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

Don Kulick. Algonquin, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61620-904-9
Anthropologist Kulick tells a story of cultural and linguistic transformation and exchange in this clever, empathetic memoir of his time spent in Gapun, a remote village in Papua New Guinea, trying to preserve the Tayap language and to learn why it was disappearing. The book captures the spirit and rhythm of daily life in the village; most chapters explore a single event, theme, or aspect of life in the village. Standouts include: Gapunian attitudes towards children and language learning; the courtship custom of writing love letters; and deeply visceral discussions of local cuisine (heavy on the insect protein). Kulick also delves into villagers’ beliefs about the world beyond their impoverished swamp, pointedly reminding the reader that Papua New Guinea’s “cargo cults” (religious beliefs focused on attaining material wealth) have arisen as a result of profound global inequality. The decline of Tayap, too, he finds, is a symptom of cultural change wrought by economic forces. Despite lots of fascinating detail about a culture that appears very different from the modern West, the book concludes with a firm and moving reminder about shared similarities and an exhortation to better honor collective responsibilities. This frank, passionate work will move readers interested in a thoughtful contemplation of culture and globalization. Agent: Doug Stewart, Sterling Lloyd Literistic. (June)
Reviewed on : 04/11/2019
Release date: 06/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-68457-014-0
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-64375-047-7
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