Abstract

This article challenges the ethical allegory of the widely hailed film Cannibal Tours, drawing on two decades of ethnographic research in the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea, most recently in 2010. First, I sketch the contemporary plight of a middle Sepik, Iatmul-speaking community that yearns for a “road” to modernity and tourism but increasingly sees itself as “going backwards.” Second, I argue that tourism allows middle Sepik inhabitants to express artistically subtle messages about contemporary gender, identity, and sociality in the Melanesian postcolony. Third, I demonstrate what happens when the tourists go home. And almost all of them have done so, especially after the sale of the tourist ship, the Mela nesian Discoverer, in 2006. Tragically, the recent decline in tourism corresponds to a dramatic degradation of “basic services” offered by provincial and national authorities, and a devastating flood during the 2009–2010 rainy season. Facing all this, Iatmul feel increasingly disenfranchised, despondent, and desperate to attract new tourists and to discover, after a century of unfilled commodity desires, the source of material plenitude locally associated with modernity. Toward this aim, villagers now speak about something I never expected to hear in this once prosperous community: narratives about deceased kin, voyaging back to the village like ghostly tourists on a numinous ship, striving to bring local people wealth and commodities, only to be barred by Europeans. What happens after Cannibal Tours? The ideology of a cargo cult.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 221-257
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-02
Open Access
No
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