Among Cannibals

I have lived among Cannibals, according to a lot of people who claim to know. The number of times that the "tribal" people of the Congo have been called cannibals is too great to be counted, most notably in great literature like The Heart of Darkness but most commonly, I suspect, from the pulpit or soap box by those raising money to spread this or that word. Most Europeans and Americans don't know it, but many people who live in the Congo are quite convinced that the bazunga ... the white foreigners ... are cannibals. I've listened closely these assertions, made by many individuals, and I've lived in both places for considerable time and I can say something about these claims.

They have a case.

At the moment, I'm leaning more towards the Europeans eating their fellow humans than Congolese dining in this manner but I suppose either is a possibility.

And, we should admit right away that cannibalism can be a rather touchy subject. As the subject of food so often is.

One day, while I was camped out to the south of the Rwenzori Mountain, some visitors came by which itself was very odd (that happened twice over five months) and with them a news magazine from Europe with a story from a Greek journalist who had been, just a month or so before, to a village up on the mountain. It was well known at the time that rebels inhabited the slopes of the Rwenzori and passed in and out of the few villages on or near the mountain, which otherwise catered to the very rare tourist-mountain climbers who came to walk among the five glaciers distributed along a line perpendicular to and straddling the equator. The story was macabre.

Rebels, who later were to become the controlling government of the DR Congo, had been in the village, but lookouts warned them that a company from Mobutu's army was heading their way, so they went to the "poli" ... the forest ... to hide out. According to the story one of the villagers gave up the rebel position to the soldiers, probably under duress, who then closed in and captured a handful of the dissidents. Later, the army left with their prisoners and the rebels returned to town. A little bit of investigation revealed who the traitor was, and he was summarily executed. The rebels then gathered all the villagers together and forced them to watch as the snitch was butchered and roasted and eaten, by the rebels.

The fact that the story was reported in a European news magazine and reported by a European journalist was supposed to make it true. However, I was not impressed by that.

Listen. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was probably an attempt to convey to Europeans the inhumanity that was the Congo in King Leopold's day, as opposed to a prurient racist sailor's yarn. All of his natives were cannibals or reformed cannibals. But he misunderstood native life then about the same amount as short term visitors such as some Greek journalist writing for a French Magazine about the old Belgian Congo would as well. I have met and conversed with dozens of people, some advisers to me, some my advisees, some colleagues, some metaphorical riverboats plundering by in the night, who were full of claims about the Congo but devoid of knowledge. I lived there long enough to have some idea of what I don't know, while they visited there short enough to think they know a lot. I could tell you stories.

The Greek Journalist claims to have witnessed the cannibalism. Without corroborating evidence I don't accept it as true or even likely. Efe living in the Ituri more recently claimed that soldiers were killing and eating them. There was an international uproar. When outside authorities including the UN went in and demanded justice, information, and redress the Efe withdrew their stories, and it now appears that it was just that old cannibalism trope showing up again, as it does so often in the Congo. A couple of years before rebels supposedly dined on the snitch, two women in a village to the west of that region were sentenced by a judge to life in prison for eating their husband, who was apparently cheating on them. (Cannibalism was illegal in Zaire, though it is not illegal in most countries.) My good friend who shall remain nameless claimed that while he was a member of the government security police his unit was sent to a remote and illegal forest village to investigate a cannibalistic chief-gone-bad, a mad man who had convinced his villagers to eat their fellow humans, and when my friend and his fellow cops arrived they were horrified to find smoking racks covered with cooking human body parts. The same man, my friend, was also a missionary-trained preacher who had many stories that were rather unbelievable, about a nuclear bomb that went off and created the modern patricians of his people, about some guy who parted the Maji Nyunkunde ("sea of red") by waving around a stick, about a baby that was born in a manger full of animal shit to a woman who had never had sex. Virgin birth? Parting seas? Cannibalism? Whatever.

William Arens has a point. For the most part, cannibalism is a story, an accusation, a powerful cultural category, a threat, a scary trope, used as a means of control or as a way to convey the worst of insults. Unlike Arens, I will not use the fact that cannibalism is often reported with all the evidence suggesting that it didn't happen, or no real evidence suggesting that it did happen, to support the conclusion that there is no such thing. And, I have a reason for doing that. Although I know of no direct evidence, in the form of human body parts with a good chain of evidence, to support cannibalism anywhere on the African Continent, there is plenty of such evidence for it globally.

