One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Crusoe" & Cannibalism

Cannibalism, Brazil. Engraving by Theodor de Bry, 1562
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Crusoe took a large part of his second year to explore the other side of the island. From the abundance of wild life (turtles, fowls of many kinds, including penguins) he concludes that he has taken up his lot "on the worst side of the island."

On his way to the other side, past "the vale where his bower stood," Crusoe could view the sea to the west and see land--"whether an island or a continent I could  not tell." Further he posits that this land "must be near the Spanish dominions, and perhaps was all inhabited by savages." Lastly, he concludes that the inhabitants of this land could very well be the worst kind of savages:
Besides, after some thought upon this affair, I considered that if this land was the Spanish coast, I should certainly, one time or other, see some vessel pass or repass one way or other; but if not, then it was the savage coast between the Spanish country and Brazils, where are found the worst of savages; for they are cannibals or men-eaters, and fail not to murder and devour all the human bodies that fall into their hands. 

My question then became: Where did DeFoe get his inspiration for these cannibals?

Though what follows isn't necessarily DeFoe's source, it does indicate that in and before DeFoe's time the fact (or fiction) of cannibalistic peoples is already in place.

The Wikimedia picture above is supposedly an engraving done for Hans Staden's account of his 1557 captivity. Note the title: Cannibalism, Brazil. [The word cannibal is from the Spanish Canibales (pl.), a form (recorded by Columbus) of the name Caribes a people of the W. Indies (SOED).]

According to Wikipedia Hans Staden was a German soldier and mariner who voyaged to South America. On one voyage he was supposedly captured by the Tupinamba people of Brazil whom he claimed practiced cannibalism. He wrote a fairly popular book which related his experiences.

NB: Though some scholars defend the importance and reliability of Staden's work, others have questioned it and leveled charges of sensationalism.


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