Cannibalism, Abortion, and R/K Selection.

Reindeer herder, from "Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched... after Anthrax Outbreak" : "Serbian officials have demanded a huge cull of a 250,000 reindeers by Christmas over the risk of an anthrax outbreak. Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region."
Reindeer herder, from Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched… after Anthrax Outbreak: “Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region.”

In Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers: Reindeer Economies and their Transformations [PDF,] Ingold describes the social distribution of food among hunter-gatherers. In normal times, when food is neither super-abundant nor scarce, each family basically consumes what it brings in, without feeling any particular compulsion to share with their neighbors. In times of super-abundance, food is distributed throughout the tribe, often quite freely:

Since harvested animals, unlike a plant crop, will not reproduce, the multiplicative accumulation of material wealth is not possible within the framework of hunting relations of production. Indeed, what is most characteristic of hunting societies everywhere is the emphasis not on accumulation but on its obverse: the sharing of the kill, to varying degrees, amongst all those associated with the hunter. …

The fortunate hunter, when he returns to camp with his kill, is expected to play host to the rest of the community, in bouts of extravagant consumption.

The other two ethnographies I have read of hunter-gatherers (The Harmless People, about the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and Kabloona, about the Eskimo aka Inuit) both support this: large kills are communal feasts. Hunter gatherers often have quite strict rules about how exactly a kill is to be divided, but the most important thing is that everyone gets some.

And this is eminently sensible–you try eating an entire giraffe by yourself, in the desert, before it rots.

Even in the arctic, where men can (in part of the year) freeze food for the future, your neighbor’s belly is as good as a freezer, because the neighbor you feed today will feed you tomorrow. Hunting is an activity that can be wildly successful one day and fail completely the next, so if hunters did not share with each other, soon each one would starve.

Whilst the successful hunter is required to distribute his spoils freely amongst his camp fellows, he does so with the assurance that in any future eventuality, when through bad luck he fails to find game, or through illness or old age he can no longer provide for himself and his family, he will receive in his turn. Were each hunter to produce only for his own domestic needs, everyone would eventually perish from hunger (Jochelson 1926:124). Thus, through its contribution to the survival and reproduction of potential producers, sharing ensures the perpetuation of society as a whole. …

Yet he is also concerned to set aside stocks of food to see his household through at least a part of the coming winter. The meat that remains after the obligatory festive redistribution is therefore placed in the household’s cache, on which the housewife can draw specifically for the provision of her own domestic group (Spencer 1959:149). After the herds have passed by, domestic autonomy is re-establisheddraws on its own reserves of stored food.

But what happens at the opposite extreme, not under conditions of abundance, but when everyone‘s stocks run out? Ingold claims that in times of famine, the obligation to share what little food one has with one’s neighbors is also invoked:

We find, therefore, that the incidence of generalized reciprocity tends to peak towards the two extremes of scarcity and abundance… The communal feast that follows a successful hunting drive involves the same heightening of band solidarity, and calls into play the same functions of leadership in the apportionment of food, as does the consumption of famine rations.

I am reminded here of a scene in The Harmless People in which there was not enough food to go around, but the rules of distribution were still followed, each person just cutting their piece smaller. Thomas described one of the small children, hungry, trying to grab the food bowl–not the food itself–to stop their mother from giving away their food to the next person in the chain of obligation.

Here Ingold pauses to discuss a claim by Sahlins that such social order will (or should) break down under conditions of extreme hunger:

Probably every primitive organization has its breaking-point, or at least its turning-point. Every one might see the time when co-operation is overwhelmed by the scale of disaster and chicanery becomes the order of the day. The range of assistance contracts progressively to the family level; perhaps even these bonds dissolve and, washed away, reveal an inhuman, yet most human, self-interest. Moreover, by the same measure that the circle of charity is
compressed that of ‘negative reciprocity* is potentially expanded. People who helped each other in normal times and through the first stages of disaster display now an indifference to each others’ plight, if they do not exacerbate a mutual downfall by guile, haggle and theft.

Ingold responds:

I can find no evidence, either in my reading of circumpolar ethnography, or in the material cited by Sahlins, for the existence of such a ‘turning-point’ in hunting societies. On the contrary, as the crisis deepens, generalized reciprocity proceeds to the point of dissolution of domestic group boundaries. ‘Negative reciprocity’, rather than closing in from beyond the frontiers of the household, will be expelled altogether from the wider social field, only to make its appearance within the heart of the domestic group itself.

Thus the women of the household, who are allowed to eat only after the appetites of their menfolk have been satisfied, may be left in times of want with the merest scraps of food. Among the Chipewyan, ‘when real distress approaches, many of them are permitted to starve, when the males are amply provided for’…

In situations of economic collapse, negative reciprocity afflicts not only the domestic relations between husband and wife, but those between mother and child, and between parent and grandparent. If the suckling of children is the purest expression of generalized reciprocity, in the form of a sustained one-way flow, then infanticide must surely represent the negative extreme. Likewise, old or sick members of the household will be the first to be abandoned when provisions run short. Even in normal times, individuals who are past labour have to scavenge the left-overs of food and skins (Hearne 1911:326). In the most dire circumstances of all, men will consume their starving wives and children before turning upon one another.

Drawing on Eskimo material, Hoebel derives the following precepts of cannibal conduct: Not unusually . . . parents kill their own children to be eaten. This act is no different from infanticide. A man may kill and eat his wife; it is his privilege. Killing and eating a relative will produce no legal consequences. It is to be presumed, however, that killing a non-relative for food is murder. (1941:672, cited in Eidlitz 1969:132)

In short, the ‘circle of charity’ is not compressed but inverted: as the threat of starvation becomes a reality, the legitimacy of killing increases towards the centre. The act is ‘inhuman’ since it strips the humanity of the victim to its organic, corporeal substance. If altruism is an index of sociability, then its absolute negation annuls the sodality of the recipient: persons, be they human or animal, become things.

297px-world_population_v3-svgThis is gruesome, but let us assume it is true (I have not read the accounts Ingold cites, so I must trust him, and I do not always trust him but for now we will.)

The cold, hard logic of infanticide is that a mother can produce more children if she loses one, but a child who has lost its mother will likely die as well, along with all of its siblings. One of my great-great grandmothers suffered the loss of half her children in infancy and still managed to raise 5+ to adulthood. Look around: even with abortion and birth control widely available, humanity is not suffering a lack of children. ETA: As BaruchK correctly noted, today’s children are largely coming from people who don’t use birth control or have legal access to abortion; fertility rates are below replacement throughout the West, with the one exception AFAIK of Israel.

c08pnclw8aapot6Furthermore, children starve faster and are easier to kill than parents; women are easier to kill than men; people who live with you are easier to kill than people who don’t.

Before we condemn these people, let us remember that famine is a truly awful, torturous way to die, and that people who are on the brink of starving to death are not right in their minds. As “They’re not human”: How 19th-century Inuit coped with a real-life invasion of the Walking Dead recounts:

“Finally, as the footsteps stopped just outside the igloo, it was the old man who went out to investigate.

“He emerged to see a disoriented figure seemingly unaware of his presence. The being was touching the outside of the igloo with curiosity, and raised no protest when the old man reached his hand out to touch its cheek.

“His skin was cold. …

The figures, of course, were the last survivors of the Franklin Expedition. They had buried their captain. They had seen their ship entombed by ice. They had eaten the dead to survive. …

Inuit nomads had come across streams of men that “didn’t seem to be right.” Maddened by scurvy, botulism or desperation, they were raving in a language the Inuit couldn’t understand. In one case, hunters came across two Franklin Expedition survivors who had been sleeping for days in the hollowed-out corpses of seals. …

The figures were too weak to be dangerous, so Inuit women tried to comfort the strangers by inviting them into their igloo. …

The men spit out pieces of cooked seal offered to them. They rejected offers of soup. They grabbed jealous hold of their belongings when the Inuit offered to trade.

When the Inuit men returned to the camp from their hunt, they constructed an igloo for the strangers, built them a fire and even outfitted the shelter with three whole seals. …

When a small party went back to the camp to retrieve [some items], they found an igloo filled with corpses.

The seals were untouched. Instead, the men had eaten each other. …

In 1854, Rae had just come back from a return trip to the Arctic, where he had been horrified to discover that many of his original Inuit sources had fallen to the same fates they had witnessed in the Franklin Expedition.

An outbreak of influenza had swept the area, likely sparked by the wave of Franklin searchers combing the Arctic. As social mores broke down, food ran short.

Inuit men that Rae had known personally had chosen suicide over watching the slow death of their children. Families had starved for days before eating their dog teams. Some women, who had seen their families die around them, had needed to turn to the “last resource” to survive the winter.

Infanticide, cannibalism, and human sacrifice were far more common prior to 1980 or so than we like to think; God forbid we should ever know such fates.

According to Wikipedia:

“Many Neolithic groups routinely resorted to infanticide … Joseph Birdsell believed that infanticide rates in prehistoric times were between 15% and 50% of the total number of births,[10] while Laila Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15% to 20%.[6]:66 Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents during the Paleolithic era.[12] Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism.[13]

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r“Three thousand bones of young children, with evidence of sacrificial rituals, have been found in Sardinia. Pelasgians offered a sacrifice of every tenth child during difficult times. Syrians sacrificed children to Jupiter and Juno. Many remains of children have been found in Gezer excavations with signs of sacrifice. Child skeletons with the marks of sacrifice have been found also in Egypt dating 950-720 BCE. In Carthage “[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith.”[11]:324  …

“According to Shelby Brown, Carthaginians, descendants of the Phoenicians, sacrificed infants to their gods.[25] Charred bones of hundreds of infants have been found in Carthaginian archaeological sites. One such area harbored as many as 20,000 burial urns.[25]

Picture 4Plutarch (c. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus and Philo. The Hebrew Bible also mentions what appears to be child sacrifice practiced at a place called the Tophet (from the Hebrew taph or toph, to burn) by the Canaanites. Writing in the 3rd century BCE, Kleitarchos, one of the historians of Alexander the Great, described that the infants rolled into the flaming pit. Diodorus Siculus wrote that babies were roasted to death inside the burning pit of the god Baal Hamon, a bronze statue.

“… the exposure of newborns was widely practiced in ancient Greece, it was even advocated by Aristotle in the case of congenital deformity — “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.”[30]

“The practice was prevalent in ancient Rome, as well. … A letter from a Roman citizen to his sister, or a pregnant wife from her husband,[35] dating from 1 BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed:

“I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.” [36][37]

CgxAZrOUYAEeANF“In some periods of Roman history it was traditional for a newborn to be brought to the pater familias, the family patriarch, who would then decide whether the child was to be kept and raised, or left to die by exposure.[39] The Twelve Tables of Roman law obliged him to put to death a child that was visibly deformed. …

“According to William L. Langer, exposure in the Middle Ages “was practiced on gigantic scale with absolute impunity, noticed by writers with most frigid indifference”.[47]:355–356 At the end of the 12th century, notes Richard Trexler, Roman women threw their newborns into the Tiber river in daylight.[48]” …

400px-Kodeks_tudela_21“Philosopher Han Fei Tzu, a member of the ruling aristocracy of the 3rd century BC, who developed a school of law, wrote: “As to children, a father and mother when they produce a boy congratulate one another, but when they produce a girl they put it to death.”[63]

“Buddhist belief in transmigration allowed poor residents of the country to kill their newborn children if they felt unable to care for them, hoping that they would be reborn in better circumstances. Furthermore, some Chinese did not consider newborn children fully “human”, and saw “life” beginning at some point after the sixth month after birth.[65]

“Contemporary writers from the Song dynasty note that, in Hubei and Fujian provinces, residents would only keep three sons and two daughters (among poor farmers, two sons and one daughter), and kill all babies beyond that number at birth.[66]”

Sex Ratio at birth in the People's Republic of China
Sex Ratio at birth in the People’s Republic of China

“It was not uncommon that parents threw a child to the sharks in the Ganges River as a sacrificial offering. The British colonists were unable to outlaw the custom until the beginnings of the 19th century.[82]:78

“According to social activists, female infanticide has remained a problem in India into the 21st century, with both NGOs and the government conducting awareness campaigns to combat it.[83] …

“In the Eastern Shoshone there was a scarcity of Indian women as a result of female infanticide.[100] For the Maidu Native Americans twins were so dangerous that they not only killed them, but the mother as well.[101] In the region known today as southern Texas, the Mariame Indians practiced infanticide of females on a large scale. Wives had to be obtained from neighboring groups.[102]

Meanwhile in the Americas:

In 2005 a mass grave of one- to two-year-old sacrificed children was found in the Maya region of Comalcalco. The sacrifices were apparently performed for consecration purposes when building temples at the Comalcalco acropolis.[2] …

Archaeologists have found the remains of 42 children sacrificed to Tlaloc (and a few to Ehecátl Quetzalcóatl) in the offerings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. In every case, the 42 children, mostly males aged around six, were suffering from serious cavities, abscesses or bone infections that would have been painful enough to make them cry continually. Tlaloc required the tears of the young so their tears would wet the earth. As a result, if children did not cry, the priests would sometimes tear off the children’s nails before the ritual sacrifice.[7]

And don’t get me started on cannibalism.