A friend of a friend -- no kidding -- was on that airplane that went down in the Andes where people ate each other. I had these two other friends who had independently traced their genealogies back to a high mountain pass near the Nevada-California border, where the great, great grand uncle of one had eaten the great, great grand aunt of the other. There is a handful of reasonably well documented, believable cases of context-induced on-the-fly cannibalism-of-convenience. People eating people happens.

The ethnographic record also shows us numerous examples of a different kind of cannibalism, the kind where you eat the dead after they are already dead, and then, usually in some highly ritualized manner. This sort of cannibalism is strictly not cuisine. Again, this is very very rare in Africa where Conrad's supposed cannibals lived. In New Guinea there are the people with the Kuru, a prion disease you get from eating undercooked grandad brains. In the Amazon there are people who, after cremating the revered elders, save the ashes and eat them as an infusion over a period of months or years. There are people around the world who carry out the middle eastern tradition of eating the body of their spiritual leader in the form of a sort of voodoo doll made of a cracker. And so on. But none of that counts for real cannibalism, the way we usually mean it when we think of it as that icky thing that the natives -- or at least, other people do.

The archaeological record gives us more. Human bones with cut marks in the same basic pattern as animal bones, thrown in with the animal bones or sometimes treated separately, have been found in Mesolithic or Early Neolithic sites in southern Europe. Butchered bits have been found extensively among bone remains in the American Southwest. It is hard to tell what these all mean. Was this people eating those dead of other causes? Eating their enemies (there is some evidence for that)? Eating from a larder of some subclass or enslaved group? Eating people who annoyed them? People that they loved and wanted to possess a little too much?

Here's a question for you. First consider the possibility that a culture ... as in a reasonably well defined group of people who live in a certain place, share cultural practices and language and so on (people often use the word "tribe" here but I choose not to for several reasons) could be taken over by a crazy-ass maniac who has beliefs that would normally not become widespread cultural practices, but then those beliefs take hold. Or maybe not a maniac, but perhaps a cultish group of culty people. Then, this "culture group" now has this practice that by and large most humans, most places and most times, would say is wrong, deranged, evil, inappropriate, icky, whatever. But they do it anyway.

So here's the question: Are (were) groups of humans, cultures, that regularly practice(d) cannibalism of the kind where you kill and eat some other humans now and then (never mind the details) representative of normal human variation that we happen to look askance at today because of our own cultural biases, or are they groups that have been possessed, as it were, of an aberrant belief, an abnormal norm, or a sort of social sickness? Putting this a slightly different way: Is there a human-wide displeasure with the idea of dietary cannibalism because as a species we have gone through a filter, narrowing down our norms to a subset of what is really possible or even common, or has eating people for food always been freakishly weird and preposterous?

I haven't given you the evidence that Europeans and Americans are cannibals, from the perspective of people of the Congo. I will, but another time. It is not easy to talk about.


See more on Cannibalism

Arens, William. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy (Galaxy Books).

Brown, Paula, and Donald Tuzin. "The Ethnography of Cannibalism". Society for Psychological Anthropology, 1983.

Bullock, Peter Y. "A reappraisal of Anasazi cannibalism." Kiva 57, no. 1 (1991): 5-16.

Cáceres, Isabel, Marina Lozano, and Palmira Saladié. "Evidence for bronze age cannibalism in El Mirador Cave (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain)." American journal of physical anthropology 133, no. 3 (July 2007): 899-917.

Chong, Key Ray. Cannibalism in China. Longwood Academic, 1990.

Christy G. Turner, II, and Jacqueline A. Turner. "The First Claim for Cannibalism in the Southwest: Walter Hough's 1901 Discovery at Canyon Butte Ruin 3, Northeastern Arizona" (December 30, 2007).

Cole, James. "Consuming Passions: Reviewing the Evidence for Cannibalism within the Prehistoric Archaeological Record". assemblage - the Sheffield graduate journal of archaeology, May 1, 2006.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of DarknessClassic Literature)

Fernández-Jalvo, Y, J Carlos DÃez, I Cáceres, and J Rosell. "Human cannibalism in the Early Pleistocene of Europe (Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain)." Journal of human evolution 37, no. 3-4 (n.d.): 591-622.

