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Among the Cannibals: Adventures on the Trail of Manís Darkest Ritual    by Paul Raffaele Amazon.com order for
Among the Cannibals
by Paul Raffaele
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Collins, 2008 (2008)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Among the Cannibals: Adventures on the Trail of Man's Darkest Ritual, Australian Paul Raffaele (a Smithsonian feature writer) recounts his journeys around the world in search of those who eat human flesh in the twenty-first century - those 'who are not mentally twisted individuals, but well-adjusted and respected members of their communities'. Paul Raffaele put himself at risk (e.g. travelling with a 'Stone Age Terminator'). He shares those encounters - and his own reactions to them - with his readers.

Along with him we get to know - and to understand a little - the Korowai of New Guinea, who execute and eat fellows (even former friends and family) they believe have turned into khakhua, 'dark forces from the otherworld'; the Aghor, saintly cannibals of Benares, India who 'eat human flesh as the supreme demonstration of their sanctity'; the well-fleshed warrior cannibals of Tonga, who until recently 'feasted on the bodies of their slain enemies'; and Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army - an especially horrific example of cannibalism, in which children are forced to kill and eat former playmates, in order to leave them guilt-ridden and with no other choice than to stay with Joseph Kony's army. Finally, the author travels to Mexico to explore evidence of cannibalism amongst the Aztecs and their predecessors.

It's a fascinating, though at times extremely disturbing, journey. The evil done by Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, in particular, deserves a book on its own, along with world attention and immediate action to stop this terrible, soul destroying exploitation of vulnerable children. Aside from this particular case of enforced cannibalism, Among the Cannibals reads as an absorbing journey into cultures with unusual belief systems. The Korowai eat others to destroy 'monsters from the world of the supernatural that have taken on the form of men.' The Aghoris 'do what most other people could never dare do.' For the Tonga, cannibal feasts that traditionally followed epic battles 'are slipping back into legend', while human sacrifice and cannibalism are now only a bloody aspect of the history of Mesoamerican states.

Raffaele ends his journey by commenting that 'We will never be free of the psychopathic cannibals, but it is probably that cannibal cults on the scale we have seen throughout recorded history such as the Aztecs and even the Korowai, will never develop and flourish again.' One certainly hopes not! If you're looking for something different in travel literature, then you must read Among the Cannibals.

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