied with the book.  It is a thrilling adventure, and it paints a vivid picture of the flora and fauna of Amazonia, and the environmental destruction happening there every day.  However, the fact that Rosolie was involved with the sensationalistic Eaten Alive, leaves a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended).  If he is a part of this, I thought, might he not have used a little creative license in the book to make some elements more exciting?  It was a good read, all things considered, and I would recommend it (now that I’ve planted the seeds of doubt in your mind).  Judge for yourself.

I haven’t yet read Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One Step at a Time by Ed Stafford, published in 2012, but it’s going on my list.  In 2008, Stafford set out to walk the entire length of the Amazon, a 4,000 mile journey, from Peru to Brazil.

Also on my “to-read” list is Buddy Levy’s River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon in which he examines the first Spanish conquistadors’ explorations of the Amazon and exciting recent archaeological discoveries that are challenging long held understandings of the history of the region and of American native peoples in general. 

No comments:

Post a Comment