Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Seas

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University of California Press, Jun 6, 2005 - Social Science - 340 pages
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."
 

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User Review  - kimgroome - LibraryThing

Some disbelief that cannibalism actually took place in some far-away areas. Funny that when a person thinks of cannibalism, often we think of exotic far-away places, when it is happening all the time (ok, not all the time) in good old North Amemrica. Read full review

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Do not need to read it. Cannibalism was witnessed by early European explorers in NZ and verified by Maori elders and evidenced by chewed and charred human bones in middens of which I have seen photos of myself. The real fantasy is in this writers head.

Contents

the ManEating Myth
1
Dialogical Misunderstandings in the South Seas
24
A Backward Journey into Maori Anthropophagy
57
Cannibalism and the Parodic
88
Cannibalism Decapitation and Capitalism
117
NineteenthCentury Fiji Seamens Yarns and the Ethnographic Imagination
151
Chevalier Peter Dillons Fijian Cannibal Adventures
193
Cannibalism and the Discourses of Savagism
223
CONCLUSION
255
NOTES
269
INDEX
311
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About the author (2005)

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).

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