In 1969, a naive young Berkeley graduate, determined to make the world a better place, joins the Peace Corps. He finds himself living in the tropical paradise of Fiji, formerly known as the “Cannibal Isles,” as a full-time forester with a hundred employees to supervise. Inexperienced, yet self-confident to the max, he embarks on a 4-year- long adventure during which he dives deeply into the culture, becoming fluent in the Fijian language, eating everything from fruit bats to raw fish, earning the nickname Vuku Levu, or spiritually inspired one, and finding that dancing with Rotumans is better than “Saturday Night Fever.”
Like most Peace Corps Volunteers, he learns that the Peace Corps is far more than sending educated and enthusiastic young Americans to use Western science and technology to help solve problems in third world countries. It is a two-way educational process where the volunteers learn about life from the people they live and work with. The Fijian culture had only recently turned its back on cannibalism: witch doctors still put curses on people, and some individuals could walk on fire, leading Fred to question strict adherence to the precepts of Western science.
In Coming of Age in the Cannibal Isles, with the wisdom and candor borne of distance and maturity, Fred Bell admits to experiences that were funny, sometimes embarrassing, and occasionally scary. With the help of his friends and neighbors he learned “to listen to learn,” to tread the difficult waters of blatant racism, to maneuver the tricky business of female relationships, and to build on skills useful to his future career in international forestry. This is the author’s story of coming of age; but it is also about bringing greater understanding of different cultures to the reader. As we understand each other better, we have a chance at peace.