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Adalbert is a forum for me, to post ephemera, photography, poetry, occasional travel notes, and various spontaneous motions. Cover photo: Parsonage where my great-grandfather spent his early years. Taken near Liegnitz, Silesia, ca. 1870.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Jens Bjerre's The Last Cannibals

"I never met a Dane who wasn't bone-dull."  Thus wrote William S. Burroughs in The Yage Letters.  In spite of Burroughs' statement,  I've got at least one exciting Dane to present (there may be one or two in Christiania as well):  Jens Bjerre.

In these days I reread a translation by Estrid Bannister of The Last Cannibals (originally published in 1956;  this paperback edition from 1958) by Jens Bjerre:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jens_Bjerre_(adventurer).  I don't recall where I procured this copy, probably at a flea market.  I once saw Mr. Bjerre himself, in the early 1980s in Portland, Oregon,  give a lecture on his travels in Tibet.  I remember little about the talk other than he showed some film or photographs of Tibet, the Potala, and so on, as part of the evening.  I also recall the fact that he used a gentle humor at times in his comments.

For the price of the ticket, one gets descriptions, in The Last Cannibals, of journeys not only in New Guinea:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Guinea, but also an extended stay with Australia Aborigines: http://www.apex.net.au/~mhumphry/aborigin.html.  The sequence in Australia, with an immersion in aboriginal life and an intensely evocative description of Ayers Rock, for instance, is as good as the New Guinea sections.  In spite of the book's title and the lurid promise of the front and back covers, Bjerre only makes a few incidental references to some New Guinean tribesmen still practicing cannibalism in the 1950s.  You don't get baked, barbequed, or boiled long pig, one of the original free range, cage free, local foods, or any eyewitness reports of anthropophagy, in the travel book.  You do get a glimpse of smoked corpses of deceased relatives in huts, of malarial lowlands and misty jagged mountains, of origin myths and the aftereffects of World War II in the island, among other things.  The book trails off at the end with a fever dream out of  De Quincey.


  1. If you're hungry you gotta eat... Although I rather date a dull Dane than a charming cannibal.

  2. I've known some interesting Danes. The Letters of William S.Burroughs, 1945-59 contains the Yage letters, great read.

  3. Tough choice Rob (-: . Ray, The Yage Letters is indeed a great epistolary work. I have the City Lights edition. Funny and poetic writing by Burroughs, and I like Ginsberg's contributions as well.

    1. City Lights, one of my favorite publishers.

  4. I visited City Lights bookstore in SF a few years back, saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti walking through (I guess not an infrequent event).

  5. With regards to William Butler Yeats, some of his work was way over my head.

  6. Ray, A Vision was a work of automatic writing Yeats created with his wife. Maybe I'd get more out of it if I looked at it now. What the hell time is it in Great Britain anyway? Ah, I see, it's eight hours ahead (I always forget), so you're in the nighttime there.

  7. Now you mention automatic writing I think I've read of it. Some the of writing I read when I was young mystified me & I'd probably do better with it now. It's 10:23pm & I'm just heading for the bathtub.