The Tin Can Crucible by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea)

In 1994, a Peace Corps Volunteer named Christopher Davenport settled into the Eastern Highlands to live with a group of subsistence farmers.  He began to learn the language and develop a strong sense of connection with his inherited family. 

One day, following the death of a venerated elder, the people of the village kidnap, torture, and ultimately kill a local woman accused of practicing sorcery.

Devastated, Christopher tries to reconcile this unspeakable act with the welcoming and nurturing community he has come to love. But in trying to comprehend what he has witnessed through the lens of Western sensibilities, Christopher is unable to find the answers he seeks.

Instead, he is left with one universal question: How do we continue to love someone who has done the unthinkable?

In this true story, Davenport gives a considerate but courageously honest depiction of his transformative experience. He asks difficult questions about the role of philanthropy in the intersection of cultures and the mutability of human virtue. He also looks internally to question the integrity of his own well-intended pilgrimage. The result is a sweeping account of grief, empathy, and the complex mechanisms of humanity.

Praise for The Tin Can Crucible

‘It’s such a profound experience to subsume yourself in one of those villages and [Davenport’s] account of it is vivid and sensitive; it brought tears to my eyes a few times.’ – Carl Hoffman, author of Savage Harvest – A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest

‘Davenport is among the few writers to weave the complexities of Papua New Guinea into a compelling narrative, one that is frightening and fulfilling’ – Rick Antonson, author of Walking With Ghosts in Papua New Guinea

‘Davenport paints an enchanting portrait of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, tearing down stereotypes, and revealing the nuances of the culture and people he came to know. This is a vivid account of cultural immersion, and the moments of discomfort, enlightenment, and hilarity that go along with it. It’s also a deeply human story, of grappling with loss and unthinkable moral dilemmas, and of building relationships despite cultural divides. Davenport shows us how to bridge two very different worlds with grace and humility.’ – Sarah Erdman, author of Nine Hills to Nambonkaha

‘Davenport’s masterful and lyrical memoir delves into the complexities of his remote village where he strips life and death down to their purest and truest form. His conclusion leaves us with our own values and culture to examine for a long, long time.’ – Susan E. Greisen, author of In Search of Pink Flamingos

The Tin Can Crucible
by Christopher Davenport (Papua New Guinea 1994-96)
Lume Books
237 pages
December 2020
$12.08 (Paperback)




Christopher Davenport is a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. He has served tours in Vietnam, Guatemala, Washington DC, Tajikistan, and the Eastern European nation of Georgia. He has also worked in Albania, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. His first international experience was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Papua New Guinea from 1994 to 1996. His time living in a village of subsistence farmers in the Papua New Guinean Highlands forms the basis of his memoir, The Tin Can Crucible. He and his wife have two daughters and an assortment of pets they have collected from around the world.

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