Goldman, Laurence. "The Anthropology of Cannibalism". Bergin & Garvey, 1999.

Holden, C. "CANNIBALISM: Molecule Shows Anasazi Ate Their Enemies." Science 289, no. 5485 (2000): 1663a.

Hurlbut, Sharon A. "The taphonomy of cannibalism: a review of anthropogenic bone modification in the American Southwest." International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 10, no. 1 (2000): 4-26.;2-Q.

Lindenbaum, Shirley. "Thinking About Cannibalism." Annual review of anthropology 33, no. 1 (2004): 475-498.….

Pennell, C R. "Cannibalism in early modern North Africa." British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 18, no. 2 (1991): 169-185.….

Pickering, Michael P. "Food for Thought: An Alternative to 'Cannibalism in the Neolithic'" (October 3, 2010).

Rautman, A E, and T W Fenton. "A Case of Historic Cannibalism in the American West: Implications for Southwestern Archaeology." American Antiquity 70, no. 2 (2005): 321-341.

Turner, C G. "Cannibalism in Chaco Canyon: the charnel pit excavated in 1926 at Small House ruin by Frank H.H. Roberts, Jr." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 91, no. 4 (1993): 421-439.

Turner II, Christy G, and Jacqueline A Turner. "On Peter Y. Bullock's 'A reappraisal of Anasazi cannibalism'." Kiva 58, no. 2 (1992): 189-201.
VILLA, P, and E MAHIEU. "Breakage patterns of human long bones." Journal of Human Evolution 21, no. 1 (July 1991): 27-48.

Villa, P. "Cannibalism in prehistoric Europe." Evolutionary Anthropology 1, no. 3 (1992): 93-104.

Villa, P, C Bouville, J Courtin, D Helmer, E Mahieu, P Shipman, G Belluomini, and M Branca. "Cannibalism in the neolithic." Science 233, no. 4762 (1986): 431-437.

Villa, P, Claude Bouville, Jean Courtin, Daniel Helmer, Eric Mahieu, P Shipman, Giorgio Belluomini, and Marili Branca. "Cannibalism in the Neolithic." Science 233, no. 4762 (1986): 431-437.

Villa, P, Claude Bouville, Jean Courtin, Daniel Helmer, Eric Mahieu, P Shipman, Giorgio Belluomini, et al. "Cannibalism and the colonial world." Science 233, no. 1 (October 3, 1986): 431-437.


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I find the cannibal stories in PNG to be interesting too. So many people are so insistent that there are cannibals in PNG - or at least some ritual cannibalism. If you ask any natives about it they'll spin some story about cannibals - but it's either some other tribe (the seaside people say it's the mountain people, the mountain people say it's a tribe by the sea) or else their own tribe from the age before the missionaries. And yet the few who said their ancestors were cannibals had nothing to substantiate their story either. I've asked one guy who'd traveled all over PNG for more than 20 years about cannibals and he says he'd never seen evidence of them. I asked him about ritual cannibalism and he denied that as well. That makes me wonder whether there is any truth even to the story of ritual cannibalism, or was that just a story made up to hide the embarrassment of spreading other 'bigger' lies about cannibals? As for 'headhunters' - now they're a genuine item, though the trophy heads look nothing like what is shown in movies.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 07 Aug 2011 #permalink

What is the skin colour of the majority of people in these groups:

1) catholics performing their "eat the flesh" ritual,

2) the Donner Party, and

3) Argentinian rugby players whose plane crashed in the Andean mountains, and

4) European crusaders who killed and ate muslims when they had no food?

All the known cases of cannibalism I've read about involved caucasians. There have been plenty of accusations of it against "savages" (i.e. those with land that colonialists wanted to take), but I don't know of any verified cases, even among the Korowai and Wari tribes. The closest thing I've heard to it is the Sambia people in Indonesia and their ritual of "entering manhood", which I won't describe here.

It's a lot like the issue and accusations of "scalping" against indigenous North Americans - the colonialists who accused the NA tribes of "savegery" were just as guilty of it. Most times, the accusations are propaganda told to incite intolerance, not a real concern to be worried about.


Small correction: "collaborating evidence" should read "corroborating evidence".

