This book needs to be handled with care. It may be other than it seems. Possibly the publishers were uncertain about what they had got; so am I. The author is well-known: 'Colin Turnbull is Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University in Washington DC. He has lived and worked in India and central and eastern Africa. His experiences are reflected in his well-known anthropological works, The Mountain People and The Forest People.' All quite true, but misleading. The book which established Turnbull's status as a fully professional anthropologist was Wayward Servants: The Two Worlds of the African Pygmies (1965). It is a monograph of the very highest quality; by comparison, The Forest People (1961), though also concerned with the Mbuti Pygmies, and likewise the work of a trained anthropologist, is only a journalistic exercise. The Mountain People (1972), which is the principal source of Turnbull's celebrity, is a sensational horror story about his experiences among the Ik: I find it plausible even though its authenticity has been challenged by other qualified anthropologists. In The Human Cycle, which is largely autobiographical, the Ik are never mentioned at all.
LRB 3 May 1984 | PDF Download