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

It is perhaps more profitable to ask which cultures didn’t practice some form of infanticide/infant sacrifice/cannibalism than which ones did. The major cases Wikipedia notes are Ancient Egypt, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (we may note that Judaism in many ways derived from ancient Egypt, and Christianity and Islam from Judaism.) Ancient Egypt stands out as unique among major the pre-modern, pre-monotheistic societies to show no signs of regular infanticide–and even in the most infamous case where the Egyptian pharaoh went so far as to order the shocking act, we find direct disobedience in his own household:

3 And when she [Jochebed] could not longer hide him [the baby], she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.4 And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

pharaohs_daughter-15 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.

6 And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?”

8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” And the maid went and called the child’s mother.

9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, “Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” And the women took the child, and nursed it.

10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

–Exodus 2:3-10

I don’t know the actual infanticide numbers in modern Muslim countries (le wik notes that poverty in places like Pakistan still drives infanticide) but it is officially forbidden by Islam.

According to Abortions in America: • Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women. • 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites. • Planned Parenthood, ... has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods
According to Abortions in America:
• Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women.
• 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites.
• Planned Parenthood, … has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods

Today, between the spread of Abrahamic religions, Western Values, and general prosperity, the infanticide rate has been cut and human sacrifice and cannibalism have been all but eliminated. Abortion, though, is legal–if highly controversial–throughout the West and Israel.

According to the CDC, the abortion rate for 2013 was 200 abortions per 1,000 live births, or about 15% of pregnancies. (The CDC also notes that the abortion rate has been falling since at least 2004.) Of these, “91.6% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; … In 2013, 22.2% of all abortions were early medical abortions.”

To what can we attribute this anti-infanticide sentiment of modern monotheistic societies? Is it just a cultural accident, a result of inheritance from ancient Egypt, or perhaps the lucky effects of some random early theologian? Or as the religious would suggest, due to God’s divine decree? Or is it an effect of the efforts parents must expend on their few children in societies where children must attend years of school in order to succeed?

According to Wikipedia:

In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity and quality of offspring. The focus upon either increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment of r-strategists, or reduced quantity of offspring with a corresponding increased parental investment of K-strategists, varies widely, seemingly to promote success in particular environments. …

In r/K selection theory, selective pressures are hypothesised to drive evolution in one of two generalized directions: r– or K-selection.[1] These terms, r and K, are drawn from standard ecological algebra as illustrated in the simplified Verhulst model of population dynamics:[7]

d N d t = r N ( 1 − N K ) {\frac {dN}{dt}}=rN\left(1-{\frac {N}{K}}\right)

where r is the maximum growth rate of the population (N), K is the carrying capacity of its local environmental setting, and the notation dN/dt stands for the derivative of N with respect to t (time). Thus, the equation relates the rate of change of the population N to the current population size and expresses the effect of the two parameters. …

As the name implies, r-selected species are those that place an emphasis on a high growth rate, and, typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches, and produce many offspring, each of which has a relatively low probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., high r, low K).[8] A typical r species is the dandelion Taraxacum genus.

In unstable or unpredictable environments, r-selection predominates due to the ability to reproduce quickly. There is little advantage in adaptations that permit successful competition with other organisms, because the environment is likely to change again. Among the traits that are thought to characterize r-selection are high fecundity, small body size, early maturity onset, short generation time, and the ability to disperse offspring widely. …

By contrast, K-selected species display traits associated with living at densities close to carrying capacity, and typically are strong competitors in such crowded niches that invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a relatively high probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., low r, high K). In scientific literature, r-selected species are occasionally referred to as “opportunistic” whereas K-selected species are described as “equilibrium”.[8]

In stable or predictable environments, K-selection predominates as the ability to compete successfully for limited resources is crucial and populations of K-selected organisms typically are very constant in number and close to the maximum that the environment can bear (unlike r-selected populations, where population sizes can change much more rapidly).

Traits that are thought to be characteristic of K-selection include large body size, long life expectancy, and the production of fewer offspring, which often require extensive parental care until they mature.

Of course you are probably already aware of Rushton’s R/K theory of human cultures:

Rushton’s book Race, Evolution, and Behavior (1995) uses r/K selection theory to explain how East Asians consistently average high, blacks low, and whites in the middle on an evolutionary scale of characteristics indicative of nurturing behavior. He first published this theory in 1984. Rushton argues that East Asians and their descendants average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, slower rates of maturation, and greater law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants, who average higher scores on these dimensions than Africans and their descendants. He theorizes that r/K selection theory explains these differences.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that the article states, “Rushton’s application of r/K selection theory to explain differences among racial groups has been widely criticised. One of his many critics is the evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves, who has done extensive testing of the r/K selection theory with species of Drosophila flies. …”

Genetics or culture, in dense human societies, people must devote a great deal of energy to a small number of children they can successfully raise, leading to the notion that parents are morally required to put this effort into their children. But this system is at odds with the fact that without some form of intervention, the average married couple will produce far more than two offspring.

Ultimately, I don’t have answers, only theories.

Source: CDC data, I believe
Source: CDC data, I believe

Why are People Poor? A Response to Bishop Camara

“When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were poor, they called me a communist.” —Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop, 1909 – 1999

c08pnclw8aapot6In Bishop Camara’s case, they might have been calling him a communist because he was an open socialist who advocated Liberation Theology. But leaving the specific case aside, let’s speak more generally: the problem isn’t that people think it’s inherently communist to wonder why there are poor people; the problem is that you are asking the wrong question.

The state that we now call “poor” was the default condition of the vast, overwhelming majority of humans for the entirety of our existence on this planet. Agriculture has only existed for 10,000 of humanity’s 200,000 years; the vast majority of your ancestors were hunter-gatherers with no more wealth to their names than what they could comfortably carry on their backs or construct in a few hours’ time out of grass and sticks. A modern guy living out of his car has more wealth than our ancestors did.


The important question is not why most of the world’s people are still poor. The question is why some of the world’s people (or groups of people) have become fabulously wealthy, and if whatever they did can work for everyone else.

The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO
The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO

Why are people poor?

Why shouldn’t they be poor?

You want to be rich? Figure out how the rich did it.

Quality of life and human well-being have increased tremendously around the world in the past 30 years. The number of people suffering starvation has dropped precipitously. Why? Did Ethiopia and China introduce some fabulous new welfare program to provide for their poorest citizens? No. Capitalism and technological advances in food production happened. (Caveat: Russia post-USSR had collapsing well-being due to, AFAIK, terribly managed and opportunistic transition to capitalism. As always, don’t be stupid.)

chart2 cu1ko5cwaaeachw

historical-median-male-height-1 picture-2

b2eyn9-cuaaq5gr picture-1

A tragedy in three acts
A tragedy in three acts

Before you can make solve problems, you have to understand what the problems actually are–and that requires asking the correct questions in the first place.

Second, you have to answer the question properly.

Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 2

1280px-aboriginal_art_wall_-_panoramioWelcome back to Anthropology Friday, The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years among the Aborigines.

To be fair, Buckley was not an anthropologist. He was just a soldier-convict-guy who happened to get lost in Australia and was adopted into an Aborigine tribe. Years later he found colonists, re-joined white society, and dictated his life’s story, resulting in this book.

Buckley doesn’t relate many of the standard “cultural” tropes that I tend to associate with Aborigines–he makes no mention of the Dreamtime, says very little about myths, and is silent on coming of age rituals or magic rites.

Perhaps these weren’t prominent among the Aborigines he happened to live with, or he never learned about them, or he just thought them less interesting or important to his future readers than his accounts of violence. Certainly they were much less important to his life than the constant threat of death.

But he does include some cultural details, many of which I’ve excerpted below. (BTW, I’m including some images of Aborigine art, but none of them are–as far as I know–related to the folks Buckley lived with. They’re just here to look nice.)

Aborigine counting:

“We remained in peace and quietness, until a messenger came from another tribe, saying we were to meet them some miles off. Their method of describing time is by signs on the fingers, one man of each party marking the days by chalkings on the arm, and then rubbing one off as each day passes. ”

The bunyip--a very confused beast
The bunyip–a very confused beast

The Bunyip, a mythical creature:

“In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, And the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea
of their size, or what they were like. ”

EvX: Some people claim that the inclusions of details like the bunyip imply that Buckley’s account is untrustworthy. Obviously any account probably has some inaccuracies, but I don’t think the bunyip should be counted against Buckley anymore than Herodotus’s giant ants against his Histories. Buckley lived in a land of unfamiliar plants and animals, and his friends told him, “That thing in the tree is a koala; that hoppy thing is a kangaroo; that thing that just went swish plop out of sight in the swamp is a bunyip,” and he took them at their word.

Later in the account Buckley expresses some doubts on the matter, noting that the aborigines were afraid of the bunyip and thought it bad luck to try to hunt it, but he wanted to find and kill one when they weren’t around to figure out what sort of creature it was.

On marriage (paging HBDChick):

Bradshaw rock paintings,
Bradshaw rock paintings

“The only ceremonies they use preparatory to marriage are, in the first place, to get the parents’ consent, the suitor’s best claim is being a good fighter, and an expert hunter, so as to be able to protect and provide for a family. They are not at all particular as to the number of wives such men have; consequently some have five or six wives, and others none at all. If a man wishes to have a man’s grown up sister for a wife, he must give his own, if he has one, in exchange; but they are very averse to marrying one of their own relations, even of a distant degree.

“If a woman is supposed to have a child who is not her husband’s, they consider it a great disgrace; and to the infant, death is almost certain. If again, a family increases too rapidly,
for instance, if a woman has a child within twelve months of .a previous one, they hold a consultation amongst the tribe she belongs to, as to whether it shall live or not; but if the father insists upon the life of the child being spared, they do not persist in its destruction, and especially if it is a female.”

EvX: Female privilege.

I have read that the % of fetuses aborted in the US today and the % of infants infanticided in premodern cultures is about the same.


“I may as well here also mention a curious custom they have relative to their domestic affairs … In many instances, a girl, almost as soon as she is born, is given to a man. After this promise, the mother of the child never again voluntarily speaks to the intended husband before he takes her to himself nor to any of his brothers, if he has any; on the contrary she shuns them in the most careful manner.”

EvX: I don’t know if we should take him literally that infants were engaged to grown men, but at any rate, since the stated cause of much violence was that a girl who had been promised at birth to one man was desired at marrying age by another man, it seems like a great deal of violence could have been eliminated by discontinuing this custom.

