Into the Crocodile's Nest

A journey inside New Guinea

In order to better understand the rain forest from the "inside", Benedict Allen underwent an initiation ceremony of the Niowra, a Sepik people who traditionally believed it made each candidates a "man as strong as a crocodile". It meant having his back and chest permanently scarred with "crocodile" markings and being beaten daily for six weeks, but this was a sacred and secret ceremony, and to be included was a very great privilege.

BA's comment: "My first independent journey – between the Orinoco and Amazon (the story told in Mad White Giant) – having ended up with me alone and desperate, I now wanted to come to terms with the forest that had almost killed me. I set about out attempting to immerse myself among various indigenous peoples in New Guinea – I had no appetite to return to the Amazon after the trauma there – but in fact ended up facing situations which were almost as equally worrying. But although the initiation ceremony was as harsh as any on the planet, at least by now by now my "philosophy" as an 'explorer' was becoming clear to me. I had gone on my first journey without backup largely out of necessity – I had no money. But now I saw that this approach – to leave modern equipment and companions at home – as valuable in its own right. If you call yourself an explorer, you should be pushing frontiers, and if not by recording things as a scientist then by immersing yourself thoroughly in little understood or unknown worlds, before reporting back. Freud would perhaps have called this the banishing of "ego," as you try to lose some of yourself (and cultural baggage), and embrace different values or viewpoints. The second of a quartet, it was written as a quieter, much more studied book - a direct contrast to Mad White Giant."

1987

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