A remarkable true-life Heart of Darkness story.
In 1868, Jack Renton, a teenage Scots sailor, was shanghaied in San Francisco. In 1876, he was rescued from captivity on the Pacific island of Malaita, home to a fearsome tribe of headhunters. After the rescue, in a sensational best-selling memoir, Renton recounted his eight-year adventure: how he jumped ship and drifted two thousand miles in an open whaleboat to the Solomon Islands, came ashore at Malaita, was stripped of his clothes, possessions and his very identity, but lived to serve the island’s tribal chief Kabou eventually as his most trusted adviser. For all the authenticity and riveting detail, however, it turns out that Renton’s chronicle glossed over key events that made him the man that Kabou said he loved, "as my first-born son."
Mining the oral history passed down in detail from generations of Malaitans, documentary filmmaker Nigel Randell has pieced together a more complete and grislier account of Renton’s experience—as a man forced to assimilate in order to survive. While The White Headhunter is the story of a man transformed by an island, it is also the story of a man who transformed the island as he prepared it for the onslaught of Western civilization.
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The White Headhunter is both easy and difficult to read. Easy because it is incredible history, difficult because it is incredible description of that history. First, there are the accounts from crew members of trading ships that traveled the South Pacific during the mid to late 1800's. Spoken and written records of the fascinating, communal, and barbaric habits and traditions of the islands in the area provide historical insights that are not commonly known. Depictions of cannibalism and its accompanying brutality are informative and graphic. Secondly, there are the accounts of the slave trade that begins several years after the discovery of the islands and the tribes who inhabit them. Again, depictions of the capture of what were referred to as recruits and the resulting tortures and mutinies are informative and graphic. Running through both histories, the discovery of the islands and then the recruitment of the tribes for plantation labor, is the story of Jack Renton, a young Scotsman who spent eight years among the natives of one of the islands. Other personal stories enhance the details of the accounts, making them all the more astonishing and all the more credible. This was not an easy read for me, but I understand how it could be for others. I like history, and this is a fascinating historical document. However, I had to read it in increments because of the detailed accuracy of the events. The same may not be true for all readers. I am glad to have read it and would do so again. I am grateful to Netgalley and to the publisher for the opportunity to have read and reviewed The White Headhunter.
The White Headhunter by Nigel Randell The White Headhunter by Nigel Randell is a spine-tingling story of daring and survival within a globally, heartbreaking story of the cultural breakdown of an island community. The author drew his original inspiration from a genre of literature called the “Beachcomber Memoirs,” seamen’s adventure stories describing “contact” with the Solomon Islanders. In 1868, a nineteen-year-old Scottish seaman Jack Renton jumped ship in the Solomon Islands. Starved and dehydrated after being at sea for 35 days, Jack landed on the island of Malaita. He was fortunate to find a mentor in a powerful chief (or big man) of the Islanders; otherwise, earlier tales lead us to believe he might have been so threatening to the islanders that they would have eaten him to assume his power. The broader context of this story is the distressing results of “First Contact” for Solomon Islanders with Europeans. Nigel discovered the islander's side of the stories by interviewing the island’s oral historians. Learning how the history of the islanders is handed down is enlightening and makes this reader want to know more about the island culture. A piece of the story is given to the brightest grandchildren who learn it and own it and are the only people authorized to recite it. The White Headhunter provides intriguing and detailed examples of "First Contact" and its impact on the Solomon Islanders. My research tells me that regrettably, it has happened all over the world. Indigenous peoples like Native American Indians eventually traded with explorers in places like California, Texas, Louisiana, Newfoundland, and Oregon. Native Americans traded plants like potatoes, maize, and tobacco for horses, guns, and alcohol. Also, in South America, Africa and island settlements in every ocean, Native American Indians were forced onto reservations and through a process of acculturation have become less than they once were. I rate The White Headhunter by Nigel Randell 5 out of 5 stars because the writing style is eloquent, passionate, and a joy to read. Nigel described Jack Renton’s landing party “with their blistered, emaciated bodies, swollen-joints and stick-like limbs they appeared to be without human semblance.” The extensive bibliography supports these extraordinary stories. The book was published in England and has English spelling. If readers enjoy an interest in history, 19th-century exploration or cultural stories, these writings will be fascinating and informative. However, be warned there is a dark side of these idyllic islands. The practices of cannibalism, headhunting, and labor trafficking are thoroughly explored and may be too gruesomely written about for some readers. European migration, missionaries, and sickness have an unforeseen and dire impact in the future of the Islanders.
The White Headhunter by Nigel Randell is a fascinating treatise on the tale of two men who were not only captured by headhunters in the South Pacific but lived to tell about it. These headhunters were not known for their hospitality, yet these men managed not only to acclimate into their new life quite well but rose to positions of prominence within the tribe. It becomes apparent early in the book that Randell researched the historical records quite well and turned what might ordinarily be a rather dry subject into a retelling that should appeal to a wide variety of readers. I enjoyed this book quite a bit and give it 4/5 stars. *A copy of this ebook was the only consideration received in exchange for this review.*