Air burial:

“The next morning, those who remained went to the tribe to which the murdered man belonged, and found him rolled up in his rug, ready to be tied up in a tree, a mode of disposing of the dead, who were not enemies, unknown to me before. They selected a strong, if not a lofty tree, and in the branches, about twelve feet up, they placed some logs and branches across, and sheets of bark; on these they laid the body with the face upwards, inclining toward the setting sun, and over it was placed some more bark and boughs, and then logs as heavy as the branches would bear; all this being done to protect the body from the birds of prey.”


“They have no notion of a Supreme Being, although they have of an after life, as in my case; and they do not ofler up any’ kind of prayer, even to the son or moon, as is customary with most other uncivilized people. They have a notion, that the world is supported by props, which are in the charge of a man who lives at the farthest end of the earth. They were dreadfully alarmed on one occasion when I was with them, by news passed from tribe to tribe, that unless
they could send him a supply of tomahawks for cutting some more props with, and some more rope to tie them with, the earth would go by the run, and all hands would be smothered. Fearful of this, they began to think, and enquire, and calculate where the highest mountains were, and how to get to them …so as to have some chance of escape from the threatened

“The next day we moved on to another fresh water lake of considerable extent, where we encamped, not very much at our ease, as we saw another tribe on the opposite shore. In the middle of the night we heard a dreadful uproar in that direction, and in the morning learned that those we had seen before dark had been fallen upon by some others whilst they were sleeping; so on hearing this we went to their assistance. On our arrival a horrid scene presented itself, many women and children laying about in all directions, wounded and sadly mutilated. Several of the poor creatures had rushed into the lake and were drowned. The few who had escaped were hiding themselves in the reeds; but on our proffering assistance and protection, they joined us, and went to our huts. The dead were left, it not being safe to lose time in burying them, as our number was not sufficient to make us safe from a similar attack.”


“Having come to another halt, the better way perhaps will be, for me here to state, that the tribes are divided into families; or rather, I should say, composed of them, each tribe comprising from twenty to sixty of them. They acknowledge no particular Chief as being
superior to the rest; but, he who is most skilful and useful to the general community, is looked upon with the greatest esteem, and is considered to be entitled to more wives than any of the others. They contrive to keep a tolerable account, by recollection, of their pedigree, and will not, as I observed before, knowingly marry a relation, except where two brothers happened
to be married, and one dies; in that case the survivor claims the widow; in fact, as many wives or widows as he has left behind him. Should the women object, there is little chance of their lives being spared, as this law of custom is absolute.”

EvX: Not female privilege.

“They are in general, very kind to their children, excepting the child is from any cause, believed to be illegitimate ; and again, when a woman has been promised to one man, and is afterwards given to another; in such case, her first-born is almost invariably killed at its birth. The tribes would be much more numerous were it not for these barbarous and inhuman sacrifices.

“As soon as the children are able to toddle about, they begin, as if by instinct, to search for food, and at four or five years of age, are able to dig roots and live without the aid of their parents, to whom, as may be supposed, their drapery, and washing and combing, etc., is no sort of trouble. They are all stark naked, and tumble about in the lagoons and rivers, like so many jolly young porpoises playing in the sun.”

EvX: I suspect he is overestimating the foraging capabilities of 5 yr olds.

Cannibalism and mental illness:

“They have a brutal aversion to children who happen to be deformed at their birth. I saw the brains of one dashed out at a blow, and a boy belonging to the same woman made to eat the mangled remains. The act of cannibalism was accounted for in this way. The woman at particular seasons of the moon, was out of her senses; the moon, as they thought, having affected the child also, and, certainly, it had a very singular appearance. This caused her husband to deny his being the father, and the reason given for making the boy eat the child
was, that some evil would befall him if he had not done so.”

“However, the man himself having escaped, he, with others, went in the night to the hut of the savage who had killed his brother, and speared him dead; having done which, they cut the most of the flesh off his body, carrying it away on their spears to mark their triumph. The next day and night there was a continued uproar of dancing and singing, to notify their joy at these horrible events, during which, the mangled remains of the man were roasted between heated stones, and they eat part of them, and no mistake; for I saw them join in the horrible repast, and was requested to do so likewise, which of course I refused to do, evincing the greatest disgust at their proceedings.”

EvX: Buckley appears to feel some guilt upon relating this incident, because it will reflect badly upon his friends in the minds of his readers:

“Having been rescued from death by starvation, it is only natural that I should, from a feeling of gratitude, desire to save the natives from so great a reproach; but the truth must prevail, and that many of the natives inhabiting this part of the continent of New Holland are cannibals, under particular circumstances, cannot be doubted.” …

“Strange as all these cannibal ceremonies may appear, it is proper to explain, that many are performed out of what they consider respect for the deceased, the cap bones of whose knees, in this instance, after being carefully cleaned, were tied up in a sort of net of hair and twisted bark. Under such circumstances, these relics are carried by the mothers, tied round their necks
by day, and placed under their heads by night, as affectionate remembrancers of the dead. ”


“All those I met with, excepting in times of war, or lamentation, I found to be particularly fond of what they consider music, although they have no kind of instrument except the skin rug, which, stretched from knee to knee, they beat upon, others keeping time with sticks. So passionately attached are they even to this noise, that they often commence in the night, one family setting them on, until at last they one and all become a very jolly set, keeping it up in one continual strain until daylight. I have often wished them and their enchanting enlivening strains on the other side of the Continent, with the queer old conjuror who manages the props already mentioned…”

Life and Death:

“Considering how they are exposed to the weather, it is wonderful how little they suffer from idleness; for, excepting a sort of erysipelas, or scurvy, with which they are sometimes afflicted, they are In general very healthy. I never observed any European contagious disease prevalent, in the least degree; and this I thought strange. There was at one time however, I now recollect, a complaint which spread through the country, occasioning the loss of many lives, attacking generally the healthiest and strongest, whom it appeared to fix upon in preference to the more weakly. It was a dreadful swelling of the feet, so that they were unable to move about, being
also afflicted with ulcers of a very painful kind. ” …

“The natives live to about the same age, generally, as civilized people, some of them, to be very grey-headed. They have an odd idea of death, for they do not suppose that any one dies from natural causes, but from human agencies: such as those to which I have alluded in previous pages of this narrative. The women seldom have more than six children, and not often so many. So soon as they have as many as they can conveniently carry about and provide for, they kill the rest immediately after birth : not to eat them, as may be supposed, but with the idea that, for the sake of both parties, and under such circumstances, death is practical mercy.”

Technology and trade:

“… I must say something about their tomahawks … The heads of these instruments are made from a hard black stone, split into a convenient thickness, without much regard to shape. This they rub with a very rough granite stone, until it is brought to a fine thin edge, and so hard and sharp as to enable them to fell a very large tree with it. There is only one place that I ever heard of in that country, where this hard and splitting stone is to be had. The natives call it karkeen; and say that it is at a distance of three hundred miles from the coast, inland. The journey to fetch them is, therefore, one of great danger and difficulty; the tribes who inhabit the immediate localities being very savage, and hostile to all others. I was told, that it required an armed party of resolute fighting men, to obtain supplies of this very necessary article; so that the tomahawk is considered valuable for all purposes.”

EvX: Constant war makes trade impossible.

In a second incident that, like the Bunyip, appears to be based more in myth than reality, Buckley relates having met the Pallidurgbarrans:

“I had almost forgotten to say, that in my wanderings about, I met with the Pallidurgbarrans, a tribe notorious for their cannibal practices; not only eating human flesh greedily after a fight, but on all occasions when it was possible. They appeared to be the nearest approach to the brute creation of any I had ever seen or heard of; and, in consequence, they were very much dreaded. Their colour was light copper, their bodies having tremendously large and protrubing bellies. Huts, or artificial places for shelter, were unknown to them, it being their custom to lay about in the scrub, anyhow and anywhere. The women appeared to be most unnaturally ferocious, children being their most valued sacrifice. Their brutality at length became so harrassing, and their assaults so frequent, that it was resolved to set fire to the bush where they had sheltered themselves, and so annihilate them, one and all, by suffocation. This, in part, succeeded, for I saw no more of them in my time. The belief is, that the last of the race was turned into a stone, or rock, at a place where a figure was found resembling a man, and exceedingly well executed; probably the figure-head of some unfortunate ship. ”

The Pallidurgbarrans are apparently mythical, (I’ve been able to find rather little about them at all,) and Buckley’s account is given with no particular context connecting it to the rest of the narrative, indicating that it might, indeed, have been made up.

Of course this does not rule out the possibility of the account having some basis in fact–perhaps they are a tribe known more popularly under another name–though it seems unlikely that Buckley himself ever actually encountered them.

The story is actually a very common mythic trope–the woods (or swamps) are filled with sub-humans who engage in various acts seen as evil by their neighbors, such as cannibalism, incest, rape (carrying off women from nearby tribes,) etc. For example, the aboriginal people of Taiwan have a festival that commemorates a tribe of “dark-skinned pygmies” which they claim to have wiped out 400+ years ago for being too friendly with their women. Folks on the isle of Flores, Indonesia, speak of the Ebu Gogo–literally, “grandmother who will eat anything.” Wikipedia recounts:

The Nage people believe that the Ebu Gogo were alive at the time of the arrival of Portuguese trading ships in the 17th century, and some hold that they survived as recently as the 20th century, but are now no longer seen. The Ebu Gogo are believed to have been hunted to extinction by the human inhabitants of Flores. They believe that the extermination, which culminated around seven generations ago, was undertaken because the Ebu Gogo stole food from human dwellings, and kidnapped children.[4]

An article in New Scientist (Vol. 186, No. 2504) gives the following account of folklore on Flores surrounding the Ebu Gogo: The Nage people of central Flores tell how, in the 18th century, villagers disposed of the Ebu Gogo by tricking them into accepting gifts of palm fiber to make clothes. When the Ebu Gogo took the fiber into their cave, the villagers threw in a firebrand to set it alight. The story goes that all the occupants were killed except perhaps for one pair, who fled into the deepest forest, and whose descendants may be living there still.

Europeans, of course, have their child-snatching fairies and man-eating trolls, and we Americans have our “the woods are full of creepy serial killers” horror-movie trope.

We’ll continue next week!

Anthropology Friday: Still a Pygmy (pt 3) Bantus, Mobutu, and Witchcraft

Continuing with our review of Still a Pygmy, by Isaac Bacirongo and Michael Nest

 “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Tolstoy

One of the things I find interesting (and reassuring) when reading about other peoples and places is discovering that they have problems, too–it’s not just us. This is a bit of a personal life philosophy–when the going gets tough, I tell myself “Other people have been through this. You are not the only one. They got through it and so will you.” It is always useful to have some perspective on life.

These days, the biggest source of trouble in Pygmies’ lives isn’t leopards, but the Bantus. Of course this must be taken with a grain of salt, since the book was written by a Pygmy; perhaps Bantus have a whole list of their own grievances–maybe Pygmies “hunt” their livestock and “gather” their crops. I should try to be at least a little cautious of accepting uncritically a single account of relations between two groups of people I have no personal experience with.

Thankfully there is a lot of other evidence on the subject, and it looks like the Pygmies are generally on the losing end of Bantu violence, and the Bantus are not generally on the losing end of Pygmy violence. The Wikipedia: article on Pygmies quotes a BBC report:

In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN’s Indigenous People’s Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. In neighbouring North Kivu province there has been cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs (“the erasers”) who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation.[23] Both sides of the war regarded them as “subhuman” and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.[24] Makelo asked the UN Security Council to recognise cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.[25]

It’s sad that we have to add “cannibalism” to the list of “things people have to be explicitly told not to do.”

Since the world of Pygmy activists is pretty small, it’s not surprising that Isaac also mentions Sinafasi Makelo. “My position in APDMAC [A pygmy rights group] was Founder and Coordinator. Sinafasi, a Pygmy from the Mangurejipa Forest in North Kivu, was the Secretary.”