In South America the "cannibal" label is rare, and is replaced by the "headhunter" label. As MadScientist suggests, here in the Amazon, headhunting among certain tribes (not most tribes) is well-supported historically, though now abandoned by most tribes which have been contacted by missionaries. A recent instance of it (not among traditional headhunters) was witnessed by a friend of mine in a forest I used to live in.

Years ago in the San Francisco Chronicle, in what would have probably been Herb Caen's column, I read about a dinner set featuring illustrations from California History. Gaspar de Portolà sighting San Francisco Bay, James Marshall finding gold at Sutter's mill..., that sort of thing. Including, you guessed it, a plate commemorating the Donner Party. I would hope the illustration was of doughty pioneers with their ox teams and wagons climbing the Sierras and not those same pioneers cooking over a campfire.

Should anyone know where I can get a set of these dishes, I'm willing to pay an arm and a leg for them.

"In 1968, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder named their new cafeteria grill the "Alferd G. Packer Memorial Grill" with the slogan "Have a friend for lunch!" Today students can enjoy the meat-filled "El Canibal" underneath a giant wall map outlining his travels through Colorado "

It seems rather unlikely that the Congolese, provoked though they may have been, pulled a word out of their keisters to describe the palefaces abruptly interfering with, well, everything.

What other meaning does/did "bazunga" have?

A friend of mine who was in the Peace Corps, sent to an African West Coastal nation which shall remain anonymous here, tells of working in a very remote village which was oppressed by a cop from the capital city. One day, everybody was very happy for a reason they would not discuss, and had a feast. My friend, being (a) Cajun, joined in the meal, and (b) smart, didn't ask where the cop went; he was much more fully accepted in the village thereafter.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 07 Aug 2011 #permalink

If anyone's interested, I'll try to find some of the instances of cannibalism and blood-drinking being used as part of the standard political libels in Roman sources. (The other very common ones being sexual deviancy, financial corruption, and poisoning/witchcraft.) Plus ca change...

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 07 Aug 2011 #permalink

I find Heart of Darkness a LOT more interesting than all the simple-minded brouhaha about cannibalism (sorry, Greg) -- and Conrad's story (which everyone should read/reread right now!) depicts in the clearest human terms the members of a heartless and deadening civilisation pillaging and destroying other less powerful people while claiming to lift them out of their primitive darkness. You can argue exactly what the deep 'message' of the story is: the greater the art, the more room for argument; but the elements I mention here are clearly and beautifully and powerfully depicted. The novel is not merely about Belgium, but, just as in the real world Belgium was trying to emulate the British, Germans, Russians, Americans etc., so Conrad indicts, notably by his introductory parallels with Romans in primitive Britain, all human beings when they are part of powerful states.

By John Salmond (not verified) on 07 Aug 2011 #permalink

"Including,you guessed it,a plate commemorating the Donner Party."
I RAGBRAI many times, and every year Team Donner Party was also there. Their jerseys read "We eat the slow".

Anthony, @ "Raging Bee, you don't know how to read or you don't know how quotes are used? You are amazingly consistent in your inaccuracy and hair trigger nuttery. I think you should go see your shaman and get help."


How about hairless, and triggering, nutlessly?

The precolonial Fijians didn't mind a bit of enemy flesh. At least that's what they tell you when you're over there. Might just be story?

I never even thought of cannabalism that way.

Very unique, interesting theory. Is it your own? Transient cannabalism or transitional cannabalism? Very interesting.

There is definitely something to be gained by some people (psychopathic leaders) from not only dehumanizing 'outsiders' but also in emphasizing that with ceremonial ritual?

For instance, PZ Myers, munching up dissenters in his dungeon?

Pierce [9] your question "bazunga" sounds interesting but I don't quite get what you are asking.

The word "Muzungu" also Bazungu or in the local dialect of the area I was referring to, Bazunga, simply means outsider/white person. The word has some background but that background does not pertain to its local meaning there, and would only be known to scholars.

I very much doubt your friend's friend ate the cop, but I have no doubt that a lot of bazungu uncritically accept the story as an example of African savagery when they hear it!

Stripey: Yeah, I'd love to hear about Roman .... cuisine ...

John, this certainly was not a description or review of The Heard of Darkness.

Yeah, go read the Heard of Darkness, if you are going to read three or four books related to the Congo. But if you are only going to read one, read King Leopold's Ghost.

