If you read my last book, Kiss of a Traitor, you probably noticed I like adventure. I love chases and battles and storms; the sounds of swords clashing, bullets whining, the hoofbeats of horses galloping; and the smell of gunpowder, sweat, and blood. Therefore, when I began writing Starlight & Promises (April 2010, Medallion Press) ,which involves the search for a living saber-toothed tiger and is set in the Pacific south sea islands, and naturally I thought: CANNIBALS.
However, my books are also historically accurate; so first, I had to find out if there actually were cannibals in the south seas during the time of the novel: 1892. Research, research, research, my favorite part of writing historical romance, though I sometimes get so wrapped up in it I fall behind in my writing. I’m one of those people who wanders through library sales and leaves with bags of books on history, geography, and anthropology; thus, research often becomes a frenzied search through the over 7,000 books in my collection. This time I came up with three, in particular, The Last Cannibals (Jens Bjerre) and Conversations with the Cannibals (Michael Krieger), Cannibalism and the Colonial World (Francis Barker, Peter Hulme & Margaret Iversen), and a spate of articles. I even (if you can believe it) found a Cannibal Map of the World.
Did cannibals exist as late as 1892? The answer is yes…and no. It depends on the source. Most agree that historical cannibalism before 1800 was a part of many south sea cultures, particularly around New Guinea, Fiji and the islands near to them. Most will agree that no (or little) cannibalism now exists in that modern-day part of the world. The gray area falls between 1800 and 1900. The two arguments are as follows (from Cannibalism and the Colonial World):
“Cannibalism marked the world beyond European knowledge and was, by the second half of the twentieth century, in places like New Guinea and the Amazon, though it elsewhere might remain below the surface, ready to appear when civilizational influence showed signs of waning…The counter-narrative is sometimes proposed: Cannibalism is merely a product of European imagination, it was never practiced anywhere, it was a calumny imposed by European colonizers to justify their outrages, it had its origins in the disturbed European psyche, it is a tool of Empire.”
Because the island in my book is fictional (and uncharted), I decided, of course, to have cannibals. At first, I got really wrapped up in the idea and wrote too much about it. Then I decided it pulled away too much from the main story, and took it out. Unfortunately (contrary to my current practices), I failed to keep the deleted scenes (primarily one about funeral practices and the cooking and consuming the flesh of the natives’ enemies. Gosh, I wished I’d kept it!). However, for your delectation, here is an excerpt from Starlight & Promises that prominently features cannibals.
Setup: While on a search for Samantha’s uncle, Lord Stanbury, and his friend, James Truett, Christian Badia (the hero) and his ward, Garrett Jakes, have been taken prisoner by cannibals after their ship wrecks on a south sea island, and are being held in a reed aerie high above the jungle floor.
Excerpt from Starlight & Promises:
“From up here,” Garrett said, “I can see little of significance. They haven’t removed anyone yet, are feeding us, and have seen to our injuries. Surely that’s an encouraging sign.”
Christian gave him a crooked smile. “Perhaps their purpose is to fatten us for a feast in which we’re the featured guests.”
Garrett returned the smile. “I must admit that’s a possibility I hadn’t wished to consider. Now that you mention it…”
“Assuming we come up with a plan, how many men are well enough to attempt an escape?”
“If I’m to count you, whom I’m sure you mean to include, five, maybe six. But we have no weapons; they stripped us of our knives and guns before they carted us up here. We even eat with our fingers. If we’re to have any hope of arming ourselves, we’ll have to take weapons from the men below.”
“Who’s our best climber?”
“Cullen.” Garrett grinned. “Unfortunately, you failed to foretell our predicament and left him in Hobart.”
Christian scowled at Garrett’s attempt at humor.
“Among the ambulatory men, I suppose I am,” Garrett said with a sigh. “I have the least severe injuries, and I’m pretty agile.”
Christian arched a brow. “I would imagine from climbing out windows when husbands return unexpectedly.”