Continuing with Wikipedia:

According to Minority Rights Group International there is extensive evidence of mass killings, cannibalism and rape of Pygmies and they have urged the International Criminal Court to investigate a campaign of extermination against pygmies. Although they have been targeted by virtually all the armed groups, much of the violence against Pygmies is attributed to the rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, which is part of the transitional government and still controls much of the north, and their allies.[26]

The Pygmy population was also a target of the Interahamwe during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Of the 30,000 Pygmies in Rwanda, an estimated 10,000 were killed and another 10,000 were displaced. They have been described as “forgotten victims” of the genocide.[27] The current Rwandan Pygmy population is about 33,000, and is reportedly declining.[28]

By one estimate, the total number of Pygmies killed in the civil wars in Congo and Rwanda is 70,000.[27]

I am not sure that the Pygmies are actually being targeted anymore than everyone else in the area–the Tutsis have a pretty good claim to have been victims of genocide as well, and the Tutsis got back at the Hutus by massacring them. And plenty of ordinary Bantus living in the area have been raped, shot, massacred, and probably eaten, too. The only difference is that you never hear of the Pygmies being the victors (or aggressors) in these conflicts. Not that Pygmies are peace-loving forest hippies or something like that, but they are a tiny group of hunter-gatherers and therefore don’t have the numbers nor the weapons to attack their neighbors.

Regardless, the situation in the Congo is not good. As Reuters reports (2014):

A militia leader accused of kidnap, rape and cannibalism in Democratic Republic of Congo was killed on Monday alongside four other people during a firefight as he sought to escape his army captors, the government said. … U.N. experts said in December he switched his focus from poaching elephants to attacking gold mines. They accuse him and his men of kidnapping people to carry looted goods and of forcing women into being sexual slaves for militia members.

They said in another report last July that former captives had told them the group, known as “Mai Mai Morgan”, had engaged in cannibalism on several occasions.

From the Toronto Star, in a report about “child soldiers” (children kidnapped by the Congolese militias and forced into service):

“When you kill a Tutsi, you remove his heart and mix it with special potions, like a medicine,’’ explains Popy Matenda, rather blandly. “Other parts of the body can be eaten too but the heart is special. It gives you the strength of the person you killed, like you are sucking in his spirit. It’s a kind of magic.’’ … “It didn’t make me sick or anything, eating humans,’’ continues 15-year-old Matenda as he slurps up a cola, when what he’d really wanted was a whiskey. “You couldn’t even taste the flesh because it was all ground up with the medicine.”

From Worldcrunch, In Congo, A Tribal Chief Forced to Flee Cannibalistic Militia:

“Since 2003, 40 chiefs have been killed by the Mai-Mai, who ate their flesh, which they believe can strengthen their power and make them invulnerable to bullets. This has happened to the leaders Musumari, Mwele, Lwalaba, Dilenge, Kawama Mubidi, Kiyombo, Ntambo, Kileba …”

As I have noted before, the belief that eating people (or animals) can give you magic powers leads quickly down a very bad path. If you want an historical view, I recommend Cannibalism in the African Congo.

Isaac Bacirongo does not actually dwell much at all on the specific targeting of Pygmies for cannibalism and genocide. However, he does say:

The owners of the forest became those who had guns. If APDMAC went there and said, ‘Pygmies are the owners of the forest,’ they would put us in prison. In the past, pygmies id not worry about the future. Life was easy because it was easy to find something to eat and thee was only one need: meat. … Many had fled deep into the forest because of the fighting but life was hard because militias operated there as well. They might be killed or raped. there was no medicine in the forest and many people died because of this, including my papa. …

A lot of people are suffering back home and there is nothing I can do about it. In the north-east of Congo, a rebel militia went into the Ituri Forest to hunt Pygmies because they thought they could get magic powers from them. One of my aunts was also killed by rebel forces. They found out she was a Pygmy and wanted to learn about Pygmy magic because they thought it would help them in the forest. he told them she knew nothing, so they buried her alive. Sinafasi, one of the founders of APDMAC,went to the Unted Nations in New york to petition to include cannibalism as a crime against humanity, because other militas were eating Pygmies. The militas thout this would help them in the forest.

… In 2005, Kabungulu from Herieters de la Justice, the man who convinced me to become an activist, was murdered, probably because of his activist work. After that I got the news that 56 people in Bunyakiri were killed by a Hutu milita fighting the Congolese government. Among the dead were my sister’s husband, Josephine’s [his wife’s] nephew, the father of Akili (the nephew I brought to Australia,) and many other neighbors. …

The Pygmies’ reputation for magical powers, which earned them a special position in Bantu religious rituals (see last week’s Anthropology Friday,) definitely backfires when people decide they can get those same magic powers for themselves by eating you.

But enough sensationalism–let’s get back to the mundane, because the day-to-day lives of Congolese Pygmies obviously isn’t invading armies or cannibals.

As a small child, Isaac lived on the banana plantation where his parents worked and attended the local school. He was the only Pygmy at the school, for the simple reason that school cost money, which Pygmies generally could not afford, and because Pygmies tend to prefer living their lives and not worrying about school. But Isaac wanted to be like all of the other kids on the plantation, so he bugged his parents until they somehow scraped up the cash and sent him to school.

I first became aware of politics when I was at this school, because every morning we had to stand in assembly and sing praises to our president, Joseph Mobutu. The government forced shops to put up President Mobutu’s picture and some people even had a picture of Mobutu in their homes, although we didn’t in our hut made of sticks and leaves. … Mama and Papa knew about Mobutu but were not interested in politics and paid no attention to any of it.

Having to pay homage to Mobutu as part of a fake religion was pretty dumb, but a lot better than getting shot by invaders. Unfortunately, the kinds of people who set up fake religions about themselves are often idiots who do things like not pay their armies, which leads to your people getting shot by invaders.

My teacher at the school was Mr. Enoch. ‘Which tribe are you from?’ he asked me, as all the other students in the whole school were Shi. I told him ‘BaTembo.’ ‘That,’ he replied, ‘means you are a Pygmy.’ … Mr. Enoch despised me. He made a point of calling me a ‘Pygmy’ in a way that told the other students I was inferior. …

After three months at the Kabuga school I had a very bad experience. One day I wet my pants, and Mr Enoch hit me very hard with his fists and kicked me. Mr Enoch shouted, ‘that’s what I think of Pygmies!’ as he punched me… I remember bleeding from my ears and nose…

(Remember that Isaac was, at this time, only in the equivalent of kindergarten or first grade.)

My parents were not surprised to see me beaten half-dead by my teacher. They had told us that Bantu always treat Pygmies badly. But I did not understand Mr. Enoch when he told me that Pygmies are not human! …

After I arrived home my body started to swell up. My parents massaged me with hot water and herb from the forest. … The police asked my parents to pay 5 makutas–what they called the ‘arrest fee’–to arrest Mr. Enoch, but where could they get 5 makutas? … ‘Will you insist on going to school again?’ Papa asked. … ‘School is not for us. Now you see for yourself why we don’t go to school.’

Eventually Isaac does go back to school, after his parents move to a different area.

Isaac also recounts the story of a time when his mother was selling firewood, and a Bantu man did not like the price she asked for her wood, so he just hit her and stole her wood.

When Bantu cheat Pygmies or refuse to honor a promise of payment, they do not want the Pygmies to react badly. For example, most Pygmies work at times on the farms of Bantu villagers. The villager might promise to give them two or three measure of beans as payment, but then only give one. …

There are Pygmies who have had their lands sold to Bantu. If we complain, the territorial administrator or the lawyers will be given a cow by the person who bought the land, and because they have bee bought off, they do nothing for the Pygmies.

Anyway, Isaac finishes 10 years of schooling (plus part of year 11,) and sets out to get a job. He has more than enough education to become a teacher, but it is very tough to find people willing to hire a Pygmy teacher. He ends up going into business, leading to his successful pharmacy chain. Eventually he gets married to a town girl, Josephine. Unfortunately, Josephine and Isaac’s mom don’t get along:

Mama was not happy. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘you are marrying someone from a rich family. Town girls don’t know how to look for crabs or firewood…’ Mama wanted me to marry a girl from the forest. …

Mama also blamed Papa for me wanting to stay in town. ‘I told you not to send your son to school,’ she said, ‘because he will want to live in town. It will change his thinking and he won’t want to live in the forest.’ But Papa hadn’t sent me to school.

… Mama tried everything she could with witchcraft to kill Josephine.

Mama thought Josephine was controlling me, and told me the reason I did not return to the forest was because Josephine had used witchcraft to make me change my mind and beliefs… So Mama went to a witchdoctor to ask for magic herbs more powerful than those she thought Josephine had given me, to kill the power of Josephine’s magic. Mum tried to get me t eat these herbs and she placed others where I was sitting or stepping. The herbs did not work…

Mama then went to a woman who was known to be a sorceress, Nagabushu… Mama said that if Josephine were to die while pregnant with Deborah, people would think it was because of the pregnancy and would not suspect witchcraft. Nagabushu got upset and started fighting with Mum. ‘I’m not a sorceress!’ she shouted. ‘I’ve never killed anyone!’ …

In 1991, ten years after we married, Mama went to a different witchdoctor… He was an older man in his forties. … The witchdoctor told mama how powerful he was. ‘It will be very simple to kill your daughter-in-law,’ he said. ‘I have the power to bring storms, such as lighting storms… Someone died a few months ago from a lightning strike, and it was me who did that. … If you give me your youngest daughter, Sibaruzi, to be my wife that would be enough payment…’

Mama told Sibaruzi that if she refused to be the witchdoctor’s wife, everyone in our family would be killed. … mama escorted her to the witchdoctor and when they arrived he showed them teeth of wild animals, herbs and bottles of liquids. Sibaruzi was afraid. … She was twelve at the time and had not even had her first period. I still do not know how Mama could do this. What a bad heart!

Obviously the witchdoctor failed and Josephine is still alive and well. Eventually Sibaruzi figured out what was up and left, saying she never wanted to see him again. (What a creep.)

Amusingly, sometime I get witchdoctor spam, but being an idiot, I didn’t save the part I wanted to quote for you and my spam folder auto-deleted it. Oh, well. It was funny.

Well, Josephine, if it’s any consolation, I’ve heard lots horrible mother-in-law stories here in the US, too. I guess this means that “horrible mothers-in-law” may be a true human universal.

Animism, HeLa cells, and Mystical Flesh (pt 1)

Click here for: Part 2 and Part 3

(Do you ever just want to link to about a dozen posts and say, “Here, read all of this quickly and then carry on?)

I did a fair amount of research on animist religious traditions–specifically, those related to West African Vodun–for the Satanic Daycare Posts. Most of that didn’t make it into the posts, but it did manage to give me nightmares.

(Content warning: human sacrifice)

The past three “Anthropology Fridays” have focused on Edward B. Tylor’s description of Animism, the general religious belief that non-human entities, like animals, plants, and stones–have souls or spirits. (AF1: human sacrifice; AF2: animal sacrifice; AF3: plant and object sacrifice.)  Tylor believes that animism constitutes the original form of religious belief from which all others descended (an intriguing position, but nigh impossible to prove,) and that the practice of sacrifice (of people, animals, plants, and things,) follows naturally from the belief that their souls will journey on to the afterlife or spirit realm. Eg:

Of such rites in the Pacific islands, the most hideously purposeful accounts reach us from the Fiji group. Till lately, a main part of the ceremony of a great man’s funeral was the strangling of wives, friends, and slaves, for the distinct purpose of attending him into the world of spirits. Ordinarily the first victim was the wife of the deceased, and more than one if he had several, and their corpses, oiled as for a feast, clothed with new fringed girdles, with heads dressed and ornamented, and vermilion and turmeric powder spread on their faces and bosoms, were laid by the side of the dead warrior. Associates and inferior attendants were likewise slain, and these bodies were spoken of as ‘ grass for bedding the grave.’

