Re: Anthropophagy

Daniel Rosenblatt (
19 Dec 1994 02:15:27 GMT

James Benthal writes:
:Canabalism, as we understand the
:term today, did NOT EXIST! The human body has been, and still is,
: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!

It was my impression that people were *tapu* (sacred) while they were alive
but once they were cooked and ready to eat they were *noa*
(unrestricted). Plenty of people raosted (well baked in an earth oven)
people in pieces and ate them with relish. (actually they ate them *as*
relish, for common foods like yams, kumera, fernroot, breadfruit
etc) While I agree that protein needs do not explain cannibalism that
doesn't mean people didn't enjoy eating peopel when they did. In most of
the Pacific, eating someone was more an ultimate revenge on them and
their kin rather than an attempt to absorb some part of them--a chief
might gain mana from eating an enemy but it isn't thought that he gains it
from them. Rather he gains mana from the utu (revenge, equality) he has
achieved in the act. (This goes along with lots of Polynesian thinking
aboiut the nature of chieftainship--chiefs are seen as dangerous
strangers who threaten to consume society). Anyway the point of this
post is that there are a variety of cultural reasons why people eat
people, and certainly neither their doing so nor the stories that they
did so are entirely artifacts of colonialism. Nor does that fact that the
reasons people do so are culturally costituted mean that they do not
enjoy the taste of human flesh--the point rathger is that desire,
appetite etc are themselves cultural.

Daniel Rosenblatt <>
University of Chicago
Department of Anthropology

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