As a young anthropologist, Don Kulick went to the tiny village of Gapun in New Guinea to document the death of the native language, Tayap. Over the course of thirty years, he returned again and again to document Tayap before it disappeared entirely, and he found himself inexorably drawn into their world, and implicated in their destiny.
... perhaps the finest and most profound account of ethnographic fieldwork and discovery that has ever entered the anthropological literature. To his immense credit, Mr. Kulick refuses to embrace the postmodern conceit that anthropology is part of the colonial agenda, yet another way of subjugating a people by recording their knowledge, and that the very presence of the Western scholar in the field is an exercise in power, a tool of oppression ... leaves the reader dazzled by the wizardry of linguistic scholarship ... Writing with verve and simple elegance, without a hint of bravado, [Mr. Kulick] describes the ritual humiliations of fieldwork ... astonishing.
In this captivating narrative, the author considers complex questions about race and power in anthropological research, the nature of relationships among very different people, and the challenges of living in such a demanding environment. Kulick’s engrossing, thought-provoking, and transporting chronicle will be enjoyed by National Geographic fans and all readers interested in cultural investigations.
While it doesn’t give the reader a neat answer, it will leave you thinking about how cultures everywhere break down and evolve, and the role we unwittingly play in their demise ... This is not a romantic, idealized tale of life in the rainforest brought to you by Disney nature films. Kulick hopes to tell a more honest story ... the great strength of the book is Kulick’s candor. It’s closer to a memoir than an academic tome, and a more accurate subtitle might be True Confessions of a Cultural Anthropologist ... If you want to experience a profoundly different culture without the exhausting travel (to say nothing of the cost), this is an excellent choice. It’s entertaining, plus you can read it while curled up on your couch. But the lasting impact for a reader may be the insights — rather than answers — it offers for our future. Like a Rorschach test, any parallels you draw are up to you.