“British Cannibals”: Dialogical Misunderstandings in the South Seas

Gananath Obeyesekere

in Cannibal Talk

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2005 | ISBN: 9780520243071
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520938311 | DOI:
“British Cannibals”: Dialogical Misunderstandings in the South Seas

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This chapter discusses the British hypothesis and savage fear of Hawaiian cannibalism, and the Hawaiian hypothesis and fear of British cannibalism. It focuses on the dialogue between the anxious Hawaiians and the ethnographers on the issue of cannibalism. The chapter discusses Polynesian cannibalism within the complex dialogue between Europeans and Polynesians. This dialogue centered on the history of contact, unequal power relations, and the cultural values, fantasies, and the common dark humanity they share. The discourse on cannibalism, once initiated, affects a variety of cultural practices in which it is embedded. A discourse is not a matter of speech alone; it is embedded in a historical and cultural context, and is expressed often in the frame of a scenario or cultural performance. It is about practice: the practice of science, the practice of cannibalism. Insofar as discourse evolves, it begins to affect the practice.

Keywords: British hypothesis; Hawaiian cannibalism; British cannibalism; Polynesian cannibalism; unequal power relations; history of contact; discourse on cannibalism

Chapter.  15371 words. 

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