Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2013
Enid Schildkrout and Curtiz Keim report that today, the Mangbetu, who were famous cannibals in travelogues of the 19th century in the Congo, tell tales of their former cannibalism with great amusement and point to the Eucharist as evidence that Europeans manifest the same tastes and even practise cannibalism overtly (Schildkrout and Keim 1990:258 n 3, 34). This (anecdotal) connection between the Eucharist and cannibalism has also been noted by other Western scholars. A few of them attempted to relate in particular the identification of Catholic missionaries as cannibals by Africans with the transcendent cannibalism inherent in the Eucharist and the Mass. They argued that Africans' understandings of missionary action led to cannibal (and vampire) accusations (cf. Fox-Pitt cit. White 2000).
Yet, in Africa, even before the arrival of Christian missionaries, Western travellers and explorers were rather often identified as cannibals by local people, an identification that was made independent of missionary practices of the Eucharist. Besides missionaries, colonial administrators were also associated with cannibalism. It follows that the identification of white men with cannibals conforms, above all, to the ‘classical’ stereotype of radical otherness. This chapter attempts to show that while the figure of the resurrecting cannibal in Tooro was indeed informed by missionary practices, the transcendent cannibalism inherent in the Holy Communion seems to have played only a minor role.
Whereas the relationship between cannibalism and the Eucharist in the history of the West was hotly debated (see Chapter Three), in the 19th century in Central Africa, more or less enlightened missionaries either silenced or rationalized the Eucharist when teaching Africans.