But also read The Congo Memoirs

John: "Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian." that would be a great facebook update. Anyway, since you bring up Melville, I'll bring up Morey Amsterdam: "A Cannibal is a person who walks into a restaurant and orders a waiter."

FWIW, my parents have actually met or at least heard of cannibals in the New Hebrides islands - as they were called at the time - now Vanuatu. Apparently the last man eaten was a sailor who, the cannibal(s?) complained tasted too much of soap!

(Yeah, anecdotal evidence, I know but, unsurprisingly, I'm inclined to belive them.)

Cannibalism is a complex one with many historical instances in almost all cultures whether done by notorious, deranged criminals eg. J. Dahmer & others, ritually - as in the fictional Stranger in a Strange Land' novel by Heinlein - or out of desperation and lack of alternatives - the Andean plane crash, the shipwrecked whaler 'Essex' survivors, the case of the 'Batavia' or whether as part of cultural practice which from my understanding of historical record includes many indigenous cultures of relatively recent times (South Pacific, African, Aboriginal, etc ..) - and almost all cultures at some early stage.

Yeah, there's a possibly some amount of exaggeration and use of the term as a slur against some cultures and groups too but I don't think there's really much doubt that cannabilism does indeed happen and is part of some what-we-used-to-call-tribal groups customs. Of course, I could be wrong I guess but I'd be surprised if that were the case.

Daedalus2u: "Greg, just so you know, cooking is not effective at inactivating prions."

That's probably true, and I may have given the impression inadvertently.

Cooking and chemical treatment probably does kill prions but not effectively. However, the folks in question do undercook their meat habitually. That may matter.

Brian, Arens would argue no, they used the stories and the threats for sociopolitical gains. Fiji was once known as the cannibal islands. But that was not their own name for it.

I'll be addressing related issues in the next part of this post (this is a two parter)

(people often use the word "tribe" here but I choose not to for several reasons)

Please can you explain those reasons and elaborate on them a bit, Greg?

I know that word seems to have fallen out of favour (& as someone who loves reading and enjoys old histories and stories as well as new this trend with stuffing around with langauge kinda bugs me) but really what is wrong with using the word 'tribe' to describe what have previously usually been called tribes and tribal groups? Why should it be avoided?

Also what are we supposed to call the groups we used to call 'tribes' if we're not supposed /allowed to call them 'tribes' anymore?

Groups sounds awfully vague and broad, "nations" (which a lot of the Native Americans & indigneous aboriginal Australians seme to be rebadging themselves as) implies something with a flag, a constitition, cities and libraries and anthems and much more and thus doesn't seem applicable. So I'm not sure what else to use if not tribes?

Two reasons, StevoR: 1) The word "tribe" is usually linked to the concept "tribal" which in turn is usually linked to a concept like "primitive" which is usually linked to a number of negative stereotypes. You may have touched on one of the misconceptions in your earlier comment noting that we presume all tribes come from some cannibalistic ancestry (the evidence does not support that at all). Also, believing stories of cannibalism just because they are told to us is not logical or scientific if there is a good argument for the idea being used as a power play without anyone actually eating someone. Finally, we see an interesting transition between cannibalism being a thing done by deranged white people but normal tribal non-white people. This does not accord with the evidence. There's piles of "neolithic" or equivilant forensic data from Africa, no cannibalism at all, as far as I know, but plenty from Europe. It only occurs archaeologically in a few Native American groups. I know of no good archaeological record for Polynesia and Oceania, but I'm just not familiar with that record, so it could be there.

So, you see, I don't use the term because it is linked to too much muddy conversation over the years about it.

2) If "tribe" has a definition we can agree on, it may or may not apply to a particular group, so I avoid using it there. The term generally conflates the real social groups we want to make reference to into oversimplistic categories. For instance, people use the word "tribe" to apply to a residence group of Efe, as well as to all Efe, as well as to nearby middle range groups that are linguisitically distinct but who divide themselves into patriclans that the word "tribe" is rarely used for ... so in no instance is the word "tribe" ever used correctly for people in that region.

It would be like having a word that meant everyone in Minnesota, Wisconsin, half of North Dakata and two provinces in Canada and part of disjunct Alaska because of speech patterns being similar, dontcha know. It would be kind of useless.

Thanks. Guess I'm a bit old fashioned in some ways.

