Sorcery and Shipwrecks

Headhunting in the Torres Strait Islands

Authored by: Heather Bonney

The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415842198
eBook ISBN: 9781315883366
Adobe ISBN: 9781134677979


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The Torres Strait Islands are situated in the seaway between the Cape York Peninsula, northeast Australia and Papua New Guinea (Figure 29.1). In addition to headhunting and human trophy preparation, the islands showed great diversity in their mortuary practices and treatment of the dead, including mummification and disarticulation and the use of human remains in spiritual divination. These practices disappeared completely during the period up to and including the conversion to Christianity, which Islanders refer to as the “Coming of the Light”. This process began in 1871 with the arrival of the London Missionary Society led by the Reverend Samuel Macfarlane.

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