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The Wa people, who live between Burma and China, undercut many stereotypes about primitive mountain-folks. They are often labelled headhunters, but Magnus Fiskesjö’s new book, Stories from an Ancient Land: Perspectives on Wa History and Culture (Berghahn Books, 2021), confirms that taking head trophies is actually a recent borrowing from the Chinese army, where it was standard war practice, not a “primitive custom.” Also, the Wa were never isolated, but rather deeply integrated in the world economy for centuries—opium was a major export industry which helped sustain their independence until their ancient lands were annexed by Burma and China. Perhaps above all, the Wa people's fierce egalitarianism, their rejection of kings and hierarchies, as well as their deeply entrenched, armed autonomy based on their surprising wealth, pose a real challenge to the usual typologies of politics and economy.Magnus Fiskesjö is an associate professor of anthropology at Cornell University. His research engages ethnohistory, fieldwork, archival research, and social theories, and explores ethnic relations, ethno-politics, our fantasies of civilizations and barbarians as well as history and heritage issues in East and Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America.