English 165CL: Caribbean Literature (Winter 2002)
Department of English
University of California, Santa Barbara

Class discussion of early modern imagining of the New World Native Americans

"Such of late
Columbus found the American, so girt
With feathered cincture, naked else and wild,
Among the trees on isles and woody shores."
-- Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 9


Theodore de Bry copper engravings of J. de Léry Le Voyage au Brézil de Jean de Léry 1556-1558 (La Rochelle, 1578)

Image I: Indian Cannibalism
During this battle, a number of the Tipiniki Indians were captured and killed. On the way back to their settlement at Ubatúba, the Tupinambá camped near the mountains of Taquarussu. There they killed, cut up, roasted and ate some of their enemy. The chief offered some flesh to Staden who refused it, saying ‘even animals don’t eat their own kind’, to which the chief replied: ‘I am a jaguar, it tastes good’.

Image II: Further Indian Cannibalism
While Staden was still in captivity, he witnessed more cannibalism. On of their captives who fell ill was killed. Because the Tupinamba Indians said he was too ugly, they cut off the head and threw it away. They also threw away his intestines because they thought it might have been infected, but the rest was distributed among the village huts before being roasted and enthusiastically eaten.

Image III: Cutting up the Corpse
After the prisoner’s body had been cleaned and prepared for eating, it was painted white, then skinned. First the legs were cut off above the knees, then the arms. Each limb was detached and given to a different woman who had previously decorated herself with paint. Then, with the limbs, they would chase each other round the huts, which caused great amusement. Finally, the body was cut open down the spine and shared out, with the women taking the intestines.

Image IV: A Broth is Made From the Intestines
The women make a thick soup from the intestines and the head, then they shared it out among themselves and their children. After killing the prisoner, the chief gave himself a new name and scratched the top of his arm with an animal’s tooth so as to leave an honoured scar. Then he rested all day so that his arm did not loose its strength from dealing the deadly blow.

Image V: How the Tupi Indians Roasted Their Meat
The Indians set up a grill, consisting of four posts set in the ground. They were as thick as a man’s arm and had a fork at the top, across which sticks were laid to form a platform. The meat was then placed on this platform and a slow-burning fire lit underneath. It was not salted but left to roast for a day and a night, so it would not go bad. They often used the meat of a wild animal, common in the Brazilian forest, called a tapir.

Image VI: Cannibalistic Rituals of the Tupi
Here a prisoner of the Tupinambá Indians is shown, decorated with feathers, before being beaten to death. After execution the corpse was washed, cooked, cut up and eaten. Elaborate rituals were performed from the moment of capture until the last ounce of flesh, blood and bone was finally disposed of, all in the name of similar atrocities committed by rival tribes against the Tupinambá.