Compare European attitudes towards cannibalism as manifested in the writings of Jean de Lery and Michel de Montaigne.
One of the most significant events in the world history was a discovery of a new continent. 16th century old Europe was in crisis; endless struggle for power between monarchs, nobility and the members of the Roman Catholic Church, society was in a state of deep moral degradation – inquisition, sexual diseases, exhausted taxation and hunger, etc. Europeans began to look for overseas, fashion for exotic goods or things and the wealth of Asiatic lands was the driving force behind it, and colonisation of a newly discovered land was justified as a religious, cultural or scientific missionary objective. Travellers produced few accounts about their experiences in the land and about the first meetings with people of different races. For some reason most of the Europeans saw native people as inferior creatures and were unable to respect and recognise their invaluable culture and civilisation. The accounts of the time were quite prejudiced and influenced by Eurocentric stereotypes. One might suggest that people in 16th century Europe were unaccustomed with tolerance and respect for other cultures. However, it is a fact, in order to justify the unlawful colonisation, cruelty and killings of thousands of Native Americans it was rather convenient to make them look inhuman, by giving all possible negative attributes, including cannibalism. The question is to what extent the accounts of the cannibalism were accurate? And in what ways could be European cruelty compared with the acts committed by of indigenous Americans? This essay is an attempt to analyse in depth the social stigma on the topic in the 16th century European society, and to compare European attitudes towards cannibalism displayed in the writings of Jean de Lery (1536-1613) and Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592). Additionally, this essay includes some references on the subject from the accounts of celebrated explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). No doubt, there was a big gap between European civilisation and culture of American Indians. The new lands, were inhabited by unseen people, with their unknown customs and inconceivable practice, and perhaps the most unacceptable and controversial issue was in few travellers’ accounts described practice of human eating other humans, one of which was anthropophagi-at the moment known as cannibalism. Some people turning to cannibalism in order to survive. Cannibalism is defined as a consumption of human flesh by another human, and can be divided into endocannibalism (eating individuals inside one social group; mainly as a part of a funeral process, helping the soul of the dead to separate from the body) and exocannibalism (consuming of outsiders and usually accompanied by warfare). (Watson 2006:46).
Cannibalism was observed by French explorer and writer Jean de Lery; at the period when he stayed in Brazil. On the source of his experiences Jean de Lery wrote a book “History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil”, otherwise called America; in which his thoughts about cannibalism slightly differed from accounts produced at that time, including Christopher Columbus or even the earliest explorers. A comparable position to Jean de Lery’s was also taken and by Michel de Montaigne in his well-known essay “Of Cannibals”. Without a doubt, since the first cross-cultural contact cannibalism has remained the most influential picture of savagery and barbarism in the eyes of Europeans. It is quick to judge, but it is worth to study or analyse this phenomenon in greater depth. The pattern of how the human mind works, confronted by this vital taboo, can be revealed comparing the writings of Jean de Lery and Michel de Montaigne. Early explorers, in...
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