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3 - ‘Eating God’: Western Images of the Cannibal and the Eucharist

from Part One - EATING/BEING EATEN

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Heike Behrend
Affiliation:
University of Cologne
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Summary

In his famous article on the techniques of the body, Marcel Mauss encouraged scholars to move and explore the margins between their disciplines ‘where professors eat each other’, because in these deserted spaces the most urgent problems are to be found (Mauss 1975:199). By referring to ‘cannibalizing professors’ Mauss connected the protagonists of Western episteme with the most ostracized practice of eating, cannibalism, bridging the domains that are normally carefully separated, in particular by professors of anthropology (cf. Därmann 2010).

Cannibalism, in its many variations, seems everywhere to have been a matter of some cultural preoccupation – not only of Western anthropologists. It is not only in the West that interest in man-eating amounts almost to an obsession, but also societies in Papua New Guinea, Australia, Asia, the Americas and in Africa have produced cannibal discourses and sometimes cannibal practices.

Cannibalism is clearly not a unitary phenomenon but varies in both cultural content and meaning. The difference between exo- and endo-cannibalism is deceptive and, besides the extremes, there are different intermediary forms that undermine clear-cut oppositions (Lévi-Strauss 1985). Mortuary, famine and revenge cannibalism, torture and sacrifice vary in both cultural content and meaning. Cannibalism may be displayed in the anguish of mourning; it may be an aspect of the life-cycle and rituals of regeneration; it may be projected outwardly to the realm of the gods or an ethnic landscape or inwardly as an idiom of dreams; it may be defined as a monstrous act against society or as a sacred moral duty (Sanday 1986:X).

Type
Chapter
Information
Resurrecting Cannibals
The Catholic Church, Witch-Hunts and the Production of Pagans in Western Uganda
, pp. 41 - 52
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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