Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Origin of Cannibals

I'm sure that you know what a cannibal is, but where did the word come from?  Do you know?  I will give you a hint, the fellow that gave us cannibals is celebrated with his own holiday every October.

Christopher Columbus is the man who gave us the word cannibal.  Let me explain, when he landed in Guadeloupe and found a Carib village, he and his men found signs of cannibalism everywhere.  The stench of decaying flesh sickened them.  They saw severed limbs hanging up inside houses, as if they were being stored for later feasts.  They saw bones stacked by the hearths.  They described acts of cannibalism.

Columbus brought this information back to Queen Isabella of Spain.  She decided that the Carib people would be better off as slaves then to live such a horrible lives eating one another, so she declared that the Spanish colonists in the New World could enslave the indigenous population if they were cannibals.  It is amazing just how many cannibals the Spanish were able to find in the New World, once they had an economic motivation to locate them. 

The "real" story, according to some French missionaries, is that the Carib practiced ancestor worship (the bones near the hearth), trophy taking (the severed arms of defeated enemy warriors hanging in homes) and ritual cannibalism (if I take a bite out of this arm, then I will gain the power of the warrior who once had this arm).  They did not, as Columbus and his crew accused them, eat human flesh as food.  Yet, the culture clash was so great that Columbus could come to no other conclusion.

The word cannibal is derived from the Spanish word, canibal.  Which is an indigenous person living on islands in the Caribbean Sea or on a section of the Spanish Main known as Caniba.  Christopher Columbus coined the word to name the evil, flesh-eating natives that he had discovered.   It is interesting to note that the Carib word for person is karibna and that the Carib are also called caribales, by the Spanish of the period.

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