Fragmentation of the Body: Comestibles, Compost, or Customary Rite?
Knüsel, Christopher J.
Outram, Alan K
University of Exeter (Alan K. Outram)
[FIRST PARAGRAPH] One of the most inimical ways to debase a people is to declare them cannibals - eaters of their own kind. The association between cannibalism and immorality, depravity, and base iniquity has contributed to the long-term interest in the behaviour. It has become a commonplace pejorative applied to exotic peoples, enemies, and strangers - sometimes and, more innocuously perhaps, to titillate fascination and, more sinisterly and more often, to dehumanise another group. Tuzin (1983, 62) characterises the Ilahita Arapesh's (of northeastern New Guinea) attitude towards the cannibalism of the downstream Sepik, "... as an amused, faintly condescending interest that is morally neutral in tone...'and that those who engage in such consumption are described as an 'another kind of man'. The apparent relativism of this statement, although lacking in obvious contempt or fear, provides the basis upon which difference could be accentuated to justify actions at another time or under different circumstances. The use of the term 'cannibalism' among both Europeans and non-Europeans (see Strathern 1982, Rumsey 1999) to make a people less than human - with real social and political consequences for those so-labeled - prompted Arens (1979) to deny that the behaviour had ever been practised. Others have argued that it did occur upon occasion in a number of circumstances and for a variety of reasons.
Reproduced with permission of the publisher. Copyright © Oxbow Books, Rebecca Gowland, Christopher Knüsel and the individual authors, 2006
Knüsel, C.J & Outram, A.K (2006). Fragmentation of the Body: Comestibles, Compost, or Customary Rite? In: Knüsel, C.J. and Gowland, R. (eds) 'The Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains': pp 253-278. Oxford: Oxbow Books.