Armchair Explorations

Across the world there are people whose cultures are still a mystery to outsiders. The "walking dead," cannibalism, and other customs usually found in lurid fiction often have a basis in the reality of some other place. Come, explore with anthropologists and other wanderers whose sense of adventure goes hand in hand with their scientific desire to discover the truth behind the legends.

Journey to the Vanished City: The Search for a Lost Tribe of Israel

By Tudor Parfitt

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In a mixture of travel, adventure, and scholarship, historian Tudor Parfitt sets out in search of answers to a fascinating ethnological puzzle: is the Lemba tribe of Southern Africa really one of the lost tribes of Israel, descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? Beginning in the Lemba villages in South Africa, where he witnesses customs such as food taboos and circumcision rites that seem part of Jewish tradition, Parfitt retraces the supposed path of the Lembas' through Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Tanzania, taking in sights like Zanzibar and the remains of the stone city Great Zimbabwe. The story of his eccentric travels, a blend of the ancient allure of King Solomon's mines and Prester John with contemporary Africa in all its beauty and brutality, makes for an irresistible glimpse at a various and rapidly changing continent. And in a new epilogue, Parfitt discusses recent DNA evidence that, amazingly, lends credence to the Lemba's tribal myth. (Book summary)
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End of the Spear: A True Story

By Steve Saint

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Steve Saint was five years old when his father, missionary pilot Nate Saint, was speared to death by a primitive Ecuadorian tribe. In adulthood, Steve, having left Ecuador for a successful business career in the United States, never imagined making the jungle his home again. But when that same tribe asks him to help them, Steve, his wife, and their teenage children move back to the jungle. There, Steve learns long-buried secrets about his father's murder, confronts difficult choices, and finds himself caught between two worlds.  Later made into a feature film.

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Dead Reckoning: Great Adventure Writing from the Golden Age of Exploration, 1800-1900

By Helen Whybrow

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Here are 32 adventures written by passionate pilgrims who traversed wild America, the Alps, West Africa, Mecca, Malaysia, and more.
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Cloud-Dwellers of the Himalayas: The Bhotia

By Windsor Chorlton

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Approximately 400,000 Bhotian tribesmen live on the fringes of Tibet, grazing herds of yaks in the summertime and moving to the lowland areas of Nepal in the winter. The team of researchers arrived after an 11-days march at the remote village just in time to witness an exorcism ceremony. Includes amazing photos throughout. Part of Time-Life's Peoples of the Wild series.
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Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: The Secret Agent Who Made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, Discovered the Kama Sutra, and brought the Arabian Nights to the West

By Edward Rice

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Beginning his career as a spy for the East India Company, Burton (1821-1890) visited the "forbidden" cities of Medina and Mecca disguised as an Arab, made a yet more perilous trip to the secret city of Harar in Somalia, discovered Lake Tanganyika in his search for the Nile's source, and had sundry adventures in West Africa, the New World and the Levant. One of the great Arabists of his time, a master of 29 languages, he translated a mass of Oriental literature, mystical and erotic. Upon his death, his wife, in a spasm of piety-cum-prudery, burned his heavily annotated translation of The Perfumed Garden and much else. Explorer, swordsman, linguist, scholar, writer, lover of women and pursuer of hidden knowledge, Burton was par excellence the Victorian version of Renaissance man. (Publishers’ Weekly)

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A War of Witches: A Journey into the Underworld of the Contemporary Aztecs

By Timothy J. Knab

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Anthropologist Knab's highly personal and compelling narrative on the magico-religious belief system of contemporary Aztecs has the excitement of a mystery novel yet is interspersed with rich ethnographic detail on Aztec cosmology, magic, and ritual. Through his fieldwork with two Mexican curanderos (healers/witches) Knab uncovers the survival of ancient Aztec religious beliefs and practices thought to have been long wiped out by colonial conquest and Catholicism. Caught between the worlds of academia and Aztec witchcraft, Knab recounts how he found himself subject to his informants' magical devices and began the journey to recover his tonal (soul). Knab's experience challenges traditional assumptions about ethical involvement on the part of the researcher and blurs the boundaries between informant and researcher, science and magic, and healing and murder. This book will appeal not only to anthropologists and students of Aztec religion but to anyone interested in reading a captivating real-life mystery.” (Library Journal)

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