Jungle Camp for Ethnologists - Culture - Berliner Morgenpost
The Anapa are, anthropologically seen, a flop. "If they'd been dead, they would not be so dull," explains Nell Stone. At the Mumbanyos, however, you can not stand it. They are too brutal. Not even a kitchen boy can be recruited here, because you risk the same that one's throat is cut. Only one tribe seems to be worth exploring for the anthropologist couple on the Sepik River. The Kiona. They are said to have great heroism and complex social structures. But those are already working on their British colleague Andrew Bankson.
Papua New Guinea, early 1930s: Colonialism is rampant around the area's mineral resources, but there are plenty of undiscovered tribes on the shores of the Sepik River, with three young explorers seeking fame. This is the setting of Lily King's new novel, which will be published by C.H.Beck Verlag this week.
In "Euphoria" the American author has fictionalized a historical event. Indeed, in 1931 three researchers met at Sepik and spent five months researching the natives: Margaret Mead, her second husband, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson, who would later become Mead's third husband. Three young people in the jungle and then a love triangle. "Someone should urgently make a novel out of that," she said years ago, when one day she came across Mead's biography, Lily King tells a presentation of her book. She was surprised that now she is somebody.
Margaret Mead, the protagonist of the heroine, is something of the mother of the sexual revolution. At the age of 24, she traveled alone to Samoa to explore the way of life on the South Pacific islands. She came back with a realization that triggered a scandal. In Samoa the women enjoyed sex. They sought out the men they liked. And they did not necessarily intend to marry her or to father children with them. That was possible. Her contemporaries were shocked but very interested in Mead's book "Coming of Age in Samoa".
In Papua New Guinea Mead made revolutionary discoveries. One of those peoples she explored with Bateson and Fortune was the Tchambuli. And they resisted Mead's findings of supposedly feminine nature. The woman here was "the ruling, factual and guiding, the man the less responsible and emotional dependent part". Mead's writings were received enthusiastically by the 68ers. Later, the researcher was criticized for her methods of seeing what she wanted to see. But Mead has become an icon. Their theses became part of a debate that continues today: Does culture determine biology or biology culture?
The story of sex and behavioral researchers that Lily King fictionalizes in "Euphoria" has done her great. With fine irony, King describes how the three, who so much like to separate themselves from the colonial rulers, pursue their very own colonialism. The search for a suitable tribe, which could explain the couple Stone-Fenwick to the rest of the world, strongly reminiscent of a trip with a real estate agent. In the Yarapat, the houses are too close to the ground, at the next village Stone judges sharply: "No art sense" and the Wokup, great artists and skilled architects, in turn, have no desire to be explored. It is not a good time, says a spokesman for the village, as the three put on their boat, one expects every moment a raid of another tribe.
"Euphoria" is not a book about anthropology or about New Guinea. Kings tribes and their customs are all invented. The natives we meet are neither the noble savages nor the childish idiots known from other accounts. They just live a very different life, literarily, and above all, to help advance the story that Nelly King actually wants to tell. King allows a little commentary on the widespread European-American sense of superiority: Ironically, the most brutal of the tribes is closest to the cultural techniques of Western civilization.
King is concerned with a fundamental question in this novel, for which the anthropological gaze is only one example: Does one tell, if one tries to represent another human being something about this human being or at least something about himself?
Margaret Mead is so brave that she can almost scare you. Maybe that's why Lily King decided to turn her biography on its head. Her second husband beat her, yet Mead stayed with him for a long time. King takes this aspect of male violence and female mortification as the starting point for her story. Nell Stone, her Mead character, is an intrepid researcher, but an anxious wife. It is, if you like, a kind of anti-Mead. And so, despite all its exoticism and impenetrable jungle, "Euphoria" has become a novel about marriage. What is one willing to endure in order to save a relationship? How does a love endure the superiority of one over the other? Especially when the superior is the woman.
Incidentally, "Euphoria", the title, refers to the brief moment when you think you have understood everything. That can be in love, as well as in research. It's a clever book that Lily King wrote there, and a well-written one besides.