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19 CHAPTER 1 Rituals of Consumption Cannibalism and Native American Oral Traditions in Southeastern North America GREGORY D. SMITHERS There was once a man who left his home every day to hunt deer. Each morning the man said goodbye to his pregnant wife. He also made sure that the couple’s home was secure because “many strange creatures” kept visiting their home when he was out hunting. These “strange creatures” made regular attempts to convince the pregnant woman to let them in her home so they could dance with her. Their true intentions, however, were far more sinister: these creatures “ate people [who] lived in the neighborhood.” During one of these visits, the “strange creatures” danced outside the pregnant woman’s house and coaxed her into joining them. “A short time afterwards they caught her and devoured her.”1 This tale, known in Natchez oral tradition as the “Lodge Boy and Thrown-­ Away,” had many forms. It was also common among other tribal polities; ethnologists recorded different versions of the tale across North America. It was a violent story, but in the version above the focus remained on the demise of the woman and the fate of her unborn twins. Once the “strange creatures” consumed the woman, they deposited one of the newborns in the “lodge” and the other was “thrown away.”2 The Natchez,who resided in the Lower MississippiValley,shared these types of oral traditions with family and community members. Such narratives described how people acquired game while they also 20 Rituals of Consumption prescribed what were and were not acceptable sources of flesh for human consumption. Eating human flesh was generally a forbidden way of obtaining nourishment.3 In one of the Natchez versions of “Lodge Boy and Thrown-­ Away,” the woman’s husband returned home after his hunt and heard only the sound of a crying baby. The man located the baby lying beside a blood-­ spattered leaf, the only sign of his deceased wife. The man gathered up the bloodstained leaf, fed it deer soup, and locked it in the house. He then discovered the umbilical cord that had once connected mother and child. The umbilical cord transformed into a child slightly bigger than the crying baby. Although this larger child was wild and quite strong, the man determined to capture him so that his baby might have a playmate. After a period of time, the father “tamed” both of the boys. The brothers subsequently embarked on a number of adventures before one day encountering “a house where cannibals lived.” Curious, the boys edged closer to the house and heard the “cannibals laughing, feasting, and playing inside.” Suddenly, a number of cannibals rushed out of the house, one “carrying a baby which they set in a bowl on the fire.” The boys reacted angrily, throwing something into the bowl and cracking it. This infuriated the cannibals, who proceeded to“roast” the baby over the hot coals. Once the baby was fully cooked, the cannibals feasted and then fell asleep. Seeing the sleeping cannibals, the twins acted on their anger by tying all of the sleeping cannibals together by their hair and setting their house on fire. The house burned, and the boys fled. These types of oral traditions attempted to illuminate socially acceptable behavior in relation to the consumption of flesh within Native communities. Oral traditions of a similar nature existed among other Native southerners, such as the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws and smaller polities such as theYuchi,Apalachee,and Miccosukee. As a general rule, Indigenous people in the Southeast viewed the consumption of human flesh as taboo. But while the Natchez narratives provide us with a small historical window into Native American attitudes about cannibalism, they also inform us about the importance of oral traditions among Native peoples in the Southeast and how those traditions helped define ritual and Rituals of Consumption 21 ceremonial practices related to acceptable food sources for human consumption. This chapter explores the connections between cannibalism,consumption , and oral tradition among southeastern Native Americans from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Focusing especially on the articulation of Indigenous food consumption amid colonial encounters involving Native Americans and Europeans, my analysis reveals how Indigenous oral traditions about food items and consumption were defined by both the syncretism of the different food cultures of the ever-­changing settler colonial context during this period and by a spiritual and epistemological understanding of the interconnectedness of all animate and inanimate beings...


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