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Monday 08 November 2010

Proclamations of the Red Queen

27th October 2010

Of Cannibals and Conservative Christians

Posted by: Craig Young

What is one to do when one confronts an enclave with values that are radically out of kilter with those of the social mainstream?

Recently, I read Australian anthropologist Paul Raffaele’s Among the Cannibals (2008), which deals with several societies or social enclaves that condone different forms of cannibalism. Irian Jaya’s Kasowari highlands tribal community is especially emphasised, although precolonial Melanesia, Polynesia and Aztec Mesoamerica all come in for critical scrutiny. While India’s Hindu Ayhori sect mix abjection and sanctity in their consumption of corpses and human remains at cremation sites in Benares, the murderous Ugandan Lords Resistance Army force abducted male and female children to undertake cannibalism before pedophile rape and polygamy (for the girls) and soldiery (for the boys).

Among the Kasowari, cannibalism is sanctioned by their insular religious belief system. If misfortune strikes their arboreal communities, malevolent witchcraft is attributed to men attributed as khakua (demonic sorcerors), which designates them as precisely nonhuman and able to be executed and consumed for food on that basis. Kasowari traditions are being eroded, so we may be witnessing the last generations of this way of life. Similar integration has happened to remote Amazonian cannibal indigenous tribal communities, although more violent colonial conquest put paid to the practice of colonialism in Central America, Polynesia and Melanesia.

However, I want to closely examine the process of ‘deviant’ attribution, identification and killing of the khakua in Kasowari society, as well as the similar practice of divine human sacrifice in precolonial Aztec Mesoamerica. Granted, cannibalism is morally reprehensible and indefensible, but the reprehensibility lies in the attribution, identification and killing of those labelled deviant and subjected to capital offences or abuse of human rights by irrational, premodern religious and philosophical systems. Like German Catholic or Lutheran anti-Semitism, which legitimised the prelude to the Nazi Holocaust. Or Serbian Orthodoxy’s demonisation of Muslims. Or Iranian Shia Islam and the Bahai. Or, for that matter, Christian Reconstructionist/theonomist sects that preach assassination of abortion providers and drool about the prospects of a theocratic religious dictatorship that executes lesbians and gay men for ’sodomy’, a similar meaningless premodern concoction.

We might well abhor the Kasowari legitimisation of cannibalism. Are we similarly prepared to critically scrutinise the role of irrational deviant attribution that leads to other forms of dehumanisation and death in our own societies?


Paul Raffaele: Among the Cannibals: New York: HarperCollins: 2008.

Tags: Politics · Religion

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