A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea by Don Kulick

by - June 14, 2019

A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New GuineaA Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea by Don Kulick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I went into this book completely blind, having only the vague notion that Papua New Guinea was somewhere in Oceania and curious to read something totally outside of my usual picks. I figured it would probably be boring, but I would slog through it for the sake of expanding my horizons.

I was quite wrong.

This book was fascinating, honest, playful, and a bit convicting. The author doesn't shy away from honestly discussing some of their beliefs and practices that would be considered bizarre to American readers, but at the same time he writes the villagers in such a way that they don't seem so different from us; I could imagine myself sitting on one of their verandas, bouncing my son on my lap and gossiping with the other ladies.

It piqued my interest on this small country I hadn't considered before. I found myself constantly taking Google breaks to learn more about something or look at a map.

The author managed to walk a fine line in terms of treating the villagers with dignity and pointing out how when cultures collide, some differences are pretty funny. Take for example his experiences eating Gapun haute cuisine, including a stew full of thumb-sized maggots whose poo the chef forgot to remove before cooking. (To be fair, he points out that Gapuners would likewise be repulsed at some of the things you would find in Michelin 3-star restaurants.)

His chapter on the complexities and poeticism of Tayap vulgarities is hilarious and endeared these people to me. As much as I want to share some of the more creative profanities, it's really best if you stumble upon them in the book and laugh out loud in a public place like I did.

While I haven't spent any of my life (until this book) imagining what life is like in a tiny village in Papua New Guinea, Gapuners have certainly spent a lot of time imagining what my life might be like as a fair-skinned person in America. And, while I might not consider myself wealthy by American standards, the legacy of colonialism has granted me a lifestyle beyond the reach of Gapuners . What responsibilities do I/we have in the face of this deficit? The author doesn't offer answers, but it's certainly worth pondering.

So, in sum: an enjoyable book about anthropology/linguistics that doesn't require a Ph.D to understand and appreciate. Highly recommended.

arc received from the publisher

Papua New Guinea

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