Hamatsa by Jim McDowell

I have a few books in my collection now that are about local or Canadian history, and they’re all so fascinating. I came across this title, and was really intrigued to learn more. This one was from a small BC press, and I hope to share more of their titles with you in future, because I think they have some really great titles and I love to support local.

This one is about the way that indigenous peoples were accused of or described as being cannibals by the Europeans that first came into contact with them. While this was often propaganda, and the reasons behind that are explored here, there’s also some evidence of something like cannibal practices in the Pacific North West coast areas. This book explores what evidence there is, explores what evidence there isn’t, and also explores why these practices are often looked down on as less worthy, less legitimate, than Western traditions. So while the book does explore the practice of Hamatsa in the Pacific Northwest areas, it does this in a very impartial, well researched way and gives loads of context. I’d say, essentially, Hamatsa is like the case study, and cannibalism as misunderstood by the Europeans is the subject.

This book is quite academic, it reads a lot like a PHD paper, which personally I really liked because this book is about skewering sensationalism, looking at the phenomena behind it, and also engaging with a very controversial and sensitive subject. You don’t want something light. You want that research, and all that context. Not just some opinion, but what facts there are and what facts we don’t have. So, the wording is more academic, not inaccessible, but just not colloquial and casual. The source materials are all taken apart and examined, and what we even mean when we say “cannibal” is taken apart.

To be critical, this book may not be for everyone. Talking about cannibalism isn’t in everyone’s wheelhouse, and the way that the author explores everything may put off some who like less academic stuff. I did see some people on Goodreads who didn’t like that about this book, they felt like it dragged and they just wanted to know the juicy stuff. Personally, I found the final, closing chapters a little soft. They felt a little idealistic and philosophical after the more heavy, researched body of work.

On the whole, this is a really grounded and wholistic look at the subject, with detailed research and without being insensitive or sensationalising the issue.

Read It If: I like books like this and I really liked learning about British Columbian and more broadly Canadian history. It might be a bit heavy for some, but if you are interested in this, I do recommend it.


Thank you to PGC Books and Ronsdale Press for the copy of this book for review.

If you’d like to check out Ronsdale Press, they have a great range of Canadian books, with some really intriguing history and non-fiction titles. You can take a look HERE.

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