Home / Culture and Society / Travel / The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost

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It is a flyspeck on the map, the merest hint of a place, a lonely tropical coral atoll in the middle of a cerulean Pacific. The place is the Republic of Kiribati, in the Gilbert Islands, an island that, while not quite at the back end of nowhere, certainly lives in that general neighborhood.

J. Maarten Troost’s book The Sex Lives of Cannibals chronicles his two-year stay on the island of Tarawa. Accompanying his wife (who works for a non-governmental aid organization), Troost meanders into Tarawa with unrealistic expectations of a tropical south seas paradise. What he found was an over-populated, stiflingly hot, polluted (and occasionally toxic) island, infested with stray dogs, lackadasical and corrupt bureaucracy, and an overabundance of La Macarena playing at every turn.

Troost looks at life among the Kiribati (whom he seems to regard with a fairly odd mix of wonderment, fondness, respect and bemusement), moving from varied discussions on the general attitudes towards work, the desperate quest for some island foodstuffs not based on fish, encounters with sharks (and some flotsum that is too disagreeable to outline here), the Kiribati fondness for stray dogs (think back to what I said about foodstuffs… ’nuff said), and the daily trials of infrequent and intermittant electrical power, poor water supplies and government bureaucracy. Of particular note is when the beer ran out&#8212on the entire island&#8212for four weeks.

He also, on occasion, seems to have captured part of that particular magic that the south seas seems to possess.

Here’s a brief excerpt From The Sex Lives of Cannibals:

Landing on a rock-strewn strip cleared of coconut trees was exactly as I expected it would be. Terrifying. The passenger door jammed, and we scrambled out through the rear cargo door and soon we began to feel like Martian invaders. I-Matang I-Matang, said a chorus of tiny voices. But they quieted when I bared my teeth, and the youngest even scattered into the bush. Parents in Kiribati tell their children to behave or otherwise an I-Matang will devour them, which has led to the wonderful result that the younger segement of the population believes I-Matang to be cannibals.

I, of course, did nothing to dissuade them.

As an added bonus, the lurid title of the book seems to excite some interest, particularly when reading it on crowded subway trains… again, ’nuff said. All in all a throughly enjoyable, highly funny read.

For more on Tarawa and Kiribati, visit Lonely Planet. Also recommended is Jane’s Kiribati page and this Kiribati site.

Tarawa was the site of a particular nasty battle in World War II. Find out more at Eyewitness to History and Tarawa on the Web. Visit Tarawa’s namesake here.

Want a look at the Republic of Kiribati ? Here is Kiribati and Christmas Island from space….

As always, tell your friends about BookLinker, and drop by for more reviews! Comments are alwys welcome. Thanks for reading.

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About Deano

  • I remember the shocked discovery of two couples, friends of ours, who took a week-long vacation on a legendary South Sea island (which shall remain nameless) – for the next three months, every time we met any of the four, we heard again about the strange sexual practices of the natives.

    Specifically, the gender of children had nothing to do with their innate sex, but was instead assigned by a combination of birth order and chiromancy. One of the husbands was especially shocked by this; I suspect he “chatted up” a lovely young thing who turned out to have male sex organs…

  • This book review has been selected for Advance.net. You’ll be able to find this and other Blog Critics reviews at such places as Cleveland.com’s Book Reviews column.

  • heather

    Loved this book, esp. because my sister has been in Kiribati (N. Tarawa first, then South) for the past 3 years as a PCV. I’m dying to get in touch with J. Maarten Troost just to tell him how much I appreciated being a little closer to understanding where my sis is living- and, as a fellow divergent and procrastinating writer, how much i love his style! any ideas how to get in touch?

  • Hello. Having found Troost’s first book I am a huge fan. I absolutely loved the book and am anxiously awaiting the inevitable bellyaches I will suffer as a result of laughing to hard as I read “Getting Stoned with Savages.”

    Anyone interested in promoting this fantastic author come join our myspace group called “J Maarten Troost.” You can find it at


  • Taoati Tooki

    I was born in Kiribati and lived there for many years. I now live in Australia at Tennant Creek where I teach high school. I read Maarten’s book and enjoyed it but it made me a little sad to think how Tarawa has deteriorated. It once was a clean and very pleasant place to be. But unfortunately what Maarten wrote in his book, sad to say, is an accurate picture. It seemed that the two years he spent in Kiribati touched his heart a little and I hope he still remembers my island with fondness.

