For more the 200 years, controversy has simmered over the subject of cannibalism on the Pacific Northwest Coast. So heated has the topic become that many scholars have hesitated to engage in the debate. Now, using an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approach, historian Jim McDowell offers a comprehensive study of cannibalism on the coast. Beginning with the many supposed "man-eating" incidents recorded by European and American explorers and traders who visited Nootka Sound between 1744 and 1884, McDowell shows how the accounts were coloured by a "cannibal complex" among the Western observers. McDowell then revisits the ground-breaking work of Franz Boas and other anthropologists to reinterpret cannibalism as it was practised in the secret hamatsa ceremony - ritual cannibalism designed to strengthen and perpetuate Native communities. Presenting the most complete discussion of the hamatsa to date, McDowell demonstrates the spiritual profundity of the ceremony (which continues today in various forms) and its intended purpose in coping with the dark forces of the world. Whereas the early explorers abhorred the gustatory cannibalism they believed they were observing, McDowell reveals that the ritual cannibalism of the hamatsa has much to teach the West in its present spiritual uncertainty and confusion.
Jim McDowell is a veteran British Columbia historian. His first career was teaching, which took him into classrooms from northern California to Seattle, New York City, and Vancouver. He taught elementary school in California and Washington, worked as an inner-city education consultant in Harlem and Brooklyn, and educated teachers at Simon Fraser University. McDowell also worked for 20 years as a freelance writer and independent reporter; he wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles for Canadian and U.S. publications. McDowell has four published books: Peace Conspiracy: The Story of Warrior-Businessman Yoshiro Fujimura (McBo, Irvine, CA 1993), a partial biography of a once obscure Japanese naval commander; Hamatsa: The Enigma of Cannibalism on the Pacific Northwest Coast (Ronsdale, Vancouver, BC 1997), an investigation of the existence of cannibalism among early Northwest Coast Native people; Josè Maria Narvaez: The Forgotten Explore (Arthur H. Clark, Spokane, WA 1998), the first full life story of the Spanish-Mexican navigator; and Father August Brabant: Saviour or Scourge? (Ronsdale, 2012), which presents a thorough, unvarnished biography of the first Catholic missionary to work on Vancouver Island during the colonial period. McDowell is also working on two other books: one about birdsong, which uses folktales from around the world to probe the possible psychological significance of bird songs for human beings; another about walks for seniors and families.