(See also: Pictures from Oceana/Indonesia/Polynesia etc.)

“Animism” is a broad term that could be applied to thousands of religions; this post is specifically concerned with West African traditions and their religious descendants, aka Voodoo.

Organized religions like Christianity and Islam have conveniently (for me) written down their beliefs and worked hard to ensure that all of their members believe the same thing. Of course they don’t all believe the same thing, and there are always groups that are exceptions, but overall, we can say things like, “Jews are monotheists who focus on the diasporic experience;” “Muslims are monotheists who really like their prophet, Mohammad;” “Christians are monotheists but their god manifests in multiple different forms.” Talk to just about any adherent of these religions in the world, (Mormons excepted,) and you’ll find someone who agrees with one of these statements.

Polytheistic animist religions from non-literate societies are not so convenient. They happily morph and absorb new traditions and deities wherever they go–Catholicism where there were Catholics; Protestantism where there were Protestants; Islam where there were Muslims; indigenous American beliefs where there were Natives; and these days, apparently, Hindu iconography due to Hindus producing attractive-looking pictures of their deities. This creates a great deal of variation in individual local traditions, though we will be generally ignoring these to focus more on underlying commonalities and big-picture differences.

Of course, people are never content to leave names alone, presumably because there is some sort of elite cred to be earned by carefully enunciating the difference between “Voodoo” and “Vodou,” and because Vodou priests don’t like being associated with schlocky horror movies and Louisiana tourist shops.

So we have a proliferation of terms: West African Vodun, Haitian Vodou (aka Vaudou/Vadoun,) Cuban Vodu, Dominican Vudu, Brazilian Vodum aka Candomble, Louisiana Voodoo, American Hoodoo, West African Juju, Obeah, Santeria, Palo, etc.

For the sake of this post, if it sounds like “Voodoo,” I’m going to spell it “Voodoo.” If I mean a specific variant, like “Haitian Voodoo” or “West African Voodoo,” I’ll say that. If it’s a variety with a really different name, I’ll say something like, “Obeah Voodoo” or just “Obeah.”

I’ve collected some pictures:

Voodoo fetish market in Togo, West Africa
Voodoo fetish market in Togo, West Africa
Voodoo statue from Togo, West Africa
Voodoo statue from Togo, West Africa
Voodoo altar with fetishes, Benin, West Africa
Voodoo altar with fetishes, Benin, West Africa

Some Voodoo art is better looking, eg:

Voodoo Shrine, Benin
Is this what happens when the egg refuses to leave its nest? Voodoo Shrine, Benin
Voodoo Pantheon by sculptor Cyprien Tokoudagba of Benin
Voodoo Pantheon by sculptor Cyprien Tokoudagba of Benin

I think it’s reasonable to conclude that this religion involves a lot of penises.

All of the Voodoo variants basically believe that spirits exist, and you can get them to help you out by sacrificing things to them. These things can be anything from other people to cigarettes. The African varieties seem more likeley to involve human sacrifice, the Latin American and Caribbean varieties tend more toward animal sacrifice, and the American varieties toward herbal remedies and inanimate sacrifice, but exceptions always exist.

I should note that human sacrifice is not some kind of African universal, but it is more common than we like to think.

In 2001, the ritually-dismembered, headless torso of “Adam,” a Nigerian child about 5 or 6 years old, was found floating in the Thames. An autopsy revealed, via stomach contents and pollen found in his lungs, that he’d only been in Britain for a few days and had drunk a potion used in West African ritual magic. (There are approximately 180,000 Nigerians living in the UK.)

Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim’s real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent. ..

Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: “They used him for a ritual in the water.” Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water. (source)

These cases more normally happen in Africa, but then we tend to lack official police investigations, autopsies, and BBC articles, but there’s plenty of documentation if you look:

The Leopard Society was a West African secret society active in the early- to mid-20th century that practiced cannibalism.[1] They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards’ claws and teeth. The victims’ flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe. (source)

The “Refworld” (Refugee World) article on human sacrifice in Nigeria (from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) claims that,

According to various sources, ritual killings in Nigeria are performed to obtain human body parts for use in rituals, potions, and charms. The Lagos-based newspaper This Day explains that “ritualists, also known as headhunters, … go in search of human parts at the request of herbalists, who require them for sacrifices or for the preparation of various magical potions”. …

According to This Day, ritual murders are “a common practice” in Nigeria. … Similarly, a 2012 Daily Independent article states that “in recent times, the number of … brutal murders, mostly for ritual purposes and other circumstances, involving couples and their partners has been on a steady progression.” …

This Day reported that a confidential memo from the Nigerian police to registered security service providers indicated that ritual killings were particularly prevalent in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Abia, Kwara, Abuja, Rivers, and Kogi. … In 2010, one newspaper reported that dead bodies with missing organs were being discovered on a daily basis on a road close to Lagos State University that was described as a “hot spot for ritual killers.” A second newspaper reported in February 2011 that, in the same area, ten people had been killed in suspected ritual murders in the preceding two months. A 2009 article published by Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a state government official, the kidnapping of children for ritual murder was on the rise in Kano.

(I have removed the in-line citations because they make the article unreadable; check the original if you want their sources.)

Ju-Ju (Voodoo) house, Nigeria
Ju-Ju (Voodoo) house, Nigeria

According to Wikipedia,

Juju is sometimes used to enforce a contract or ensure compliance. In a typical scenario, a juju spell will be placed on a Nigerian woman before she is trafficked into Europe for a life in prostitution, to ensure that she will pay back her traffickers and won’t escape.[5][6][7]

From the BBC, Witch-Doctors Reveal Extent of Child Sacrifice in Uganda:

A BBC investigation into human sacrifice in Uganda has heard first-hand accounts which suggest ritual killings of children may be more common than authorities have acknowledged.

One witch-doctor led us to his secret shrine and said he had clients who regularly captured children and brought their blood and body parts to be consumed by spirits.

Meanwhile, a former witch-doctor who now campaigns to end child sacrifice confessed for the first time to having murdered about 70 people, including his own son.

The Ugandan government told us that human sacrifice is on the increase, and according to the head of the country’s Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity, and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly.

Wow, that’s a terrible side effect of increased prosperity. (You know it’s bad when you have an “Anti-Human Sacifice Taskforce.”)

A witch doctor explains:

“They capture other people’s children. They bring the heart and the blood directly here to take to the spirits… They bring them in small tins and they place these objects under the tree from which the voices of the spirits are coming,” he said.

Asked how often clients brought blood and body parts, the witch-doctor said they came “on average three times a week – with all that the spirits demand from them.”

We saw a beaker of blood and what appeared to be a large, raw liver in the shrine before it was destroyed, although it was not possible to determine whether they were human remains.

The witch-doctor denied any direct involvement in murder or incitement to murder, saying his spirits spoke directly to his clients.

He told us he was paid 500,000 Ugandan shillings (£160 or $260) for a consultation, but that most of that money was handed over to his “boss” in a nationwide network of witch-doctors.

Remember, reputable economists and immigration experts all agree that stemming the tide of mass migration from Africa to Europe is physically impossible, but not to worry, because all of these migrants will revitalize the European economy with their fecund vitality.

Thankfully, there is an anti-child-sacrifice movement in Uganda:

Former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela says he has persuaded 2,400 other witch-doctors to give up the trade since he himself repented in 1990.

Mr Angela told us he had first been initiated as a witch-doctor at a ceremony in neighbouring Kenya, where a boy of about 13 was sacrificed.

“The child was cut with a knife on the neck and the entire length from the neck down was ripped open, and then the open part was put on me,” he said.

When he returned to Uganda he says he was told by those who had initiated him to kill his own son, aged 10.

Ugandan child mutilated by witch doctors
Ugandan child mutilated by witch doctors

Okay, technically, Uganda is more central Africa than west Africa.

The Guardian reports:

Uganda has been shocked by a surge in ritualistic murders and human sacrifice, with police struggling to respond and public hysteria mounting at each gruesome discovery.

In 2008 more than 300 cases of murder and disappearances linked to ritual ceremonies were reported to the police with 18 cases making it to the courts. There were also several high-profile arrests of parents and relatives accused of selling children for human sacrifice. …

Both police and NGOs are attributing the surge to a new wave of commercial witch-doctors using mass media to market their services and demand large sums of money to sacrifice humans and animals for people who believe blood will bring great prosperity.

“Cases of child sacrifice have always existed, mainly in the Ugandan central region, but there is a new strain of traditional healers in Uganda and their geographical spread is mainly attributed to increased unemployment and poverty,” said Elena Lomeli. …

Maybe the BBC got the prosperity angle wrong.

“My experience working with victims suggests that the abusers are greedy people who want to get rich quick. In rural areas, people can sacrifice their own child. In urban areas, educated and rich people will look for somebody else’s.”

Looming food shortages and famine hitting Uganda’s poorest in the north and east are also feeding the demand for sacrificial rituals. “These are not poor people paying for these rituals, they are the wealthy elite taking advantage of the desperate poor,” said Binoga. “In January a 21-year-old woman was jailed for 16 months for kidnapping a child and trying to sell him to a witch-doctor for a large sum. These cases are on the increase.”

Ugandan police are increasingly linking the sudden increase in cases to organ trafficking. The anti-human trafficking taskforce said many of the bodies found in the past few months were missing organs such as kidneys, hearts and livers, a detail not consistent with many traditional ritualistic practices.

Sadly, Uganda may still be doing better than neighboring Rwanda (genocide) and the DRC (cannibalism):

Pygmy activists from Congo have demanded the United Nations set up a tribunal to try government and rebel fighters accused of slaughtering and eating Pygmies who are caught in the country’s civil war.

Army, rebel and tribal fighters – some believing the Pygmies are less than human or that eating the flesh would give them magic power – have been pursuing the Pygmies in the dense jungles, killing them and eating their flesh, the activists said at a news conference yesterday.

There have been reports of markets for Pygmy flesh, the representatives alleged.

“In living memory, we have seen cruelty, massacres, genocide, but we have never seen human beings hunted and eaten literally as though they were game animals, as has recently happened,” said Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti Pygmies in Congo.

… Earlier this year, human rights activists and UN investigators confirmed that rebels cooked and ate at least a dozen Pygmies and an undetermined number of people from other tribes during fighting with rival insurgents. There have been no reports of Congolese Army soldiers engaging in similar activity. (bold mine.)


That’s the end of the Africa section of this post.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the New World Voodoo varieties, where human sacrifice is thankfully less common. (Thank you, Columbus.)

Click here for: Part 2 and Part 3

Anthropology Friday: Tylor’s “Primitive Culture”

Today’s author is Edward B. Tylor, 1832 – 1917, father of modern anthropology. According to Wikipedia:

[Tylor] believed that there was a functional basis for the development of society and religion, which he determined was universal. … Tylor reintroduced the term animism (faith in the individual soul or anima of all things, and natural manifestations) into common use. He considered animism to be the first phase of development of religions. …

Tylor’s first publication was a result of his 1856 trip to Mexico with Christy. His notes on the beliefs and practices of the people he encountered were the basis of his work Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (1861). … Tylor continued to study the customs and beliefs of tribal communities, both existing and prehistoric (based on archaeological finds). He published his second work, Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, in 1865. Following this came his most influential work, Primitive Culture (1871). This was important not only for its thorough study of human civilisation and contributions to the emergent field of anthropology, but for its undeniable influence on a handful of young scholars, such as J. G. Frazer…

Tylor was an “evolutionist,” but not necessarily in the sense of having read Darwin’s Origins of the Species. Rather, the “evolution” of things–societies, philosophies, art styles, animals–from simpler to more complex forms over time was part of the zeitgeist of the age.

His methods were comparative and historical ethnography. He believed that a “uniformity” was manifest in culture, which was the result of “uniform action of uniform causes.” He regarded his instances of parallel ethnographic concepts and practices as indicative of “laws of human thought and action.” … The task of cultural anthropology therefore is to discover “stages of development or evolution.”

