The Columbus Quincentenary spawned a tremendous resurgence of interest in the interplay of Native American and European cultures that began five centuries ago. Unfortunately, many of the books associated with this resurgence are simply ancient European texts republished without comment. One result is that European commentators of the day have been promoted as objective observers of native cultures, their fears and prejudices attaining the status of fact. With Wild Majesty, Peter Hulme and Neil Whitehead forcefully attack this practice.

Wild Majesty is an anthology. Portions of 31 texts are reproduced. The editors specifically chose “narratives which embodied, and continue to embody, a powerful series of Western ideologies about the Caribs” (p. 4, emphasis in original). They sought to represent all the “major” writers on the Caribs and gave precedence to eyewitness accounts. Starting with “The Letter of Columbus” (1493) and ending with José Barreiro’s “Carib Gallery” (1990), the texts are reproduced in chronological sequence. The sequence is punctuated by five centennial divisions, which reflect the major phases through which Carib historicity has passed. There are brief introductions to these divisions and to each text. The editors wrote about one-third of the book, roughly one hundred pages.

One of the most successful aspects of the book is that it brings the Carib story up to the present. In doing so the editors show how the modern portrait of the Caribs has been built up from earlier texts. For instance, in introducing the transcript of Alan Whicker’s 1964 BBC documentary they comment, “Many of the tropes will be by now recognizable. The difficulty of the journey is emphasized— ‘expedition into the remote territory. . . almost inaccessible.’. . . The Caribs are seen as living out a ‘tragic destiny. . . doomed to extinction’” (p. 332). Yet in all instances, contact with the Caribs led to an immediate recognition of their humanity and a rejection of the past accounts of their ferocity. The Caribs are clearly not the cannibals of lore. It is as if someone went to Jurassic Park and found it inhabited by Barneys.

Wild Majesty “is not a history of the relations between Caribs and outsiders” (p. 4). It is an act of cultural creation. By carefully selecting “eyewitness accounts” (p. 5) and arranging them in historical sequence, Wild Majesty transports the reader to a new level of understanding. The Caribs are no longer simply savage cannibals, no longer a dying race. The Caribs are the victors. They have outlasted their European oppressors, and though their culture and society have been battered, their spirit has not been diminished. Moreover, in pointing this out Hulme and Whitehead have demystified aspects of Western ideology by documenting the very human reality around which that ideology has grown.