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Insatiable Appetites

Insatiable Appetites: Imperial Encounters with Cannibals in the North Atlantic World

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Insatiable Appetites
    Book Description:

    Cannibalism, for medieval and early modern Europeans, was synonymous withsavagery. Humans who ate other humans, they believed, were little better than animals. The European colonizers who encountered Native Americans described them as cannibals as a matter of course, and they wrote extensively about the lurid cannibal rituals they claim to have witnessed.

    In this unique, comparative history of cross-cultural encounters in the early north Atlantic world, Kelly L. Watson argues that the persistent rumors of cannibalism surrounding Native Americans served a specific and practical purpose for European settlers. These colonizers had to forge new identities for themselves in the Americas and find ways to not only subdue but also co-exist with native peoples. They established hierarchical categories of European superiority and Indian inferiority upon which imperial power in the Americas was predicated.

    In her close read of letters, travel accounts, artistic renderings, and other descriptions of cannibals and cannibalism, Watson focuses on how gender, race, and imperial power intersect within the figure of the cannibal. Watson reads cannibalism as a part of a dominant European binary in which civilization is rendered as male and savagery is seen as female, and she argues that as Europeans came to dominate the New World, they continually rewrote the cannibal narrative to allow for a story in which the savage, effeminate, cannibalistic natives were overwhelmed by the force of virile European masculinity. Original and historically grounded,Insatiable Appetitesuses the discourse of cannibalism to uncover the ways in which difference is understood in the West.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6049-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In his famous essay “Of Cannibals,” Michel de Montaigne argues that Western societies rarely judge other cultures on their own terms.¹ Rather, in his estimation Europeans tend to project negative qualities onto others, so that the cultural practices they observe actually mirror their own faults. Montaigne uses the practice of cannibalism in Brazil to reflect on European civilization, arguing for a nuanced understanding of difference and a careful examination of cultural practices before declaring them barbarous.²

    Despite the seriousness of his argument for cultural relativism, Montaigne was not without a sense of humor. He ends the essay with this clever...

  6. 1 Inventing Cannibals: Classical and Medieval Traditions
    (pp. 23-48)

    In a famous and gruesome tale from ancient Mediterranean mythology, the god Kronos (Saturn in the Roman incarnation) swallowed his children out of fear that he would lose his power at the hands of his son, as had been prophesied by his parents. Prior to eating his offspring, he had also castrated his father, Uranus, in a fit of jealous rage. After watching Kronos consume all but one of their children, Kronos’s sister-wife, Rhea, tricked him into eating a stone instead of their son Zeus. Later, as predicted, Zeus took revenge on his father and freed his brothers and sisters...

  7. 2 Discovering Cannibals: Europeans, Caribs, and Arawaks in the Caribbean
    (pp. 49-86)

    In the Pulitzer Prize–winning bookAdmiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbusfrom 1942, Samuel Eliot Morison attempts to capture the awe-inspiring wonder of the discovery of the Americas. He describes the experience as earth-shattering, ushering in a new era of human experience: “Every tree, every plant that the Spaniards saw was strange to them, and the natives were not only strange but completely unexpected, speaking an unknown tongue and resembling no race of which even the most educated of the explorers had read in the tales of travelers from Herodotus to Marco Polo. Never again...

  8. 3 Conquering Cannibals: Spaniards, Mayas, and Aztecs in Mexico
    (pp. 87-118)

    In 1552 Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and Friar Bartolomé de las Casas famously debated the rationality of Indians and the justification of conquest in the Spanish city of Valladolid. Las Casas, as the Protector of the Indians, argued that the Spanish conquest of the Americas was unjustifiable because it caused unnecessary suffering to innocent people and because it was not effective in bringing Indians to Christ since the brutality of the Spanish would likely cause Indians to resist spiritual and political conquest more vociferously. The Spanish humanist and philosopher Sepúlveda believed that the balance of cruelty rested firmly on the...

  9. 4 Converting Cannibals: Jesuits and Iroquois in New France
    (pp. 119-148)

    Given the number of topics that appear in the Bible, it should come as no surprise that cannibalism is mentioned several times.¹ Most references to man-eating are found in the Old Testament and describe the punishments and deprivations experienced by nonbelievers. Cannibalism appears as both a punishment for misdeeds and a reason to punish. For example, the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that God was going to punish the people of the Valley of Ben Hinnom by “mak[ing] them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters and all shall eat the flesh of their neighbors in the...

  10. 5 Living with Cannibals: Englishmen and the Wilderness
    (pp. 149-177)

    In 1729 Jonathan Swift anonymously published his now famous work,A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to their Parents or the Country, and for making them Beneficial to the Publick, in response to the growing deprivation and desperation of the Irish. In this satirical essay Swift suggests that the Irish eat poor children as a way to solve both population problems and hunger. Swift was quite aware of the tropes of cannibalism and the tendency to denigrate peoples and cultures through anthropophagous accusations. He insists that he learned about the supposed deliciousness...

  11. 6 Understanding Cannibals: Conclusions and Questions
    (pp. 178-186)

    The Seven Years War, or the French and Indian War, as it was called in the American colonies, ended in 1763. The resulting Treaty of Paris radically reshaped the political contours of eastern North America. England gained control of almost all of the lands east of the Mississippi River, with the exception of those bordering the Gulf of Mexico. France lost claim to nearly all of its possessions in North America, holding onto the small Canadian islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon and the Caribbean island of Guadalupe, which it considered more important than all of Canada. Spain, which joined...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 187-210)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-234)
  14. Index
    (pp. 235-240)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 241-241)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 242-242)