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Light at the Edge of the World:
Ethnobotanist and anthropologist Wade Davis has spent his career studying the world's remaining indigenous peoples, whose distinct cultures are being wiped out by the forces of globalization and modernization. Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures is a record of his extraordinary experiences in both photographs and text. Davis travels to Haiti to learn the secret of a drug that turns people into zombies, and ends up learning about the dynamic faith of Vodoun, with its belief in a reciprocal relationship between the living and the dead. He explores the plight of nomadic peoples like the Penan in Borneo, who are losing their forest homeland to invasive logging. The Ariaal and Rendille of Kenya, whose ability or unwillingness, respectively, to adapt their herding practices in the wake of drought, famine, and inter-ethnic war in neighbouring countries, are ensuring their own survival or their death. He traverses the length of the Andean Cordillera to locate the place of origin of the revered coca plant, and participates in one community's tradition of the annual running of the boundaries. He looks at the Tibetan people's resiliency and their determination to survive as a nation despite Chinese occupation.
From Davis's first, life-altering contact with an old Gitxsan man in the Spatsizi wilderness of northwestern British Columbia, through his adventures in far-flung lands, to his experiences hunting with the Inuit in the newly formed Canadian territory of Nunavut, Light at the Edge of the World charts the intellectual and spiritual making of a scientist passionately concerned about the fate of this planet's diverse cultures. It highlights just a handful of the indigenous peoples whose subtly complex world views, formed within and in response to their own, often harsh, geographies, reveal the expanses of the human imagination. The book rings a cautionary note about the evils and arrogance of modernity. As Davis quotes one of his mentors, David Maybury-Lewis, as saying: "Genocide, the physical extermination of a people, is universally condemned, but ethnocide, the destruction of a people's way of life, is not only not condemned when it comes to indigenous peoples. It is advocated as appropriate policy." But it also touches on the adaptability of these ancient peoples. In the example of Nunavut, where the indigenous people have been granted self-government, Davis indicates a road back from devastation.
Intimate, breathtaking photographs animate the intelligent eloquence of Davis's essay. It is a testament to the author's own storytelling power that the reader of this book feels as if he or she were sitting around a campfire with the anthropologist, entranced by marvellous tales, as Davis once listened to the old Gitxsan. --Diana Kuprel [via]