HERE BE CANNIBALS

CANNIBALISM IN SOUTH AMERICA



The Amajuacas of the Ucayali, near the old Peruvian frontier, have been over and over again converted to Christianity, each time relapsing and murdering the evangelists. The Cashibos, also of the Ucayali, eat their aged parents, but perhaps more from religious sentiment than from cruelty. But religion certainly has nothing to do with their habit of imitating the cry of game, to decoy and then devour hunters in the forests.

Before their conversion, it was the practice of the Cocomas of the Hualaga, but now removed to the Ucayali, to eat their dead relations, and to swallow the ground-up bones in fermented drinks, on the plea that it was better to be inside a warm friend than buried in the cold earth. Worse things are related of the Tupinambas, and of the Tapuyas, and of the Botocudos.

A. H. Keane, FRGS, South America, London, 1909




Thanks to the eyewitness account provided by Hans Städen, a German sailor who was ship-wrecked on the coast of Brazil early in the sixteenth century, we have a vivid idea of how one group, the Tupinamba, combined ritual sacrifice with cannibalism.

On the day of the sacrifice the prisoner of war, trussed around the waist, was dragged into the plaza. He was surrounded by women who insulted and abused him, but he was allowed to give vent to his feelings by throwing fruits or broken pieces of pottery at them. Meanwhile old women painted black and red and wearing necklaces of human teeth brought out ornamented vases in which the victim’s blood and entrails would be cooked. The ceremonial club that would be used to kill him was passed back and forth among the men in order to ‘acquire the power to catch a prisoner in the future.’ The actual executioner wore a long feather cloak and was followed by relatives singing and beating drums. The executioner and the prisoner derided each other. Enough liberty was allowed the prisoner so that he could dodge the blows, and sometimes a club was put in his hands for protecting himself without being able to strike back. When at last his skull was shattered, everyone ‘shouted and whistled.’ If the prisoner had been given a wife during his period of captivity, she was expected to shed tears over his body before joining in the feast that followed. Now the old women ‘rushed to drink the warm blood,’ and children dipped their hands into it. ‘Mothers would smear their nipples with blood so that even babies could have a taste of it.’ The body was cut into quarters and barbecued while ‘the old women who were the most eager for human flesh’ licked the grease dripping from the sticks that formed the grill.

Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings: The Origin of Cultures, Glasgow, 1978




The dead are almost always buried in the houses, with their bracelets, tobacco bag and other trinkets upon them. They are buried the same day they die; the parents and relations keeping up a continual mourning and lamentation over the body from the time of death to the time of interment. A few days afterwards, a great quantity of caxiri is made, and all friends and relations are invited to attend, to mourn for the dead and to dance, sing, and cry to his memory. Some of the larger houses have more than a hundred graves in them, but when the houses are small, and very full, the graves are dug outside.

The Tarianas and Tucanos and some other tribes, about a month after the funeral, disinter the corpse, which is by then much decomposed, and put it in a great pan over the fire till all the volatile parts are driven off with a most horrible odour, leaving only a black, carbonaceous mass, which is then pounded into a fine powder and mixed in several large vats made out of hollowed trees, filled with caxiri. This is then drunk by the assembled company till all is finished. They believe that thus the virtues of the deceased will be transmitted to the drinkers.

The Cobeus, alone among the Vaupés, are real cannibals. They eat those of other tribes whom they kill in battle, and even make war for the express purpose of procuring human flesh for food. When they have amassed more than they can consume at once, they smoke-dry the flesh over the fire and thus preserve it for food for a long time. They burn their own dead, and drink the ashes in caxiri in the same way as the Tarianas and Tucanos.

A. Russel Wallace, Travels on the Amazon, Ward Lock, 1853




[The Majerónas] are a fierce, indomitable and hostile people, like the Aráras. They are also cannibals. Navigation on the Jauari is rendered impossible on account of the Majerónas lying in wait on its banks to intercept and murder all travellers – especially whites.

Four months before my arrival, two young half-castes (nearly white) of the village went to trade on the Jauari, the Majerónas having shown signs of abating their hostility a year or two previously. They had not been long gone, when their canoe returned with the news that the two young fellows had been shot with arrows, roasted, and eaten by the savages.

José Patricio, with his usual activity in the cause of law and order, despatched a party of armed men to make inquiries. When they reached the settlement of the horde who had taken the two men, it was found evacuated, with the exception of one girl, who had been in the woods when the rest of her people had taken flight. The men brought her back with them.

It was gathered from her that the young men had brought their fate on themselves through improper conduct towards the Majerónas women. The girl was taken care of by Senhor José Patricio, baptized under the name of Maria, and taught Portuguese. I saw a good deal of her, for my friend sent her daily to my house to fill the water jars, make the fire, and so forth. I gained her goodwill by extracting the grub of an oestrus fly from her back, thus curing her of a painful tumour.

She was decidedly the best-humoured and, to all appearances, the kindest-hearted specimen of her race I had yet seen. Her ways were more like those of a careless, laughing country wench, such as might be met with any day among the labouring class in villages in our own country, than a cannibal. Yet I heard this artless maiden relate, in the coolest manner possible, how she ate a portion of the bodies of the young men whom her tribe had roasted.

What increased greatly the incongruity of the whole business is that the young widow of one of the victims, a neighbour of mine, happened to be present during the narrative, and showed her interest in it by laughing at the broken Portuguese in which the girl related her horrible story.

H. W. Bates, The Naturalist on the Amazons, John Murray, 1863




The generous high potentate of the tribe of Mangeroma cannibals is the second to whom I wish to express my extreme gratitude, although my obligations to him are of a slightly different character; in the first place, because he did not order me to be killed and served up, well or medium done, to suit his fancy (which he had a perfect right to do); and in the second place because he took a great deal of interest in my personal welfare, and bestowed all manner of strange favours upon me...


I soon learned that it was impolite to refuse any dish that was put in front of me, no matter how repugnant. One day, the Chief ordered me to come over to his family triangle and have dinner with him. The meal consisted of some very tender fried fish, which were really delicious; then followed three broiled parrots, with fried bananas, which were equally good. But then came a soup which I could not swallow – the first mouthful almost choked me.

The meat which was one of the ingredients of the soup tasted and smelt as if it had been kept for weeks, and the herbs which were used were so bitter, and gave out such a rank odour, that my mouth puckered and the muscles of my throat refused to swallow. The Chief looked at me, and frowned – and I remembered the forest from which I had lately arrived, and the starvation and terrors. I closed my eyes and swallowed the dish, seeking what mental relief I could find in the so-called auto-suggestion. I had the greatest respect for the impulsive, unreasoning nature of these sons of the forest: easily insulted, as I was to find out, they are well-nigh implacable. The incident showed me on what a slender thread my life hung.’

Algot Lange, In the Amazon Jungle, Putnam, New York, 1912




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