The White Headhunter

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

A fantastic work of non fiction- the account of Jack Renton- a young Scottish lad, sailing the seas around Australia and beyond. A brutal account with grisly details- very different to what I normally read but I got swept (!) away on the sea folk tales
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I really tried with this one but could not get into it. I think that is more so my fault and not the author or the story. I typically prefer going back a bit farther in history, but thought I would at least give this one a try. I will still recommend it, however, because there are many who will find the era, location, and subject of great interest.
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Reading “The White Headhunter” was a complete change of genre for me and although I had a few reservations about the choice, I’m really pleased I decided to go with it.

This first book by Nigel Randell is a work of non-fiction. A teenage Scots sailor, Jack Renton, was rescued from captivity on the Pacific island of Malaita, home to a fearsome tribe of headhunters. In his memoir, Renton recounted his eight-year adventure: how he jumped ship and drifted two thousand miles in an open whaleboat to the Solomon Islands, came ashore at Malaita and was stripped of his identity. For all it’s detail and authenticity Renton’s chronicle glossed over many key events. This book is a more complete and grislier account of Renton’s experience. 

Very well presented and easy to read “The White Headhunter” contains some fascinating history of the late 19th century and the Pacific with some entertaining and enlightening information about the period. This true story was interesting, enjoyable and well worth the read.

[Thank you to #NetGalley, #ThistlePublishing and #NigelRandell, for a free ARC of #TheWhiteHeadhunter in exchange for an honest review.]
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A wonderful true story that is full of ethnographic and societal detail.  This book shines a light on a dim corner of the world that remained isolated into the last century.    An absolutely compelling story of a shipwrecked sailor and how he survived.
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This is clearly a well-researched look at one Pacific Islander culture and society. Buried in this long book is the story of a ship-wrecked sailor and how he survived in a world of head hunting and cannibalism. Slow at times, the story is well-written.
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I love the history lessons in this book and the story is quite a page turner!!! I would love to buy this book for my high school library!!! I think that most all of the students would enjoy this tale as well!!
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Enthralling and easy to read, this details the adventures of sailor Jack Renton in the 1870s. After being adopted by the Malaitans, a head-hunting tribe living on an island in the Solomon Islands, he effectively becomes one of them, rising to be a trusted advisor and member of the tribe. A true story, well presented and fascinating. Well worth the read.
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The author has spent a lot of time researching the life and times of John Renton who spent 7 years on the Solomon Island of Maliata.  The title and the front cover of the book purports the story is all about Renton and his life as a headhunter.  There is a bit of this but Renton did not leave a lot of records so his tale is brief.  Rather the book is much more about blackbirding, the process of hiring/kidnapping/tricking Pacific Islanders into working in the Queensland cane fields.  It also covers early exploration, the impact of Western disease and the change of cultures caused by the arrival of missionaries.  The chapter on Christianity and how the locals interpreted it's usefulness was a highlight of the book.
So the book is not as it seems from the cover.  It is also a bit disorganised which is a pity as there is plenty of interesting facts and events.
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The White Headhunter by Nigel Randell is a fascinating treatise on the tale of two men who were not only captured by headhunters in the South Pacific but lived to tell about it. These headhunters were not known for their hospitality, yet these men managed not only to acclimate into their new life quite well but rose to positions of prominence within the tribe.  It becomes apparent early in the book that Randell researched the historical records quite well and turned what might ordinarily be a rather dry subject into a retelling that should appeal to a wide variety of readers. I enjoyed this book quite a bit and give it 4/5 stars.

*A copy of this ebook was the only consideration received in exchange for this review.*
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I'm pretty conservative and demanding as a book reviewer and it's rare that I give 4 stars. This book rates it though. It's a very well written story about an unusual situation, where a Caucasian European gets marooned on an island in the South Pacific. He is taken in rather than eaten, by the local tribe and manages to assimilate even though he's an adult. The author needed to "imagine" quite a lot since no one was there to bear witness, but he uses history, accounts and common sense to do a very believable job. What could have been a thin, simple tale is enriched and broadened in a truly interesting manner. I highly recommend this book.
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Nigel Randell, in The White Headhunter, presents his reader with a deeply researched true story from the late 19th century in which a young Scots sailor [Jack Renton] , spends 8 years on a remote Pacific island living with primitive head-hunters and yet survived to tell the tale. The author really adds value by blending Jack's version of what he did in those eight years with what he discovered when he visited the island of Malaita for himself. The answers lay in the oral histories told him by today's islanders. And what extraordinary tales they told!  How initially Jack endured dreadful physical hardship but survived by using his wits both to introduce new carpentry skills in boat and house-building and also by teaching the tribal leaders new battle strategies which led to them great success in inter-island raids. He became the favoured "son" of the tribal leader and was key to protecting the islanders from falling prey to the false promises of the slave traders. As a result Malaita clung on to its traditional way of life for much longer than neighbouring islands. Indeed by keeping the white man at bay death, by white man's diseases, was also reduced, albeit it could not be avoided altogether. So Jack left a legacy to be proud of. 
After he was rescued he returned to his native Shetland for a short time but couldn't settle and returned to Australia where he acted as an inspector on vessels luring natives from the Pacific Islands to work on Australian plantations. Tragically he was murdered on the third of these inspection visits when his landing party was attacked by natives. All in all an extraordinary tale and a masterpiece of research. If I have one criticism it is in the flow of the story which does have a tendency to jump back and forwards over a period of some 40 years. But don't let this deter you from reading what is a true and genuinely ripping yarn!
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An interesting and fascinating read. This is obviously a very well researched book. The book has a lot of facts in it. I enjoyed reading this from an historical point of view.