“Actually, I was thinking about my second-story work with the gang in Frisco. Though I haven’t had the occasion to use my skills for some time, I still remember the fundamentals.”
“Neither are you twelve years old any longer.”
“But I’m younger than you, old man.”
Christian threw a glance at the tree branches overhanging the open hut. “Think you can climb up there and swing over to another tree? I’ve watched the parakeets climbing about. Surely you’re as nimble as they are.”
Garrett directed his gaze upward. “Perhaps. I’d have to attempt it in the dark, find the ladder, steal weapons, and break down the door. And, of course, I’d have to complete these tasks in utter silence amongst a hundred natives, thirsting for my blood and breathing down my neck.
“You have a problem with that?”
“God, you’re a hard man to please, aren’t you?”
“The dark of the moon comes in two weeks,” Christian said with a sharp nod. “If we should manage to hold on to our heads that long, up and out you go.”
“By all means,” Garrett replied with a sickly smile. “Up and out and into the stewpot.”
The night was moonless, and once the sun’s light vanished and the sky was at its darkest, Christian hoisted Garrett onto his shoulders and boosted him high enough to grab a branch above the hut. Garrett swung his legs until he gathered momentum. Releasing the branch, he flew across the dark space to a lower branch on a neighboring tree.
His position allowed Garrett to view the entire encampment. Though the night lay as black as the lava sands, cook fires still burned below, and men reclined on pallets around the fires. Silence, broken only by the rusty screeches of nightjars, reigned over the village. When a suggestion of movement in the forest ringing the open space caught his attention, he scrutinized the area, where shadows were creeping out of the trees toward the sleeping men.
“Chris, something’s happening,” Garrett whispered from his perch among the foliage.
“What?” Christian called out in a low voice.
“Shhh, I believe we’re in for some excitement. Men have surrounded the village. It doesn’t look as if it’s a friendly visit.”
When the village erupted in war cries and weapons clashing, Christian shouted up to Garrett, “Come down!”
“No,” Garrett said, his gaze fixed on the melee below. “This may be my only chance. While they’re busy slaughtering each other, I can slip through unnoticed and find the ladder.”
Christian yelled, “Garrett!”
But Garrett was already making his way down the tree toward the ground.
Garrett dropped from the last branch and looked about. He was too exposed, too far out in the open. Warriors careened past him or wrestled in combat. Clubs split skulls and broke legs and arms. Darts whistled past his head. After dodging a warrior intent on stabbing him with a wooden dagger, he sped to the forest verge, paused to hug the trunk of a sandalwood tree, and sidled around the bole, casting his gaze about the clearing for the ladder.
With his attention riveted on the mayhem beyond the trees, Garrett tripped over an obstacle. Looking up from his sprawled position, he stared directly into a pair of blue eyes and blinked in slack-jawed amazement when the man sitting on the ground extended his hand.
“Hello,” the man said as calmly as if they were meeting at White’s on St. James Street in London. He grasped and shook Garrett’s hand. “James Truett. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Who are you, and what in the name of Zeus are you doing here?”
What do you think about books that feature strange practices and exotic locales? If you would like to leave a comment about cannibals, or have read or written a book that contains exotic places or unusual elements, and would like to expound on them, I’d love to hear from you. Two lucky respondents will win a signed, print copy of Starlight & Promises, which will be available in March.
Kiss of a Traitor: Amidst the storms of the Revolution War, in the low country of South Carolina and with a relationship that begins in deceit, can Willa and Ford discover what really matters: freedom, trust…and love?
Starlight & Promises: Through the dangerous waters of the south sea islands and the wilds of Tasmania, Samantha and Christian find passion and love as they carry out a search for Samantha’s uncle and the possibility of a living saber-toothed tiger, being thwarted at every turn by an old enemy, who will stop at nothing to exact revenge on Samantha’s family and claim the tiger as his own discovery.