In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

81 CHAPTER 4 Spaniards, Cannibals, and the Eucharist in the New World REBECCA EARLE What temperance or docility can you expect from men who devote themselves to every sort of excess and shameful weakness , and who eat human flesh?1 A recurrent feature of Spanish colonial discourse in the early modern era is the lament that Amerindians from Florida to Patagonia suffered from two grave defects: they were hopeless drunks and they were prone to cannibalism. Examples of such allegations are legion. Drunkenness, insisted one seventeenth-­ century writer, “is such a common vice among Indians, that you scarcely find a single one who having some wine or chicha [maize beer], which is what they usually drink, does not get drunk.”2 “Wine,” wrote the sixteenth-­ century chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, is “the thing they esteem most.”3 The Spanish Council of the Indies summed the situation up at the end of the sixteenth century:“All Indians are inclined to vice and drunkenness and to being idle,never applying themselves voluntarily to any sort of work whatsoever.”4 Colonial complaints about drunken­ ness were unrelenting throughout the colonial era and they also came to form a standard element of postcolonial creole discourse.5 Such comments make clear that settlers considered drunkenness to be a characteristic indigenous vice. In addition, from Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean in 1492, European colonists and explorers consistently associated cannibalism with the New World.As scholars have shown,Columbus at first could 82 SPANIARDS, CANNIBALS,AND THE EUCHARIST not decide whether the peoples he encountered in the West Indies were civilized subjects of the Great Khan or were instead man-­ eating cynocephali, but a consensus quickly formed that the newly discovered lands were a zone of anthropophagi. The association between cannibalism and the Caribbean was particularly strong; Amerigo Vespucci reported matter-­ of-­ factly in 1503 that the island peoples of the Caribbean “slaughter those who are captured, and the victors eat the vanquished; for human flesh is an ordinary article of food among them” and for centuries “Carib” was practically synonymous with the word “cannibal.”6 Nonetheless Europeans believed that cannibalism extended across the hemisphere. Chroniclers of all regions reported carefully on whether particular groups did or did not eat human flesh and the fear of being eaten permeates many conquest narratives. The expectation of meeting cannibals was such that when their captors prodded a party of Spaniards who had been captured in Patagonia, the Spaniards immediately assumed “that they wanted to eat them, and wished to inform themselves about the taste of their flesh and what they were like inside.”7 The association between the Indies and cannibalism was immortalized in popular prints, in theatrical works such as The Tempest,and in the very word“cannibal.”8 (See Image 1.) “From the discovery,” writes Carlos Jáuregui in his authoritative cultural history of the New World cannibal,“Europeans found anthropophagites everywhere, creating a sort of semantic affinity between cannibalism and America.”9 It is clear that for many colonists and colonial writers,drunkenness and cannibalism,like sodomy, stupidity, and general incivility, were part of a spectrum of distinctive behaviors associated with Amerindians that showed them to be quite different from and almost certainly inferior to their colonizers. Many of the interpretative routes we can follow to explain this web of associations are by now clearly marked. It is evident, to begin with,that the claim that Indians were cannibals formed part of a larger European dismissal of Amerindians as unfit for self-­ government, a view that drew upon long-­ standing European traditions of locating aberrant behavior in distant or mythical locations. The pioneering research of scholars such as William Arens and Peter Hulme has shown that the discovery of cannibals in the New World cannot be separated from the process of colonization that brought Europeans SPANIARDS, CANNIBALS,AND THE EUCHARIST 83 to the Indies in the first place.10 Cannibals, in a sense, were a necessary part of colonial space. As Gareth Griffiths put it,“For whites engaged in the activity of ‘conquest’ the dominant sign of the Indian is that of the cannibal.”11 Many other scholars have linked charges of both cannibalism and drunkenness to wider dismissals of indigenous society and to justifications of colonial violence.12 Such research also informs a related body of scholarship that considers whether European colonial discourse,whatever its motivation,accurately captured any aspect of indigenous culture. Perhaps, as some scholars suggest, Spanish sightings of cannibals...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.