The White Headhunter by Nigel Randell - review by Christopher Ondaatje

Christopher Ondaatje

A Fine Young Cannibal

The White Headhunter


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USING AUTOBIOGRAPHY, TOGETHER with 'oral history', Nigel Kandell has pieced together an unusual anthropological true-life story of a young Scottish sailor's adoption into a tribe of South Sea headhunters in the late nineteenth century. His name was John Renton.

In l868 the teenage Renton was shanghaied in San Francisco and embarked on a perilous eight-year voyage into an unknown world. He escaped from his captors and, with three fellow crewmen, drifted two thousand miles across the Pacific to the island of Malaita in the Solonion Islands. His companions were killed and eaten, but he was protected and eventually adopted by the island's native chief. Renton's own account of his experience caused a sensation when it was published in the Brisbane Courier in 1875 - the year he was rescued. However, Kandell, after hearing the dramatic story of Renton while on his own wanderings in the South West Pacific, came across a different account of the young Scotsman who had lived on Malaita under the protection of a powerful chief.

With no written language, history was

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