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:

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This concluding chapter discusses a few issues that might have not been clear in the preceding chapters. It begins with the assumption that Polynesia comprises a large cultural area showing remarkable similarities in language and culture. As far as anthropophagy is concerned, most contemporary ethnographers would deny that it is related to human sacrifice or ritual cannibalism. But the irony is that, like the lay public, scholars have, from the very beginning, believed that the Maori, Fijians, and Marquesans belonged to a group of man-eaters living in cannibal islands. This is not something, new because it has been said of several non-Western societies. It is therefore not a surprise that colonial sacrificial anthropophagy tended to lead into the man-eating myth. However, in many of the societies discussed, there were no corpses involved, but, rather, symbolic substitutes for the act of sacrificial anthropophagy. The chapter also discusses the hanging of skulls in shrines in Hawai'i and Tahiti that were postulated as the heads of sacrificial victims. However, unlike the common notion that these were sacrificial victims, the chapter concludes that these victims may be the result of rituals of sacrifice or battles. It also deals with the problems that arise in respect of cannibal talk. Such issues that might pave the way for disagreement on cannibal talk are myth, discourse on human sacrifices, and the two forms of cannibal talk: the dialogues of varying levels of complexity between people talking about cannibalism and generally misunderstanding the Other's discourse, and cannibal narratives which are deconstructed in order to show that these discourses are “empty.”

Keywords: Polynesia; anthropophagy; human sacrifice; ritual cannibalism; man-eaters; colonial sacrificial anthropophagy; man-eating myth; rituals of sacrifice; cannibal talk

Chapter.  5327 words.  Illustrated.

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