George Hunt has a white father and a native mother. A shaman and chieftain among his people, the Kwagiulth, helplessly he has watched them die—from disease, warfare, alcohol, despair—as their world is besieged by the arrival of the twentieth century and the encroachments of the young country called Canada. Yet he is also an assistant to the famed anthropologist Franz Boas, and a collector of native artefacts for the white man’s museums. He inhabits both worlds, looking in and looking out, at peace in neither. A bear of a man, he is imposing in body and intellect, yet prone to fits of wild rage.
When his son dies of tuberculosis, and he insists on performing the funeral rites of his mother’s people, George provokes the fury of the missionaries and the Indian Agents, and sets in motion a chain of events that forces him to defend what is most important to him; not only with blade and rifle in the remote fastness of the northern British Colombia coast, but also with his wits and precarious dignity in a Vancouver courtroom.
Masterful, unforgettable, and utterly gripping, The Cannibal Spirit broods with nostalgia for a passing world and pounds with relentless tension. Based on the life of the real historical figure George Hunt, this astonishing evocation of the fog-wrapped forests of the northwest coast, and the heedless bustle of the arrival of modernity in the midst of an older, beleaguered way of life, tells the story of the grappling of two civilizations in the life of one man.