I certainly don't mean to imply that *all* tribes are cannibals or anything or to use it as a slur against them. I don't want to offend folks or anything, this just something that I find kind of baffling and just seems a bit like over-kill and being too PC - at least a little. It's always seemed like a perfectly reasonable word to me. Maybe that's just my background and priviledge showing though? (Shrugs.)

So, anyhow, if we don't use the word "tribe" what words *do* we use?

Are there times when it is approprate to use "tribe" or should it always be avoided?

A request if I may - perhaps you could blog on this for folks like me who find this a bit confusing?

It would be a good blog post.

Words to use instead include "culture" and "group" and "ethnographic group"

The word "tribe" has been used in a derogatory way, but it doesn't have to be. And anyway, what is a "tribe"? I can't remember the quote verbatim, but in the movie "Cry Freedom", Steve Biko (or the script, anyway) describes war between European countries as tribal warfare.

The words "nation" and "native" come from the Latin root "nati-" meaning "to be born"; native people are those born in a country. I may be white, but I still consider myself native to Canada. I don't know if others would agree with me, but I see the distinction between "tribe" and "nation" in terms of whether they claim to own land.

A tribe is a group of people who claim distinction from others and are generally nomadic (e.g. the Touareg people). A nation is a group of people who claim distinction from others and claim ownership of the land they live on, and attempt to keep others out by force.

Nations tend to fight over land and immobile resources, while tribes fight over the use of seasonal resources or taking turns useing resources in place such as a drinking hole. Nations behave a lot like lions and dogs marking their territory and fighting for dominance with others. Tribes behave a lot like fish and birds, moving place to place with the food and the seasons.


@^ P Smith | August 8, 2011 12:40 AM

& #26. Greg Laden | August 8, 2011 12:14 AM

Okay, thanks.

About a third of the time that the word "tribe" is used, in my estimation, by those who know what it is and how to use it, it is being used specifically as a spit in the fact to a percieved over-done PC culture. About another third it is being used by old time anthros out of habit. About a third of the time the word is probably used correctly.

Here's a clue: Some culture groups use the word tribe to describe themselves. That's cool. Use it there. Other culture groups find the word offensive. Don't use it there no matter what your dictionary says.

Also, the word "tribal warfare" and "tribe" are not the same word.

A tribe is a group of people who claim distinction from others and are generally nomadic

No, that is not correct.

Nations tend to fight over land and immobile resources, while tribes fight over the use of seasonal resources or taking turns useing resources in place such as a drinking hole.

No, that is not correct.

So far as I know, the evidence is pretty good that the Maori engaged in cannibalism, as well as using human bones for tools and musical instruments. It doesn't appear to have carried any stigma, unlike the case you describe in the Congo; it's just protein.

Greg Laden @ # 18: ... your question "bazunga" sounds interesting but I don't quite get what you are asking.

F'rexample, words such as "barbarian", "cracker", "gringo", "feranghi", etc, all have a story. Some such are fairly uninteresting: the n-word is just a corruption of Spanish for "black"; Chinese slang (I'm told) for westerners just means "stinky". Different sources give differing meanings for "wasichu", supposedly a common term among many native North American peoples for Europeans & Euro-Americans.

Whether "bazunga" meant "slavers" or "men in pith helmets who stop everything twice a day for a nice cup of tea" or "paradoxical character in a mythos more complicated than Celtic folklore" or "mound-building ant" might reveal a little bit about African worldviews for those of us on the outside looking in.

As for my friend's feast, he didn't seem to view his hosts as "savage" at all - with the possible exception of the cop who disappeared, and the power structure which employed him.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 08 Aug 2011 #permalink

It means "cool" or "nifty" ... "zungu" is the root. That is a word not used in Central Africa to my knowledge, only in coastal Tanzania and a few other places. A traditional thumb piano is nice. A radio is cool. A radio with charged up batteries ... that's zungu.

The Bazungu/Wazungu (depending on local) are the people with the charged up batteries. Literally. Or at least the equivilant thereof when the word came into use.

Greg Laden @ # 32: It means "cool" or "nifty" ... "zungu" is the root.

Ah hah. May I take that the usage has more to do with technology than (as often used over here) personality?

Some magazine article I read decades ago, iirc, said that the word "cool" meant "good" for obvious reasons in tropical/sub-tropical Africa, and only acquired that meaning in the US after African-American culture became highly influential (the Harlem Renaissance, etc).

