The Later Fate of Heads: Cannibalism, Decapitation, and Capitalism

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:
The Later Fate of Heads: Cannibalism, Decapitation, and Capitalism

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This chapter focuses on the second trajectory of heads. It traces the fate of heads alongside the immediate history of the fragile practice known as “Maori cannibalism.” The chapter aims to illustrate the shifting forms of anthropophagy after the period of Cook's voyages, when Maori were catapulted into the history of Europe as well as the broader history of capitalism and an emerging modernity. This history of Europe contains a discourse about Maori culture that has smothered the Maoris' own history, even when that history is re-presented by historians, ethnographers, and antiquarians of the mid-nineteenth century and after. And sadly, it seems that some Maori have taken over and selectively introjected European colonial notions, in this case cannibalism, to proudly reinterpret it as a “traditional” and an admirable Maori custom. This is called “self-primitivazation,” a process that happens in periods of unequal power relations whereby the native adopts the image projected onto him by the colonial Other, sometimes parodically, and sometimes with seriousness. Discussions in this chapter include: the musket wars and Maori consciousness; cannibalism and the idea of “discursive space”; and the monster within: Captain Stewart, Te Rauparaha, and the “New Man.”

Keywords: fate of heads; Maori cannibalism; forms of anthropophagy; capitalism; self-primitivazation; musket wars

Chapter.  15420 words.  Illustrated.

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