The Sex Lives of Cannibals

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The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific[1] is a 2004 travelogue by author J. Maarten Troost describing the two years he and his girlfriend spent living on the Tarawa atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.


In the book Troost describes how he came to discover that the tiny sliver of land in the South Pacific, barely known to the outside world, was not the tropical paradise he thought it would be. Nevertheless, he and his girlfriend Sylvia built a home for themselves in Kiribati, alongside a host of colorful local characters, all the while having new encounters with the bizarre and unfamiliar. The "colorful local characters" felt that they were also enduring bizarre and unfamiliar experiences by having to deal with the likes of Troost and Sylvia.

In those two years, he learned to overcome the dearth of practically all food except fish ("raw or boiled"), the extreme heat (only Mormon missionaries wore pants), and a lethargic government he describes as "Coconut Stalinism"—"though Stalin, at least, got something done." He meets the poet laureate, a twenty-one-year-old Englishman who has not written a poem since arriving on the island and cannot pronounce the name of the country he is in, and survives the "Great Beer Crisis," when the Australian supply ship went to Kiritimati Island instead of Tarawa, thus failing to provide the island with much needed beer. He copes with frequent electrical and water shortages, the constant playing of the song, Macarena and struggles to get a subscription to The New Yorker from a hapless operator, who insists that his phone number needs more digits ("Um, I don't have more numbers") and his street needs a name ("There are no street names. There's only one street here.").

At the same time, Troost also challenges American complacency toward its own history, by doing so little to remember the many troops that died in the Battle of Tarawa during World War II, and the many foreign aid workers and consultants, who fail to consider the islanders' real needs or local culture.


This book was followed up by Getting Stoned with Savages (2006), the further adventures of J. Maarten Troost and his wife, Sylvia.


  1. ^ J. Maarten Troost, The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, Broadway Books, 2004 (ISBN 0-7679-1530-5).