The title and cover of this book didn’t look at all appealing to me, especially its subtitle of ‘A Firsthand Account of Modern-Day Sorcery Violence’. However, the experience of reading it was very different.
In 1994, Christopher Davenport, recently graduated from college in Ohio, joined the US Peace Corps and travelled to Papua New Guinea for a two year stint teaching there. But before this the recruits were required to learn the language and spend six weeks living in a farming village in the interior Highlands of the island. Here he is warmly welcomed by the villagers and is adopted by a family, living with them as a son and calling them Mama and Papa. They rename him Nipi’e. He begins to feel at home with them and thinks he understands them and their way of life. Then, a traumatic, violent event makes him question his relationship with the villagers and his entire role as a Peace Corps volunteer and indeed of the whole enterprise.
Since then he’s had a varied career as a Foreign Service Officer in the US Department of State in many countries but has found that his experiences in Papua New Guinea still affect him today. In this book he manages to convey, in lucid prose, his experience to the reader. There are beautiful descriptions of the landscape and explanations of the way of life of the villagers who, as Davenport says, have had to adapt from spears to the atomic age in a decade but have been able to cope with it.
This is a book that raises so many questions about the relationship between cultures and whether any one set of values is superior to another. The author offers some nuanced and interesting thoughts on this. Overall, this is a fascinating and very well written account of one young man’s informal education and coming of age in an alien civilisation and one I would strongly recommend.
Review by Sue Glynn
Lume Books (3 December 2020) Paperback