Re: Anthropophagy

14 Dec 1994 14:46 CST

In article <>, (May T. Young) writes...
>In article <>,
>George Anketell <> wrote:
>>I'm researching a childrens' book. Its subject is *the human body*.
>>Point is, that when kids realise that we are meat, their first question is *What do we taste like?*
>>I don't know the answer. Any quotes, references etc would be most helpful.
>I've been told that cannibals say that human flesh tastes like pork, and that
>some cannibalistic tribes refer to their human quarry as "smart pigs". Sorry,
>No references.

This thread is very amusing. I haven't the foggiest idea what humans taste
like, but neither did *many* in the populations of indigenous groups that are
frequently cited as being "canabalistic." Canabalism, as we understand the
term today, did NOT EXIST! The human body has been, and still is, considered
sacred by all people. I doubt if any group, contrary to the wisdom of Marvin
Harris, ever roasted humans whole and ate them with relish! Cannabilism was
an _apparatus_ of colonialism.

Anyone on this list that still believes in this nonsense please read Peter
Hulme's _Colonial Encounters_.

The idea of cannibalism dates back to the Greeks, and probably before that.
It is used to differentiate "us" from "other" by creating a *boundary* of
unacceptable behavior. When Coloumbus stepped out of his ship he was looking
for three things--cannibals, Amazons, and gold. He found all three in short
order. Another good source for the classical origins of this "boundary
separation" is a book called _The Fall of Natural Man_ by Hayden (?).

The accusation of cannibalism was used to denigrate the peoples that you
were conquering, and make it acceptable. The Church declared that if a
person ate another they did not have a soul, and thus were not human. This
made it morally acceptable to take their land and exploit them. They went
around labeling everyone "cannibal" for these reasons. It worked out well,
as is evident today. (BTW, this applies to New Zealand as well.)

As for the groups that were cannabilistic, the word as WE understand it still
doesn't apply. Anthropophagy is a more correct term. The Aztecs, for
instance, would sacrifice a worthy enemy and make a "ritualistic"--key word
here--meal of maize stew with pieces of the victim's flesh in it. In the
Aztec cosmology, when they sacrificed an individual that individual had
become the representative of a deity, brought down to earth. They then
*became* that deity as a result of consuming them. (For further elaboration,
consult _Aztecs: An Interpretation_ by Inga Clendinnen.)
groups would also eat small pieces of their enemy to gain their power and
wisdom. The Karankawa of the Texas coast is an example. There is much
literature on this subject, please consult it. There should be an FAQ
for it on this list (volunteers?).


James Benthall
University of Houston
Houston, Texas