In my new book, The Mark of the Spider, nature photographer Sebastian Arnett expresses considerable discomfort at the thought of exploring deeper into the heart of Borneo for fear of cannibals or headhunters.
In Chapter X, Johnnie Walker, an operative of the Australian Intelligence Service, tries to put him straight about the matter:
During four months in Tenom, I’d never heard of headhunters or cannibals until Johnnie brought them up.
“You know, mate, word gets around. It’s not likely that you’ll run into a lost tribe or anything like that. Even the remotest Dyak wear bras now. Some of them anyway,” he said. “And, just to keep the record straight, headhunters are not cannibals and vice versa.”
My drink in hand, I turned to him and gaped.
“Headhunters are not cannibals, and cannibals are not headhunters. Two totally different kinds of behavior.”
“You’re nuts,” I said, shaking the ice in my glass for another refill.
“No, I’m not. I learned that from a mate in the service. He’s an ethnologist. Studies primitives.”
Johnnie looked at me as though I should be reassured.
“You’re absolutely nuts.”
“An educated man like you working practically in the wilderness, you should know this stuff. Cannibals are okay; headhunters, well, sometimes they go looking for trouble. But they only go after their enemies to settle scores or to collect a little juju,” Johnnie said.
The Aussie infuriated me. He claimed to be a bookish intelligence analyst but he knew an awful lot about the wild. And how does a desk jockey get a tan like his? Not from the sun shining through an office window.
It turns out that Sebastian had reason for concern.