Evolutionism was distinguished from another creed, diffusionism, postulating the spread of items of culture from regions of innovation. A given apparent parallelism thus had at least two explanations: the instances descend from an evolutionary ancestor, or they are alike because one diffused into the culture from elsewhere. These two views are exactly parallel to the tree model and wave model of historical linguistics, which are instances of evolutionism and diffusionism, language features being instances of culture.

Also, things can arise independently, like echidnas and hedgehogs.

Anthropology basically abandoned this kind of thinking ages ago, partly because “evolution” as applied to human societies became a dirty word, partly because Marxist-Freudians took over the profession, and partly because cultures don’t always evolve uniformly and predictably from less to more complex.

That said, what I have read so far of Tylor’s work (one whole chapter!) is much better–and on a much more solid footing–than a great deal of what follows. He started from actual observations (most of which look pretty sound,) noticed a lot of parallels, and attempted to work out why. As a result, I think his work still interesting and valuable enough to be worth quoting.

For the sake of readability, I will be using “” marks, rather than blockquote-formatting.

So let’s begin!

Primitive Culture, ch. 11

“It is habitually found that the theory of Animism divides into two great dogmas, forming parts of one consistent doctrine; first, concerning souls of individual creatures, capable of continued existence after the death or destruction of the body ; second, concerning other spirits, upward to the rank of powerful deities. Spiritual beings are held to affect or control the events of the material world, and man’s life here and hereafter; and it being considered that they hold intercourse with men, and receive pleasure or displeasure from human actions, the belief in their existence leads naturally, and it might almost be said inevitably, sooner or later to active reverence and propitiation.”

“But a quaint and special group of beliefs will serve to display the thoroughness with which the soul is thus conceived as an image of the body. … Thus it was recorded of the Indians of Brazil by one of the early European visitors, that they ‘ believe that the dead arrive in the other world wounded or hacked to pieces, in fact just as they left this.’ Thus, too, the Australian who has slain his enemy will cut off the right thumb of the corpse, so that although the spirit will become a hostile ghost, it cannot
throw with its mutilated hand the shadowy spear, and may be safely left to wander, malignant but harmless.”

“Departing from the body at the time of death, the soul or spirit is considered set free to linger near the tomb, to wander on earth or flit in the air, or to travel to the proper region of spirits the world beyond the grave. …

“Men do not stop short at the persuasion that death releases the soul to a free and active existence, but they quite logically proceed to assist nature, by slaying men in order to liberate their souls for ghostly uses. [bold mine] Thus there arises one of the most widespread, distinct, and intelligible rites of animistic religion that of funeral human sacrifice for the service of the dead. When a man of rank dies and his soul departs to its own place, wherever and whatever that place may be, it is a rational inference of early philosophy that the souls of attendants, slaves, and wives, put to death at his funeral, will make the same journey and continue their service in the next life, and the argument is frequently stretched further, to include the souls of new victims sacrificed in order that they may enter upon the same ghostly servitude. It will appear from the ethnography of this rite that it is not strongly marked in the very lowest levels of culture, but that, arising in the lower barbaric stage, it develops itself in the higher, and thenceforth continues or dwindles in survival.

“Of the murderous practices to which this opinion leads, remarkably distinct accounts may be cited from among tribes of the Indian Archipelago. The following account is given of the funerals of great men among the rude Kayans of Borneo: ‘Slaves are killed in order that they may follow the deceased and attend upon him. Before they are killed the relations who surround them enjoin them to take
great care of their master when they join him, to watch and shampoo him when he is indisposed, to be always near him, and to obey all his behests. The female relatives of the deceased then take a spear and slightly wound the victims, after which the males spear them to death. Again, the opinion of the Idaan is ‘that all whom they kill in this world shall attend them as slaves after death.’

“This notion of future interest in the destruction of the human species is a great impediment to an intercourse with them, as murder goes farther than present advantage or resentment. From the same principle they will purchase a slave, guilty of any capital crime, at fourfold his value, that they may be his executioners.’

“With the same idea is connected the ferocious custom of ‘ head-hunting’ so prevalent among the Dayaks before Rajah Brooke’s time. They considered that the owner of every human head they could procure would serve them in the next world, where, indeed, a man’s rank would be according to his number of heads in this. They would continue the mourning for a dead man till a head was brought in, to provide him with a slave to accompany him to the ‘habitation of souls;’ a father who lost his child would go out and kill the first man he met, as a funeral ceremony ; a young man might not marry till he had procured a head, and some tribes would bury with a dead man the first head he had taken, together with spears, cloth, rice, and betel. Waylaying and murdering men for their heads became, in fact, the Dayaks’ national sport, and they remarked ‘ the white men read books, we hunt for heads instead.'”

EvX, here: Wikipedia confirms this report:

Interior of a Dayak house, decorated with skulls and weapons.
Interior of a Dayak house, decorated with skulls and weapons.

“There were various reasons for headhunting as listed below:

  • For soil fertility so Dayaks hunted fresh heads before paddy harvesting seasons after which head festival would be held in honour of the new heads.
  • To add supernatural strength which Dayaks believed to be centred in the soul and head of humans. Fresh heads can give magical powers for communinal protection, bountiful paddy harvesting and disease curing.
  • To avenge revenge for murders based on “blood credit” principle unless “adat pati nyawa” (customary compensation token) is paid.
Dayak headhunters
Dayak headhunters
  • To pay dowry for marriages e.g. “derian palit mata” (eye blocking dowry) for Ibans once blood has been splashed prior to agreeing to marriage and of course, new fresh heads show prowess, bravery, ability and capability to protect his family, community and land
  • For foundation of new buildings to be stronger and meaningful than the normal practice of not putting in human heads.
  • For protection against enemy attacks according to the principle of “attack first before being attacked”.
  • As a symbol of power and social status ranking where the more heads someone has, the respect and glory due to him. The warleader is called tuai serang (warleader) or raja berani (king of the brave) while kayau anak (small raid) leader is only called tuai kayau (raid leader) whereby adat tebalu (widower rule) after their death would be paid according to their ranking status in the community.

The Dutch eventually put an end to headhunting:

As the Dutch secured the islands they eliminated slavery, widow burning, head-hunting, cannibalism, piracy, and internecine wars.[21] Railways, steamships, postal and telegraph services, and various government agencies all served to introduce a degree of new uniformity across the colony. Immigration within the archipelago—particularly by ethnic Chinese, Bataks, Javanese, and Bugis—increased dramatically.

In 1901 the Dutch adopted what they called the Ethical Policy, under which the colonial government had a duty to further the welfare of the Indonesian people in health and education. Other new measures under the policy included irrigation programs, transmigration, communications, flood mitigation, industrialisation, and protection of native industry.[13] Industrialisation did not significantly affect the majority of Indonesians, and Indonesia remained an agricultural colony; by 1930, there were 17 cities with populations over 50,000 and their combined populations numbered 1.87 million of the colony’s 60 million.

See also: Pictures from Oceana / Indonesia / Polynesia etc.

Returning to Tylor:

“Of such rites in the Pacific islands, the most hideously purposeful accounts reach us from the Fiji group. Till lately, a main part of the ceremony of a great man’s funeral was the strangling of wives, friends, and slaves, for the distinct purpose of attending him into the world of spirits. Ordinarily the first victim was the wife of the deceased, and more than one if he had several, and their corpses, oiled as for a feast, clothed with new fringed girdles, with heads dressed and ornamented, and vermilion and turmeric powder spread on their faces and bosoms, were laid by the side of the dead warrior. Associates and inferior attendants were likewise slain, and these bodies were spoken of as ‘ grass for bedding the grave.’ When Ra Mbithi, the pride of Somosomo, was lost at sea, seventeen of his wives were killed; and after the news of the massacre of the Namena people, in 1839, eighty women were strangled to accompany the spirits of their murdered husbands. Such sacrifices took place under the same pressure of public opinion which kept up the widow-burning in modern India. The Fijian widow was worked upon by her relatives with all the pressure of persuasion and of menace; she understood well that life to her henceforth would mean a wretched existence of neglect, disgrace, and destitution;
and tyrannous custom, as hard to struggle against in the savage as in the civilized world, drove her to the grave.

“Thus, far from resisting, she became importunate for death, and the new life to come, and till public opinion reached a more enlightened state, the missionaries often used their influence in vain to save from the strangling-cord some wife whom they could have rescued, but who herself refused to live. So repugnant to the native mind was the idea of a chieftain going unattended into the other world, that
the missionaries’ prohibition of the cherished custom was one reason of the popular dislike to Christianity. Many of the nominal Christians, when once a chief of theirs was shot from an ambush, esteemed it most fortunate that a stray shot at the same time killed a young man at a distance from him, and thus provided a companion for the spirit of the slain chief.

“In America, the funeral human sacrifice makes its characteristic appearance. A good example may be taken from among the Osages, whose habit was sometimes to plant in the cairn raised over a corpse a pole with an enemy’s scalp hanging to the top. Their notion was that by taking an enemy and suspending his scalp over the grave of a deceased friend, the spirit of the victim became subjected to the spirit of the buried warrior in the land of spirits. Hence the last and best service that could be performed for a deceased relative was to take an enemy’s life, and thus transmit it by his scalp. The correspondence of this idea with that just mentioned among the Dayaks is very striking. With a similar intention, the Caribs would slay on the dead master’s grave any of his slaves they could lay hands on.

“Among the native peoples risen to considerably higher grades of social and political life, these practices were not suppressed but exaggerated, in the ghastly sacrifices of warriors, slaves, and wives, who departed to continue their duteous offices at the funeral of the chief or monarch in Central America and Mexico, in Bogota and Peru.”

EvX here:

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r 400px-Kodeks_tudela_21

The Aztecs were lovely folks.

Back to Tylor:

“Of such funeral rites, carried out to the death, graphic and horrid descriptions are recorded in the countries across Africa East, Central, and West. A headman of the Wadoe is buried sitting in a shallow pit, and with the corpse a male and female slave alive, he with a bill-hook in his hand to cut fuel for his lord in the death-world, she seated on a little stool with the dead chief’s head in her lap. A chief of Unyamwezi is entombed in a vaulted pit, sitting on a low stool with a bow in his right hand, and provided with a pot of native beer ; with him are shut in alive three women slaves, and the ceremony is concluded with a libation of beer on the earth heaped up above them all.

“The same idea which in Guinea makes it common for the living to send messages by the dying to the dead, is developed in Ashanti and Dahome into a monstrous system of massacre. The King of Dahome must enter Deadland with a ghostly court of hundreds of wives, eunuchs, singers, drummers,
and soldiers. Nor is this all. Captain Burton thus describes the yearly ‘Customs:’ ‘They periodically supply the departed monarch with fresh attendants in the shadowy world. For unhappily these murderous scenes are an expression, lamentably mistaken but perfectly sincere, of the liveliest filial piety.’ Even this annual slaughter must be supplemented by almost daily murder. Whatever action,
however trivial, is performed by the King, it must dutifully be reported to his sire in the shadowy realm. A victim, almost always a war-captive, is chosen ; the message is delivered to him, an intoxicating draught of rum follows it, and he is dispatched to Hades in the best of humours.'”

EvX, here. In 1859, the Macon Messenger published an obituary for King Gezo of Dahomey:

His majesty, the King of Dahomey, the great negro seller of Africa, has departed this life. He was in the habit of ransacking all the neighboring African kingdoms, for the purpose of making captives, whom he sold to the slavers. At his funeral obsequies, his loving subjects manifested their sorrow by sacrificing eight hundred negroes to his memory. He is succeeded by his son, King Gezo II.


Pictures from Oceana / Indonesia / Polynesia etc.

Lots of megaliths:

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.
Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui was built in the early 1200s (the talk page says 1300s); each of its three slabs weighs at least 30-40 tons.

“Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan,[1] as tribes whose natives were thought to have previously arrived about from mainland South China about 8000 years ago – into the edges of western Micronesia and on into Melanesia. … In the mid-2nd millennium BC a distinctive culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago, the chain of islands forming a great arch from New Britain to the Admiralty Islands. This culture, known as Lapita, stands out in the Melanesian archeological record, with its large permanent villages on beach terraces along the coasts. … Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Tonga and Samoa.[2] In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed. The Polynesians are then believed to have spread eastward from the Samoan Islands into the Marquesas, the Society Islands, the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island; and south to New Zealand. The pattern of settlement also extended to the north of Samoa to the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia.[3][4][5]” (source) (bold mine)


Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island
Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island (source)
In't it cute?
Palindo, a megalith in Lore Lindu National Park, Indonesia

“Various archaeological studies have dated the carvings from between 3000 BC to 1300 AD.[4]

Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915
Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915

“The story has it that it took 525 people three days to erect this stone in the village of Bawemataloeo. (P. Boomgaard, 2001)” (source)

Wikipedia claims that Nias is a popular surfing and tourist destination, but beware that, “… transport links on and to the island have become poor. Internally, the road system is in a very bad condition. Externally the air and ferry links are unreliable. There are two ferry terminals (Gunungsitoli and Teluk Dalam) and an airport (Binaka, near G. Sitoli[6]) on the island, serviced mainly from Sibolga and Medan respectively. However, local ferry companies regularly go out of business (or their boats sink), so only one terminal may be active at any given time. Since the 2005 earthquake, transportation has improved to cope with the increase in travel needs for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.”

Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935
Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935


A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch
A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch

Elsewhere in Indonesia, “Ritual cannibalism was well documented among pre-colonial Batak people, being performed in order to strengthen the eater’s tendi.[2] In particular, the blood, heart, palms and soles of the feet were seen as rich in tendi.”

Marco Polo claims, “They suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man’s kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them…And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway.[7]

There’s some debate on just how much cannibalism the Batak were engaged in. “Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 1820s studied the Batak and their rituals and laws regarding the consumption of human flesh… Raffles stated that “It is usual for the people to eat their parents when too old to work,” and that for certain crimes a criminal would be eaten alive: “The flesh is eaten raw or grilled, with lime, salt and a little rice.”[11]”

But, “German physician and geographer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn visited the Batak lands in 1840-41. Junghuhn says about cannibalism among the Batak (whom he called “Battaer”):

“People do the honest Battaer an injustice when it is said that they sell human flesh in the markets, and that they slaughter their old people as soon as they are unfit for work…They eat human flesh only in wartime, when they are enraged, and in a few legal instances.” “

“Oscar von Kessel visited Silindung in the 1840s and in 1844 was probably the first European to observe a Batak cannibalistic ritual in which a convicted adulterer was eaten alive. … von Kessel states that cannibalism was regarded by the Batak as a judicial act and its application was restricted to very narrowly defined infringements of the law including theft, adultery, spying or treason. Salt, red pepper and lemons had to be provided by the relatives of the victim as a sign that they accepted the verdict of the community and were not thinking of revenge.[14]”

Prisoners of war are tied to a tree and beheaded at once; but the blood is carefully preserved for drinking, and sometimes made into a kind of pudding with boiled rice. The body is then distributed; the ears, the nose, and the soles of the feet are the exclusive property of the Rajah, who has besides a claim on other portions. The palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the flesh of the head, and the heart and liver, are reckoned peculiar delicacies, and the flesh in general is roasted and eaten with salt. The Regents assured me, with a certain air of relish, that it was very good food, and that they had not the least objection to eat it. The women are not allowed to take part in these grand public dinners.”[15]

“Samuel Munson and Henry Lyman, American Baptist missionaries to the Batak, were cannibalized in 1834. … In 1890 the Dutch colonial government banned cannibalism in the regions under their control.[18] Rumors of Batak cannibalism survived into the early 20th century but it seems probable that the custom was rare after 1816, due partially to the influence of Islam.[19]”

Debating exactly how much cannibalism was going on seems to miss the big picture.

Traditional house, Nias
Traditional house, Nias
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja

“Each monolith here memorializes a particular deceased person, although – since the standing stones are neither carved nor signed – the person’s name may be soon forgotten. The buildings in the background, at the base of the hill, were erected as temporary pavilions for the funeral celebrations; they may eventually be reused here, disassembled and re-erected nearby, kept up for tourist visits, or left to deteriorate, depending on local condition.” (source)

Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja
Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja

“In Toraja society, the funeral ritual is the most elaborate and expensive event. … The death feast of a nobleman is usually attended by thousands and lasts for several days. … The ceremony is often held weeks, months, or years after the death so that the deceased’s family can raise the significant funds needed to cover funeral expenses. … During the waiting period, the body of the deceased is wrapped in several layers of cloth and kept under the tongkonan. …

“Slaughtering tens of water buffalo and hundreds of pigs using a machete is the climax of the elaborate death feast, with dancing and music and young boys who catch spurting blood in long bamboo tubes. … As with the sacrifice of the buffalo and the pigs, the cockfight is considered sacred because it involves the spilling of blood on the earth. … it is common for at least 25 pairs of chickens to be set against each other in the context of the ceremony.

“… The wealthy are often buried in a stone grave carved out of a rocky cliff. The grave is usually expensive and takes a few months to complete. In some areas, a stone cave may be found that is large enough to accommodate a whole family. A wood-carved effigy, called Tau tau, is usually placed in the cave looking out over the land.[30] The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground.

“In the ritual called Ma’Nene, that takes place each year in August, the bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed and dressed in new clothes.[31] The mummies are then walked around the village.[32]”


Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia
Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia

Indonesia has some nice looking temples, called Candi:

8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Prambanan complex, 9th century
Prambanan complex, 9th century


Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
10th century candi, photo by Dany13
10th century candi, photo by Dany13

As far as I can gather–though this is somewhat iffy because some of the sources sounded speculative and some of them that seemed better weren’t in English, and I couldn’t figure out what language they were in in order to translate them, but anyway–Indonesia has an ancient tradition of building “step pyramids” out of rocks, which morphed over time into building these big candi stupas, with some Hindu and Buddhist influence along the way.

I haven’t found many good pics of the ancient sites; one supposed ancient site appears to be a bunch of naturally-occurring basalt that people might have moved around, but the Wikipedia page on it sounded so questionable, I opted not to include it. (Again, there was a page that looked better, but was not in English.)

The ruined city of Nan Madol, Pohnpei island, Micronesia
The ruined city of Nan Madol, built in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei island, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol, constructed in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol

Understanding Law in Micronesia notes that The Federated States of Micronesia’s laws and legal institutions are “uninterestingly similar to [those of Western countries]”. However, it explains that “law in Micronesia is an extraordinary flux and flow of contrasting thought and meaning, inside and outside the legal system”.”  …

“The people [of Micronesia] today form many ethnicities, but are all descended from and belong to the Micronesian culture. The Micronesian culture was one of the last native cultures of the region to develop. It developed from a mixture of Melanesians, Polynesians, and Filipinos. Because of this mixture of descent, many of the ethnicities of Micronesia feel closer to some groups in Melanesia, Polynesia or the Philippines. A good example of this are the Yapese who are related to Austronesian tribes in the Northern Philippines.[25] A 2011 survey found that 93.1% of Micronesian are Christians.[26]” (source)

Speaking of Micronesia:

Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Island, Micronesia
Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Atoll, Micronesia

“The islands of Bokonijien, Aerokojlol, and Nam were vaporized during nuclear tests that occurred there.”

Economy: “Additional money comes in from government grants, mostly from the United States, and the $150 million the US paid into a trust fund for reparations of residents of Bikini Atoll that had to move after nuclear testing.”

Apparently the radiation fallout affected some nearby islands, where a bunch of people got radiation poisoning and had to move. (Some Japanese fishermen, who hadn’t been warned about top-secret military testing, got killed by the blast.)

“Most residents of Micronesia can freely move to, and work within, the United States.”

“The roughly 3000 residents of the Federated States of Micronesia that reside in Kapingamarangi, nicknamed ‘Kapings’, are both one of the most remote and most difficult people to visit in Micronesia and the entire world. Their home atoll is almost a 1000-mile round trip to the nearest point of immigration check-in and check-out. There are no regular flights. The only way to legally visit is to first check-in, travel on a high-speed sailboat to the atoll, and then backtrack almost 500 miles. Owing to this difficulty, only a handful of the few sailors that travel across the Pacific will attempt to visit.”

It looks like an amoeba

Technically, both Bhutan and North Sentinel Island sound harder to get to (and North Korea?) but point taken.

I was wondering if Indonesians knew about Australia (it seems like they would have,) and it turns out that at least some of them did: “Fishing fleets began to visit the northern coasts of Australia from Makassar (formerly Ujung Pandang) in southern Sulawesi, from about 1720, but possibly earlier. While Campbell Macknight’s classic study of the Makassan trepang industry accepts the start of the industry as about 1720, with the earliest recorded trepang voyage made in 1751,[5] Regina Ganter of Griffith University notes a Sulawesi historian who suggests a commencement date for the industry of about 1640.[6] Ganter also notes that for some anthropologists, the extensive impact of the trepang industry on the Yolngu people suggests a longer period of contact. Arnhem land rock art, recorded by archaeologists in 2008, appears to provide further evidence of Makassan contact in the mid-1600s.[7]


Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).
Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).

Prehistoric Australia is known primarily for its nomadic hunter-gatherers, but they did build some permanent or semi-permanent stone houses and other structures, eg:

Ancient Aborigine stone house, Heword Lake Condah Ruins
Remains of 1,700 year old Aboriginal stone house, Lake Condah Ruins
Lake Condah  Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works
Lake Condah Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works

More about the Lake Condah stone houses.

The website Trans-Pacific Project wonders if Polynesians made contact (and trade) with the Americas:

Did Polynesians make it to the Americas?

Don’t forget possible Melanesian DNA in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest.

They don't move them very often.
Rai stone, used as currency on the island of Yap
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat

“On his first voyage of Pacific exploration Cook had the services of a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who drew a hand-drawn Chart of the islands within 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius (to the north and west) of his home island of Ra’iatea. Tupaia had knowledge of 130 islands and named 74 on his Chart.[47] Tupaia had navigated from Ra’iatea in short voyages to 13 islands. He had not visited western Polynesia, as since his grandfather’s time the extent of voyaging by Raiateans has diminished to the islands of eastern Polynesia. His grandfather and father had passed to Tupaia the knowledge as to the location of the major islands of western Polynesia and the navigation information necessary to voyage to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.” (source)

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

“The Samoan Crisis was a confrontation standoff between the United States, Imperial Germany and Great Britain from 1887–1889 over control of the Samoan Islands during the Samoan Civil War. The incident involved three American warships, USS Vandalia, USS Trenton and USS Nipsic and three German warships, SMS Adler, SMS Olga, and SMS Eber, keeping each other at bay over several months in Apia harbour, which was monitored by the British warship HMS Calliope.

“The standoff ended on 15 and 16 March when a cyclone wrecked all six warships in the harbour.” (source)


Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Fijian mountain warrior
Fijian mountain warrior

Pottery art from Fijian towns shows that Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC, although the question of Pacific migration still lingers. It is believed that the Lapita people or the ancestors of the Polynesians settled the islands first but not much is known of what became of them after the Melanesians arrived…”

“Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes were quite rampant and very much part of everyday [Fijian] life.[22] During the 19th century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.[23] According to Deryck Scarr (“A Short History of Fiji”, 1984, page 3), “Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. ‘Eat me!’ was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief.” Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief’s house or the priest’s temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and “men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed” (Scarr, page 3). Also, when a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, “it would not be expected to float long” (Scarr, page 19). Fijians today regard those times as “na gauna ni tevoro” (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles; as a result, Fiji remained unknown to the rest of the world.[24]”


Remember, folks, whites are the most evil people to ever walk the face of the earth, and indigenous native peoples were all peaceful, non-violent matriarchists:

Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)
Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)

“The future of life on the planet depends on bringing the 500-year rampage of the white man to a halt. For five centuries his ever more destructive weaponry has become far too common. His widespread and better systems of exploiting other humans and nature dominate the globe. The time for replacing white supremacy with new values is now.”

