Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Islands in the sea

“Peoples of the Earth” was a series of popularized anthropology books, published during the early 1970's. Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard was the editor of the series. This volume covers the Caribbean, the islands of the North Atlantic (except Greenland and Iceland) and the ditto of the South Atlantic. This gives the book a somewhat peculiar look, since it includes articles on such unrelated places as Cuba, the Canary Islands and the Falkland Islands.

Many of the articles are written in a slightly condescending style - brace yourself for expressions such as “one fat Negro woman and four Mulattoes”. Jamaica and Haiti are solely represented by pieces on Rastafarianism and Voodoo, respectively. Other articles seem to be authored by anthropologists with a longing for poor, pristine and noble savages. That being said, I admit that I found this book fascinating. It mentions islands or ethnic groups I never heard of before: the communistic clan society at St Kilda in the Hebrides, the British settlers on the Bay Islands, the last remaining Caribs on Dominica… One article covers Tristan da Cunha, a small volcanic island in the Atlantic and the location of the most isolated human settlement on Earth. But yes, I did hear of Tristan before reading this volume. The photos are equally fascinating, one showing a female leader of the Haitian Ton Ton Macoute militias. Another picture shows American businessmen during an orgy at a hotel in Jamaica!

Unfortunately, I haven't seen any other books in the series, and since this volume was published in 1973, the information is probably in need of an update. That being said, I was sufficiently intrigued by this little gem (I bought the Swedish translation at a library clearance sale) to give it…five stars.

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