- The Return of Hans Staden: A Go-Between in the Atlantic World by Eve M. Duffy and Alida C. Metcalf
In 1500 the Portuguese arrived in what is present-day Brazil. In 1549, Hans Staden, a German soldier and explorer, sailed to South America for the second time, and following two shipwrecks, he arrived in São Vicente, Brazil. There he was captured by the Tupinamba, a Tupi-speaking native group who inhabited the Brazilian coastal area. Upon his return to Europe, Staden published the illustrated travel account Warhaftige Historia [True History] (1557). The travelogue, narrating his time in captivity, became very popular among European audiences and since then has shaped the ways Brazil and its native populations are represented in images and text. The Return of Hans Staden is the first history book in English to examine the text and [End Page 446] the woodcut illustrations of Staden’s travelogue. The work results from the collaboration between Eve M. Duffy, a scholar of German cultural and social history, and Alida C. Metcalf, a historian and professor specializing in the history of colonial Brazil and the early Luso-Atlantic world. The book, composed of four chapters, an introduction, and an epilogue, is richly illustrated with a map and thirty-four woodcuts, most of which were originally published in Warhaftige Historia.
In the introduction, Duffy and Metcalf discuss the scholarly debates around Hans Staden’s travelogue, especially his representations of cannibalism practiced by the Tupinamba. Published in a period when print culture was emerging in Europe, some authors argue that Staden’s Warhaftige Historia was intended to captivate the German audience and that his account was carefully constructed. Other scholars disagree that Staden’s account was totally fabricated by underscoring its importance as an ethnographic text. Duffy and Metcalf move away from the discussion on whether or not the account carries truth or fiction to argue that Staden can be understood as a go-between, here defined as a complicated figure “prevalent in situations where different cultures came into contact and conflict” (p. 9). The authors establish three distinct categories of go-betweens. Whereas the physical go-between is the sailor and crew member who explores a new land, the transitional go-between engages in continued contact with other populations by establishing exchanges with them, moving back and forth between his world and the foreign world. Finally, the representational go-between attempts to explain this new world, by writing, interpreting, and representing other populations. In the book, the authors argue that Staden embodies these three kinds of go-between roles.
In the first chapter, “Staden Goes to the Sea,” the authors explore the social context of Staden’s early life in Hesse by speculating the reasons that led him to travel to Lisbon, Seville, and then to South America. The chapter also examines the transatlantic dimensions of the Portuguese exploration and the interactions between Portuguese, French, Africans, and Brazilian native populations. After a shipwreck near São Vicente (Brazil), Staden went to serve in the newly built Portuguese fort of Bertioga. But one day the Tupinamba warriors attacked the area and made him captive.
Thus, the second chapter discusses Staden’s captivity among the Tupinamba from an Atlantic perspective. Here, the authors refer to Staden’s captivity by evoking the experience of enslaved Africans, and not by making distinctions between captivity and enslavement. Indeed, Staden’s captivity is hardly comparable to the experience lived by enslaved Africans who remained on African soil or were exported [End Page 447] to the Americas. Instead, his journey is rather similar to the experiences lived by Europeans who were made captives by African rulers in West and West Central Africa. Based on Staden’s account and other primary sources, this chapter narrates the various events including warfare, rituals, and ceremonies of cannibalism allegedly witnessed by Staden during his time among the Tupinamba. The authors explain in detail how the Tupinamba practiced exocannibalism by eating enemies captured...