What kind of non-white values ? Cannibalism? Burkas? Living without white technology like vaccines, antibiotics, and telephones?

“And just as some whites played a part in ending slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow segregation, and South African apartheid, there is surely a role whites can play in restraining other whites in this era.”

LOL what? Who, exactly, fought and died in the Civil War? A bunch of white people, you ass. Who put a stop to the slave trade in Africa? The English. (and probably the French, Dutch, etc.) Who stopped cannibalism throughout the world? Americans, Dutch, English, French, and missionaries from the world’s great religions–Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (The influence of the last three on the bulk of Indonesia seems obvious enough.) Whites don’t have a monopoly on greatness, but the claim that whites have done nothing for the planet is not only ignorant bullshit, but displays a profound ignorance of and refusal to learn about the histories and cultures of the entire non-white part of the world.

Normally, SJWs might deem spouting astonishingly ignorant nonsense about non-whites “racist,” but so long as your ignorance is being used to attack whites, then obviously everything is peachy keen and you’re worthy of publication on a major liberal website.

The sunken continent of Zealandia
The sunken continent of Zealandia

“Pre-European Māori had no distance weapons except for tao (spears)[14] and the introduction of the musket had an enormous impact on Māori warfare. Tribes with muskets would attack tribes without them, killing or enslaving many.[15] As a result, guns became very valuable and Māori would trade huge quantities of goods for a single musket. From 1805 to 1843 the Musket Wars raged until a new balance of power was achieved after most tribes had acquired muskets. In 1835, the peaceful Moriori of the Chatham Islands were attacked, enslaved, and nearly exterminated by mainland Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori.[16] In the 1901 census, only 35 Moriori were recorded although the numbers subsequently increased.” (source)

Maori people
Maori people

“During the Musket wars, it has been estimated that the total number of the Māori population dropped from about 100,000 in 1800 to between 50,000 and 80,000 at the end of the wars in 1843. The 1856–1857 census of Māori, which gives a figure of 56,049, suggests the lower number of around 50,000 is perhaps more accurate. … the Maori suffered high mortality rates for new Eurasian infectious diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles, which killed an unknown number of Māori: estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.” (source)

Model of fortified Maori town
Model of fortified Maori town

“Initial contact between Māori and Europeans proved problematic, sometimes fatal, with several accounts of Europeans being cannibalised.[35] … In the Boyd Massacre in 1809, Māori took hostage and killed 66 members of the crew and passengers in apparent revenge for the captain’s whipping the son of a Māori chief. Given accounts of cannibalism in this attack, shipping companies and missionaries kept a distance and significantly reduced contact with the Māori for several years.” (source)



Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is "Filipino" spelled with an F?)
Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is “Filipino” spelled with an F?)

“The realm of legend suggests that Ui-te-Rangiora around the year 650, led a fleet of Waka Tīwai south until they reached, “a place of bitter cold where rock-like structures rose from a solid sea”,[21] The brief description appears to match the Ross Ice Shelf or possibly the Antarctic mainland,[22] but may just be a description of icebergs and Pack Ice found in the Southern Ocean[23][24]

“Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather.[32]

“Harold Gatty suggested that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of bird migrations. There are some references in their oral traditions to the flight of birds and some say that there were range marks onshore pointing to distant islands in line with the West Pacific Flyway. A voyage from Tahiti, the Tuamotus or the Cook Islands to New Zealand might have followed the migration of the long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis) just as the voyage from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi would coincide with the track of the Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva) and the bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis). It is also believed that Polynesians employed shore-sighting birds as did many seafaring peoples. One theory is that they would have taken a frigatebird (Fregata) with them. These birds refuse to land on the water as their feathers will become waterlogged making it impossible to fly. When the voyagers thought they were close to land they may have released the bird, which would either fly towards land or else return to the canoe.

“For navigators near the equator celestial navigation is simplified since the whole celestial sphere is exposed. Any star that passes the zenith (overhead) is on the celestial equator, the basis of the equatorial coordinate system. The stars are known by their declination, and when they rise or set they determine a bearing for navigation. For example, in the Caroline Islands Mau Piailug taught natural navigation using a star compass. The development of “sidereal compasses” has been studied[33] and theorized to have developed from an ancient pelorus.[32]

“It is likely that the Polynesians also used wave and swell formations to navigate. Many of the habitable areas of the Pacific Ocean are groups of islands (or atolls) in chains hundreds of kilometers long. Island chains have predictable effects on waves and on currents. Navigators who lived within a group of islands would learn the effect various islands had on their shape, direction, and motion and would have been able to correct their path in accordance with the changes they perceived. When they arrived in the vicinity of a chain of islands they were unfamiliar with, they may have been able to transfer their experience and deduce that they were nearing a group of islands. Once they had arrived fairly close to a destination island, they would have been able to pinpoint its location by sightings of land-based birds, certain cloud formations, as well as the reflections shallow water made on the undersides of clouds. It is thought that the Polynesian navigators may have measured the time it took to sail between islands in “canoe-days” or a similar type of expression.[32]”

“The first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have sailed from the Marquesas Islands using Polynesian navigation methods.[34] To test this theory, the Hawaiian Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973. The group built a replica of an ancient double-hulled canoe called the Hōkūle‘a, whose crew successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976 without instruments. In 1980, a Hawaiian named Nainoa Thompson invented a new method of non instrument navigation (called the “modern Hawaiian wayfinding system”), enabling him to complete the voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti and back. In 1987, a Māori named Matahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell) and his mentor Francis Cowan sailed from Tahiti to Aotearoa without instruments.” (source)

“Indigenous Culture Day” celebrates genocidal cannibals who were even worse than Columbus

Cranky writing is best writing!

The only reason why we started celebrating “Columbus Day” was to make the Irish and Italians feel like Catholics can be real Americans, too, not just Protestants.

“Columbus Day” isn’t really about celebrating Columbus. Not as a person. Nobody says, “Read this biography of a great man from infancy to dotage and try to be more like him!” Columbus day is about celebrating what Columbus did–find a New World and launch the Age of Exploration and discovery.

Do I care about Columbus Day? No. Don’t be silly. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually celebrates Columbus Day, but maybe the Italians are really into it. If so, I don’t begrudge them a holiday. However, I do care about Columbus’s accomplishments.

“But Columbus was an idiot who only found the New World by accident!” I hear someone protest.

Yeah, well, I don’t see you discovering any continents lately. Where does that put you on the intellect ladder? Also, Penicillin was discovered by accident, so I guess it doesn’t count, either.

Here, I’ll take all of the penicillin, and you can go play with rodents. We’ll see which of us survives the longest.

“But Columbus was an asshole,” someone protests. “He conquered and enslaved people!”

Guys, it was the 14 hundreds. Pretty much EVERYBODY in the 1400s thought it was okay to conquer and enslave people. If you start applying modern standards to people from the 1400s, you’ll discover that none of them meet your standards.

You want to celebrate “Indigenous Culture Day” instead of Columbus Day? Do you know what kind of assholes indigenous cultures were full of?


Let’s hear it for the Aztecs, one of those peaceful wonderful indigenous cultures Columbus’s Spanish employers went and conquered as a result of his voyages.

They liked to rip people’s beating hearts out of their bodies as human sacrifices to their gods.

Also, they were cannibals who caught people, sacrificed them, butchered them, and then ate them.

The Spaniard’s pigs, however, they just killed and threw in a well. WTF do you do with one of those things? They didn’t know. Humans, however, they knew what to do with: eat them.

The Wikipedia records many documented cases of Aztec cannibalism:

  • Hernán Cortés wrote in one of his letters that his soldiers had captured an indigenous man who had a roasted baby ready for breakfast.
  • Francisco López de Gómara (c. 1511 – c. 1566) reported that, during the siege of Tenochtitlan, the Spaniards asked the Aztecs to surrender since they had no food. The Aztecs angrily challenged the Spaniards to attack so they could be taken as prisoners, sacrificed and served with “molli” sauce.
  • The Historia general… contains an illustration of an Aztec being cooked by an unknown tribe. This was reported as one of the dangers that Aztec traders faced. …Bernal Díaz’s The Conquest of New Spain (written by 1568, published 1632) contains several accounts of cannibalism among the people the conquistadors encountered during their warring expedition to Tenochtitlan.
    • About the city of Cholula, Díaz wrote of his shock at seeing young men in cages ready to be sacrificed and eaten.[1]
    • In the same work Diaz mentions that the Cholulan and Aztec warriors were so confident of victory against the conquistadors in an upcoming battle the following day, that “…they wished to kill us and eat our flesh, and had already prepared the pots with salt and peppers and tomatoes”[2]
    • About the Quetzalcoatl temple of Tenochtitlan Díaz wrote that inside there were large pots, where human flesh of sacrificed Natives was boiled and cooked to feed the priests.[3]
    • About the Mesoamerican towns in general Díaz wrote that some of the indigenous people he saw were—:
    eating human meat, just like we take cows from the butcher’s shops, and they have in all towns thick wooden jail-houses, like cages, and in them they put many Indian men, women and boys to fatten, and being fattened they sacrificed and ate them.[4]

    Díaz’s testimony is corroborated by other Spanish historians who wrote about the conquest. In History of Tlaxcala (written by 1585), Diego Muñoz Camargo (c. 1529 – 1599) states that:

    Thus there were public butcher’s shops of human flesh, as if it were of cow or sheep.[5]

Is that what you want to fucking celebrate? THIS IS WHAT YOU THINK WAS BETTER THAN COLUMBUS?

No, hunter-gatherers were not peaceful paragons of gender equality. Stop fucking saying that. It is a lie. There is no evidence to back it up. Primitive, pre-modern societies had absolutely atrocious crime rates. There are real live fucking cannibals living right now in the Congo rainforest. They eat the Pygmies (and each other.)

And this is supposed to be my fault? “White privilege” is the magic sauce that explains why some cultures produce penicillin and others produce cannibals.

Of course, the Aztecs are only one group. The Pueblo peoples also practiced cannibalism. Cannibalism was practiced among various coastal tribes stretching from Texas to Louisiana.

When Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame inquired about the fate of the lost Roanoke Colony, Chief Powhatan–you know, the Pocahontas’s dad, the guy who’d tried to kill John Smith–confessed to having massacred them all. Historians aren’t sure if this is actually true–Powhatan might have just confused them with some other guys he’d massacred–but the fact remains that Powhatan and his people went around massacring their neighbors regularly enough that, “Oh yeah, we killed them all,” was seen as a reasonable explanation by everyone involved.

It wasn’t too many years later that the Powhatan tried to do the same thing to Jamestown, killing about a quarter of the people there.

Celebrating Columbus was never about Columbus, and denigrating Columbus isn’t about Columbus, either. Celebrating Columbus is about celebrating American history and the contributions of Catholic-Americans to that history; denigrating Columbus is about denigrating American history and European contributions to it.

Who should be the America’s moral superior and successor? Whose successes should we celebrate instead of Columbus’s? Should the people of Mexico overthrow the culture of their evil oppressors and go back to holding human sacrifices in the middle of Mexico City?

Funny, I don’t see a lot of people trying to go live in Mexico, much less return to the actual lives of their indigenous ancestors. Most people seem to like having things like penicillin, cell phones, cars, air conditioning and sewers, and dislike things like cannibalism and constant tribal warfare. The process by which civilization was made was not pretty, but civilization is good and we should celebrate it.

We should not attack people’s cultural heroes just to denigrate their nation.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving, since the backlog means that this post isn’t going up for a month.