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Among Cannibals and Headhunters

Jack London in Melanesia

Keith Newlin

Why did London place his life and those of his crew at risk of imminent death when he voyaged to the Solomon Islands in 1908, a region he believed to be filled with cannibals and headhunters? Based on archival sources, the books London had read to prepare himself for the voyage, and recent ethno-history of the region, this article argues that London’s voyage did not occasion a more enlightened view of race, as some recent scholars have argued; indeed, his months in the Solomon Islands confirmed the racialist cast of his thinking. London undertook his journey into a region he perceived as dangerous as part of a sense of adventure that depended on demonstrating courage and manliness, and in the process he acted as a metaphoric headhunter himself.