Cannibal : Carib

carljweber carljweber at MSN.COM
Wed Jan 16 03:12:37 UTC 2002

Cannibal : Carib

A thread was picked up. "Mohawk', as someone heard, might mean "cannibal". I
said there was no early record of that, and that all the Amerindians were
anthropophagite, and I made some rarely heard assertions.

Ellen Johnson sent it, she said,  "to my friend, the American Indian expert,
and got this in return."

Wow!  That's taking some things are quasi-true and distorting them terribly.
First, the Mohawk work for themselves is not Mohawk--it is something akin to
Akwesasne, so saying that the Mohawks would willingly call themselves
"cannibals" is absurd.

No one suggested this absurdity in earnest.

It is true that the Mohawks--and other Iroquois tribes--occasionally and
ritualistic--ate parts of captives' bodies--often their hearts.  As part of
ritualized torture (which was quite gruesome
at times to be sure), they cut off body parts and might consume them, just
to scare the crap out of the captive being tortured (or those watching).

The story of "ritual torture" and "ritual cannibalism" can not be
cosmetized. The word "ritual" doesn't clean it up, nor should it mask the
merciless barbarism of Amerindians against each other. "Ritualized" torture
was more than "just a way to scare the crap out of [i.e., it's called
merciless torment -- CJW] the captive being tortured (or those watching)" -
I ask, is the point that there is some exoneration due here?  This is not
the story we like. It's by no means the story we tell the boys and girls.
Original narratives tell the story. Find cannibalism in the index of Twaits'
73 Volume set, Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, 1610 - 1780. Or for a
historical approach, see Francis Parkman's works. Look in index.

I agree with the idea recognized in the UN Charter Preamble: that of the
inherent dignity of all members of the human family. But that's no reason to
keep some members of the family in the closet.

As for their "genocide" of the Hurons (not sure of the etymology of that
word, but "Wyandot" or some version thereof was the Huron name for
themselves, I am pretty sure), there was indeed a conflict between them, in
part over access to beaver skins and hunting territory.  But it also true
that the French presence exacerbated this conflict considerably, and that in
the early 1630s, many of the Hurons succumbed to a smallpox epidemic, which
allowed the Mohawks (and other Iroquois) to conquer and capture many of the

Le Jeune, Relation, 1633 "Quelles hures!" exclaimed some astonished
Frenchman. Hence the name Hurons (from Parkman). French "hure" is for the
wild boar and the Huron hair do.

In the year 1649 the Iroquois, through their genocidal war against the
Huron, destroyed them as a nation. (There are not good guys and bad guys in
this story). Those Huron who escaped did so only with protection of the
French. Most of the tribes were exterminated. To forefront the epidemic, and
background the genocide, I believe shortchanges truth.

If the French hadn't stepped in, in the early 1600s, the Iroquois would have
exterminated many of the Algonquian languages tribes of the St. Laurence and
the Upper Great Lakes. This is common history. This is the well known story
of the Iroquois Confederacy, and it was the Iroquois pressure from the east
and above the Great Lakes, that pushed the Illinois and other peoples below
the Great Lakes. I thought this was generally accepted history?

Iroquois (though not the Mohawks), effectively kept the lower Ohio Valley
[and St. Laurence and northern Great Lakes - CJW] in a state of high pique
in the second 1/2 of the 17th century, until they were more-or-less defeated
by the French and their native allies and signed a Treaty of Neutrality in
1701, agreeing not to attack the French or their allies in the interior.

The most historically consequential cessation of hostilities between the
French/Algonquians and the Iroquois was in the year 1665. Intendant Talon,
in Quebec, as part of a large plan backed by the King, had a thousand man
Army sent from France, under Tracy, to teach the Iroquois a lesson. They did
(for a while). The newly gained safety insured the success of the
expeditions of 1665, 1669, 1673, and finally, the object sought (made
possible by the quelling of the Iroquois) the 1683 navigation of the
Mississippi to the Gulf, and the Proces Verbal on April 9, 1682, declaring
the land that was drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries thenceforth
belonged to Europe.

The French encouraged their Indian allies to attach British settlements, and
both French and British paid bounties for scalps and heads (quite high
bounties) throughout the colonial era.

Scalping was an Amerindian practice. You can't put it on the European for
paying such "quite high bounties" --and accordingly owning responsibility.
History should not be writ as morality play.

Finally, re: the Iroquois taking Illinois as "slaves," captivity among the
Iroquois was fluid and contingent.  Yes, some would be used as slaves, but
their offspring--especially if born to an Iroquois parent (mother esp.)
could become full tribal members.

This sounds like an apologetic for slavery. "Fluid" and "contingent" to
dress up "slavery" works no better than "ritual" to try to clean up
"cannibalism" and "protracted human torture" . This is what the first hand
accounts describe.

Some captives--particularly young children--were most likely to be adopted

Yes, perhaps after butchering, and perhaps eating, the parents. Benevolent
slavery? As well you know, I'm sure,  the adopted "new member of the family"
was not allowed to leave. By this reasoning, the ante bellum black slave
child, separated from his mother, if put in a good home, . it might be kind
of OK.

By the way, the practice of scalping came from the Southeast tribes
(remnants of the Mississippians) and was introduced to the Iroquois by the

No. The earliest reference was far north, when Jacques Cartier went 1000
miles up the St. Laurence River, on the second of his four expeditions of
discovery, in 1534 -- to meet and describe the Indians of Hochelaga. Cartier
(as I recall) noted the pride taken by the leaders, pointing out all the
scalps adorning their domicle walls, as reminders of great deeds of

Landau [he means Weber] is perpetuating myths by using half-truths that are
historically and culturally decontextualized.

What myths? Half-truths? Of Cannibalism, protracted human torture, and
scalping? Culturally and Historically decontextualized? It is difficult to
face the historical truths about these matters, and interpreting them away
can only go so far.

As for Caribs and the islands, there is no evidence that the Arawaks,
Tainos, or other Caribbean peoples ever practiced cannibalism, while it is
certainly true that the Aztecs did (again, ritualistically).

The word "cannibal" comes from Carib. And it is also certainly true that, on
the contrary, all the Amerindians were anthropophagous. Calling it "ritual"
(as opposed to what?) is no exoneration or mitigation. We need to accept
these truths of history while at the same time recognizing the inherent
dignity of all members of the human family.

Here's an image of the word "Canibalis" written on a map in one of the Carib
areas - on the north east coast of South America, where famous cannibals
lived  .


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