In this radical reexamination of the notion of cannibalism, Gananath Obeyesekere offers a fascinating and convincing argument that cannibalism is mostly "cannibal talk," a discourse on the Other engaged in by both indigenous peoples and colonial intruders that results in sometimes funny and sometimes deadly cultural misunderstandings. Turning his keen intelligence to Polynesian societies in the early periods of European contact and colonization, Obeyesekere deconstructs Western eyewitness accounts, carefully examining their origins and treating them as a species of fiction writing and seamen's yarns. Cannibalism is less a social or cultural fact than a mythic representation of European writing that reflects much more the realities of European societies and their fascination with the practice of cannibalism, he argues. And while very limited forms of cannibalism might have occurred in Polynesian societies, they were largely in connection with human sacrifice and carried out by a select community in well-defined sacramental rituals. Cannibal Talk considers how the colonial intrusion produced a complex self-fulfilling prophecy whereby the fantasy of cannibalism became a reality as natives on occasion began to eat both Europeans and their own enemies in acts of "conspicuous anthropophagy."
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1. Anthropology and the Man-Eating Myth
2. “British Cannibals”: Dialogical Misunderstandings in the South Seas
3. Concerning Violence: A Backward Journey into Maori Anthropophagy
4. Savage Indignation: Cannibalism and the Parodic
5. The Later Fate of Heads: Cannibalism, Decapitation, and Capitalism
6. Cannibal Feasts in Nineteenth-Century Fiji: Seamen’s Yarns and the Ethnographic Imagination
7. Narratives of the Self: Chevalier Peter Dillon’s Fijian Cannibal Adventures
8. On Quartering and Cannibalism and the Discourses of Savagism
Gananath Obeyesekere is Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He is the author of Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth (California, 2002), The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (1997), The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology (1990), The Cult of the Goddess Pattini (1984), and Medusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience (1984).
“Unravels like a detective story . . . With the background of the cartoon image of cannibals stewing unlucky explorers, I cannot help but think of Obeyesekere’s work as an un-stewing of history. It is rare to find such thorough attention both to detail and to the grand picture. . . . The entire book is a pleasure to read. It is full of humor; the irony and sarcasm throughout remind us that not everything should be taken seriously or at face value. . . . The contributions of this book extend not only to the general anthropological literature but also to our understanding of psyche, society, and history.”—Sara M Bergstresser Ethos
"A tour de force: meticulously argued, nuanced, and wideranging in its interpretations. In the hands of a master, the prodigious scholarship and large intellectual appetite make for a very convincing, comprehensive work."—George Marcus, coeditor of Writing Culture
"The sheer scope of Cannibal Talk
is remarkable, and its contribution to the anthropology of colonialism outstanding. Obeyesekere's research, original thinking, and applied reading are unrivalled on the discourses of cannibalism and their implications. "—Paul Lyons, University of Hawai'i