“Australian-born adventure writer Paul Raffaele doesn’t let a little danger stand in the way of a good story. In the course of his career, he has reported on modern-day slavery, dived with great white sharks and accompanied Afghan police into illegal poppy fields.
Now, in his weirdly compelling book, “Among the Cannibals: Adventures on the Trail of Man’s Darkest Ritual,” Raffaele, 64, who writes for Smithsonian magazine, intrepidly makes contact with 21st-century man-eaters. The author, who is recuperating from shrapnel wounds suffered on assignment during a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan, spoke to me by telephone from his hotel in New York.
Schatz: Why do the Korawai in Papua New Guinea practice cannibalism?
Raffaele: They do not see it as they are eating human beings. I see it as a Stone-Age rationalization of disease that kills you, and you don’t really know why…. What they’ve come up with is this monster from the other world called a khakhua. He comes into the clan, and he inhabits the body of someone they know. And then begins to magically eat the insides of another clan member who eventually dies. And when he dies, the Korawai have to find the khakhua who killed him, so they search about and eventually come up with the khakhua and kill that person and eat that person. They have to get revenge against the khakhua.”
(Related: documentary on the Aghori sect in India-“Sadhus: India’s Holy Men” and “Cannibalism May Have Wiped Out Neanderthals”)