Robert Cribb, Helen Gilbert, and Helen TiffinWild Man from Borneo: A Cultural History of the Orangutan

University of Hawaii Press, 2014

by Nick Cheesman on January 15, 2015

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Robert Cribb and his co-authors Helen Gilbert and Helen Tiffin have together drawn on the resources of history, literature, film, science, and cultural theory to write Wild Man from Borneo: A Cultural History of the Orangutan (University of Hawaii Press, 2014), an unusual and fascinating story spanning four centuries of human-orangutan encounters in Southeast Asia and beyond. The book tracks these encounters from the jungles of Sumatra in the 17 century through to the cinematic performances of the 20 century, and into contemporary advocacy for animal rights. It shows how humans—particularly Europeans—have been troubled by the orangutan, because it challenges political, juridical and ethical ideas, perceptions and representations of humanness.

Wild Man from Borneo is an illuminating and revealing study, which will appeal to general readers as well as specialists. Over 50 illustrations complement the authors’ elegant and detailed written account. In view of the orangutan’s precarious condition today, the book also contains an urgent message that the disappearance of the “wild man” from the wild would be a tragedy not only for the orangutan but for humanity as well.

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