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 08 Aug 2011 #permalink

Yes, technology. I never heard the word "cool" used in Central Africa, though, in that way. I believe this is a West African connection.

Damn, pornonymeme, you're so desperate to insult me that you can't even pause long enough to make sure you're posting on the right thread? I'd be flattered at how hot and bothered I make you, if you weren't so creepy and sad.

Raping Bazungu, I bet you have red hair...and stop harassing me with acts of âmuboboboâ.

Your trying to raparize and diminish my impact both as an individual and as a CLASS of individuals!

What are you talking about "desperate to insult you that...? bluhbluh bluhh..."

don't flatter yourself--I just got busy with actual writing (something you might consider as well), and cutting and pasting--in between laughing my ass off about the astute comment by Anthony about your overall character and substance

Raging Bee is" are amazingly consistent in your inaccuracy and hair trigger nuttery."

So, this little organism is consumed by larger body of organisms...…

Yes, you are definitely (a lot) over-PC here but I don't mind it, it's good for the laughs. And duh, tribe means what the people who use it think it means. The meanings of words change in time and also depend on the social group and context it is used in.

By Toiletman (not verified) on 08 Aug 2011 #permalink


Please tell me how using and not using the words we apply to people based on what they have requested is "over-PC".

"...duh, tribe means what the people who use it think it means. "

Well, duh, actually, uh, meaning is a thing generated in the listener, not the speaker. That's basic. Now, I am the last person to hold a speaker fully and blindly responsible for the meanings generated by their words in other people. However, in studied discourse (i.e, not just babbling whatever comes out of your ass, but rather, having some reference to the context of the conversation, and there IS a context to this conversation) the word "tribe" is one of those words that one might call "loaded."

Your argument is invalid. And, it has been heard before a million times. I hope you weren't thinking it was original!

The word "tribe" may have been abused and overused to and beyond the point of negative usefulness, but the concept of "tribalism" (as in us-vs-them thinking, whether national/ethnic/religious/political/whatever) seems more pertinent and useful than ever.

Funny how that works...

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 08 Aug 2011 #permalink

Is there any species of animal known to make a habit of cannibalism of their own species? It would seem not be something that would only cause sickness and there for be selected against in all cases by evolution.

Most species don't do it but there are many that do, and they are distributed widely among the taxa. There are many different kinds of cannibalism and some of them do not involve significant pathogen risks. For example, mother rodents eating their very recently born babies makes all kinds of ecological sense and probably does not carry much of a risk.

One of the most well known cannibalistic species is the chicken, another is the pig (and by "species" I don't mean species for pigs ... various species). One of the tricks of snare trapping bush pigs in Africa is to get to the trapped individual before the pig's family does.

Plenty of insects will eat their own species, usually during mating, when they get close enough to each other to allow that to happen. Pigs are pretty notorious for it too.

@Joe | August 8, 2011 9:49 PM :

Is there any species of animal known to make a habit of cannibalism of their own species? It would seem not be something that would only cause sickness and there for be selected against in all cases by evolution.

Polar bears are cannibals - saw a picture of that inthe latest (I think) 'National Geographic' magazine the other day with male polar bears killing and eating the young cubs.

Male lions (& other big cat species?) have certainly been known to kill cubs sired by other males too - although I'm not sure about them eating them - to ensure only their offspring survive.

The Triassic dinosaur species Coelophysis (spelling?) was also famously cannibalistic with a lot of fossils discovered to have the bones of younger Coelophysis in their stomachs.

Plus the examples Stephanie Z (August 8, 2011, 10:11 PM) & Greg Laden (August 8, 2011, 10:10 PM) have already provided. Can vouch for chickens being cannibalistic from experience, they looked chicken carcasses - and have also heard stories about crocodiles being cannibals too. I'm sure there's plenty of other examples as well.

D'oh! Typos. That's meant to read :

"Can vouch for chickens being cannibalistic from experience, they love cooked chicken carcasses."

Also wikipedia has some interesting things to say about the Coelophysis here :

which suggest it might not have been a cannibal after all.

A check of the 'National Geo' website suggests I wrong there too - looks like it was last months issue (July 2011) that had the polar bear story incl. polar bear cannibalism in it. Although whether it's just hitting the shelves now may be another story!

Wikpedia here :

is relevant too.