  • Etan

    Hi my name is Etan, just heard about the Maarteen Troost “sex live of cannibals” and its sad to read about a place you love so dearly being told in such a way….Troost to my opinion is one of the many typical westerners to visit our islands and one who has no appreciation and respect for cultures such as ours. To even talk about corrupt bureaucrats…is sad because, you need to fully understand the culture and the way of doing things in such small communities…I hope this country would never ever receive the likes of Troost…unless they are here to do something constructive to improve the lifes of locals…ps..I wouldn’t mind a book written by a peace corp volunteer as it will paint a more accurate picture of my Island than some flashy husband of a cosultant.

  • Teaiaki

    I have not read this book but from the reviews, I am really saddened by the way Kiribati is being portrayed. If Maarteen is really concerned, genuine and truthful about the state of affairs on Tarawa, he should consider donating the proceeds from the sale of his book to address the problems that he has highlighted. Making money out of the misery of poor people is just not moral!

  • Dick Smith

    I loved the book and would love to contact the author.(Does anyone know how) Nearly fifty years ago I lived for a year and a half on Manihiki, an atoll in the Cook Islands and many of the things the author wrote about brought back memories of atoll life. Manihiki,of course was very unpolluted and the overall governance of the island and indeed of all the Cooks at the time was not corrupt in any way. It was also very very remote having no airstrip at all and in fact being host to the first flying boat during the time I lived there. However the problems with food were the same and the beer did run out from time to time.
    Troost’s book was written with a fine sense of humour and at times that approach tends to please readers rather than a more strict attention to chronological fact. This is probably why a couple of the above comments are a bit negative.
    Possibly the name of the book is a little too non descriptive of the content and it certainly drew a strong note of disapproval from “she who must always be listened to”
    In summary I loved it and will look for his other books in the library.

  • PCV Mom

    I visited my dtr for 2 weeks – 1 on Tarawa and 1 on an outer island. While there, I told my dtr’s host father my dad’s WWII coconut story. It was a story my family considered hilarious. It involves Dad getting bonked on the head by a coconut. The humor didn’t translate. It was pointed out that getting hit on the head with a coconut hurts. True. I think it’s a case of cultural views of humor. I’m so sorry the I Kiribati were in any way offended by the book. I suspect that part of offense is due to a different approach to humor in the West – the Dilbert cartoons are another case in point, they show the idiocy of corporate and office behavior in a manner we interpret as amusing, but which could be taken otherwise. Please, let me for one assure the I Kiribati, that although the author’s tone is irreverent, and his topics sometimes describe less than the best the islands offer, in total, it does not at all lessen Westerners general wonderful overall affection for the islands and the people.

  • Rosa Muller Norman

    I am an I-Kiribati girl living now in Australia. I have been given the book as presents TWICE but as I told my friends (Imatangs – expats) I have not read the book because I cannot get past the title as it is an outrageous, attention-grabbing, greedy way to make a quick buck. These imatangs have no consideration of the feelins of the locals. When I do get around to reading it I shall make more informed comments!

  • May Muller Lai

    I absolutely love the book. I have read it several times. I am from Kiribati but has lived in Sydney, Australia for more than 20 years. It is an accurate account and it is nice that it is written with great sense of humour and that is what I like about it.

  • Tongareiti

    May Mullar Lai, you are bad for saying you from kiribati and liking the book. Sadly this book is over-exaggerated and an irrelevant source since its not totally true of kirbati, now this author could make money out of this rubbish of a book and does he need to over-exaggerate it? so that the Kiribati people look stupid and extremely uncivilized? bad book!!!

  • Color

    Every review I’ve read of this one loved it, but I didn’t. I read it prior to blogging so there is no review. His “voice” annoyed me and I couldn’t enjoy it. The one part that sticks out in my mind though is his swim in the bay.

  • Morten

    I hate this book, I have been to Kiribati and I know the author is bullshitting, nothing but lies, sadly he’s making money out of it

  • jack

    This is the most ridiculous book, don’t buy it! I wasted my money on it