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
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The White Headhunter by Nigel Randell is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late December.

A Scottish man, Jack Renton, is Shanghaied from San Francisco to go into the Pacific, then escapes capture with a few other sailors and goes adrift for 4 weeks, living off of harpooned sharks and rainwater before washing up on the South Pacific island of Malaita and living there for 8 years until being ‘rescued’ in 1875 at age 27. Within that 8 year timeframe, he learns the Malaitan's reliance on oral memory, is taught the language by local children, teaches them football/soccer, teaches English to another warrior, Kwaisulia, uses strings of shells as currency, and becomes a canoe maker and a headhunter warrior. Over time, Australian traders start to seek out native slaves within the South Pacific to work on sandalwood and sugar cane plantations and the Malaita tribe believe themselves to be kidnapped in order to be eaten by hungry sailors or that they want to reclaim Jack Renton.
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This was a fascinating true life adventure/nightmare, involving shanghai'd sailors over a century ago, shipwrecks, cannibals and head hunting natives in the South Seas, and a life that could hardly be imagined by a white European male of that era.  Jack Reston was still a teenager when his life ran amok, but survived to tell the tale, though it was abbreviated a bit to suit the tastes of the time.  How he survived and almost thrived is not for the delicate, and it made for truly interesting reading!
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Rating: 3.5/5.0

This is a non-fiction book but the story reads more like a fiction. The story is about sailor Jack Renton who is freed from captivity on the Pacific island of Malaita. After that, we follow his story and how he rises to serve the island’s tribal chief Kabou and eventually becomes his most trusted adviser. 

This story was really interesting and full of adventures, I can't imagine a normal person going through all this. The book has a big bibliography at the end that supports all these extraordinary events. It gives the reader better confidence that what he is reading is not something fictitious but real events and real people were involved. 

The White Headhunter is written beautifully and makes all the adventures very enjoyable. It might not be a material that will appeal to the wider audience there but if you are a fan of naval adventures or historical voyages then you will surely enjoy it and should not miss reading it.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Thistle Publishing for providing me a digital copy of this book and this is my honest unbiased review.
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Interesting! I did not know this story before reading this book. This is a great book for anyone interested in the history of the late 19th century and the Pacific. I found this to be very entertaining and enlightening about the period, if a bit gruesome at times with some of the descriptions. I received a copy from NetGalley and the publisher and this is my honest opinion.
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I found this book incredibly engaging and could not put it down. It’s well written and well researched and just a genuine pleasure to read. While I liked the whole book, there is one part that stood out the most:

‘Village history does not reside in the public domain but is owned by various individuals and families- a copyright legitimised by an ancestral connection to a major participant in the narrative.’ This is the line that fully gripped me and made me realise how much I was going to enjoy reading the book. It shows how much research went into writing it, since this is not something that could be easily understood. Randell clearly went to extraordinary lengths to write this book, and it shows. I loved his dedication to making sure the reader understands the culture of the island, and I think that’s what makes the book such a good read.

It appealed to my love of both history and anthropology and I recommend the book to anyone who likes either.
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Nigel Randell has written a fascinating and extraordinary account about Jack Renton, a young sailor marooned on a small island in the Solomon Islands. The detailed story of Renton was passed down through descendents of the island’s inhabitants by oral history.
He befriended the local chieftain, who greatly respected Renton’s artisan skills, intelligence and bravery.  The large gaps in Renton’s memoirs were skilfully filled in by the author using the islander’s verbal history and the contemporary accounts of his ‘white’ rescuers. Clearly Renton went native and probably became as brutal as the local headhunters.
The accounts of the decimation of the islanders by European diseases are truly tragic. As we are now aware, similar events happened all over the New World. In Brazil, as an example, whole native cultures were wiped out by typhoid, influenza, syphilis, and common colds etc. As often happens, the role of the missionaries had severely negative effects on the spread of disease and the destruction of the islanders culture. 
The book also covers the dreadful exploitation of the various groups of islanders by the Australian and European traders and businessmen, leading to drastic falls in population groups.
One of the most beguiling parts of the story, was the use of porpoise teeth as currency by the Solomon islanders. The chieftains tightly controlled the culling of the porpoises in order to regulate the impacts of supply and demand. I suggest it can be compared to De Beers artificially controlling the price of diamonds in today’s global market.
In summary, it is a well written book that also covers a lot of fascinating semi-related topics.
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The White Headhunter reads like fiction, it's perfect for fans of naval adventures and historical journeys.  This is a reprint from 2003, so it is possible that you've read it before or that your library already owns a copy.
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This is the true account of a young Scottish sailor Jack  Renton washed  ashore  in 1860 on one of the most isolated  Solomon Islands Mala’ita. The book describes how he successfully adapted to the life of the natives tribes who were headhunters.  The book is also a history of the society and customs of the natives and why headhunting was so important. The book  puts the native islanders into the  context of the Australian sugarcane  planting and the ensuing slave trade.  It also looks at different castaways or beachcombers who lived with natives on other islands. It is a well researched book demonstrating the impact the Whites had on these native societies.  By taking oral histories into account a picture of how the island tribes also changed as they dealt with the impact. It would benefit from a better organization but nevertheless a fascinating book.
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