@Brian: It's hard to tell. The Fijians, Tongans, Maori, and probably even the (pre-Cook(ed)) Hawaiians certainly taunted their enemies with talk about what they'd do to them after killing them. You can imagine a Maori warrior yelling at the other guy: "I'll toast your nuts on the camp fire and have 'em for a snack!" but whether or not they ever did as they said is another matter.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 08 Aug 2011 #permalink

@42 Stephanie
In all fairness Steph--are there any insect species where the male eats the female after mating? In the mantis, etc. it is always the female eating the male after breeding, and as far as I know that is universal.

Greg? Anyone? Is there a species where the males eat the females, and is there a species where the males eat the females after mating?

And Greg, @ "meaning is a thing generated in the listener, not the speaker"

But evolution predicts that in the exchange of language from one person to another,both are affected, i.e. for example, even the speaker in speaking is aware on some level of verbal and nonverbal cues from the listener--and the listener is not merely a static receiver or recipient.

So language evolves in each interaction, and meaning, even in the speaker is not necessarily static.

Porn: Yes to the language stuff, no as far as I know to the insect questions. But it could happen. I'll check around.

Yes, you are definitely (a lot) over-PC here but I don't mind it, it's good for the laughs. And duh, tribe means what the people who use it think it means.

Well, I see "Toiletman" is eagerly living down to his chosen name.

Thanks for that. I am a big believer in language evolution;-)

Your premise here is one I never considered, and it makes me question some of what I have heard about Asians. I once head that Taiwanese aboriginals were cannibals, but the last I knew it was some european writing about the Chinese eating cannibals. Again, during the early parts of this century, that was extrapolated into all the Chinese being cannibals.

And wolf spiders? I'll Google it. Seems like I can use that somewhere...But on the bigger question I was asking is about those older females cannibalizing those younger, horny males in the blogosphere....hehehe

Greg: The local prion lab autoclaves their instruments in bleach for hours, because just plain autoclaving them doesn't work. Ordinary cooking techniques might reduce the number of infectious prion particles but would probably not get rid of them entirely, and you don't need very many to develop health problems.

I recall reading Napoleon Chagnon that he mentioned the Yanomamo eating the bone-infusion of their dead relatives in certain very specific ritual contexts. But it was nothing like the stereotypical cannibalism of "savages" eating enemies. IIRC it was considered an insult to your revered ancestor if you did not partake. But the whole ritual, again, was only in very specific times and places.

Greg, I wonder, do you think something like this explains the theophagy of Christians? No, I am not suggesting a cultural connection between the two, just asking if there was anything like it in other "primitive" cultures in Europe/Eurasia?

At one level it seems like a pretty good adaptation to living in an environment where burial is problematic -- or at least a huge pain to do. (Jungles -- forests generally -- are hard to dig in, what with the root network and all). I understand that cultural practices are not always tied to how practical they are (again, see Chagnon on the penis bands that were common accoutrements of the Yanomamo. While the men did not always like wearing them, they would not get caught without it, rather like men in our culture once always wore a hat to be considered well-dressed).

BTW I understand there are people with differences with Chagnon but as I understand it his observations of Yanomamo culture are still considered pretty darn good. Correct me if I am wrong.

Greg, I wonder, do you think something like this explains the theophagy of Christians? No, I am not suggesting a cultural connection between the two, just asking if there was anything like it in other "primitive" cultures in Europe/Eurasia?

Hard to say, but the archaeology of the neolithic in the near east suggests a widespread and long term fascination with skulls in some areas. They were removed from the dead, cleaned up, decorated, and put in niches in people's houses, for instance, at many sites.

BTW I understand there are people with differences with Chagnon but as I understand it his observations of Yanomamo culture are still considered pretty darn good. Correct me if I am wrong.

There are people with VERY STRONG differences and they fight all the time, but I've not seen any meaningful differences between other anthropologists' data and Chagnon's, though there is variation among the Yan, of course.

I figure cannibal stories are a bit like the skinwalker stories I used to hear in Navajo country. Whatever the truth of any factual claims in those stories, they do reflect some interesting psychological realities. People tell such stories precisely because they seem to objectify their most cynical thoughts about how the people around them actually behave. If there is a difference it's that the skinwalker stories are about how people actually live. Cannibalism is always projected onto someone out there in the hinterlands.

By northierthanthou (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink