In 1984, Swiss traveler Bruno Manser joined an expedition to the Mulu caves on Borneo, the planet’s third largest island. There he slipped into the forest interior to make contact with the Penan, an indigenous tribe of peace-loving nomads living among the Dayak people, the fabled “Headhunters of Borneo.”
Bruno lived for years with the Penan, gaining acceptance as a member of the tribe. However, when commercial logging began devouring the Penan’s homeland, Bruno led the tribe against these outside forces, earning him status as an enemy of the state, but also worldwide fame as an environmental hero. He escaped captivity under gunfire twice, but the strain took a psychological toll. Then, in 2000, Bruno disappeared without a trace. Had he become a madman, a hermit, or a martyr? American Michael Palmieri is, in many ways, Bruno’s opposite. Evading the Vietnam War, the Californian wandered the world, finally settling in Bali in the 1970s. From there, he staged expeditions into the Bornean jungle to acquire astonishing art and artifacts from the Dayaks. He would become one of the world’s most successful tribal-art field collectors, supplying sacred works to prestigious museums and wealthy private collectors. And yet suspicion shadowed this self-styled buccaneer who made his living extracting the treasure of the Dayak: Was he preserving or exploiting native culture? As author Carl Hoffman unravels the deepening riddle of Bruno’s disappearance and seeks answers to the questions surrounding both men, it becomes clear saint and sinner are not so easily defined and Michael and Bruno are, in a sense, two parts of one whole: each spent his life in pursuit of the sacred fire of indigenous people.
Call number: 959.830922 H
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