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Cannibal TalkThe Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Seas$
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Gananath Obeyesekere

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780520243071

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520243071.001.0001

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(p.255) Conclusion
Cannibal Talk

Gananath Obeyesekere

University of California Press

This concluding chapter discusses a few issues that might have not been clear in the preceding chapters. It begins with the assumption that Polynesia comprises a large cultural area showing remarkable similarities in language and culture. As far as anthropophagy is concerned, most contemporary ethnographers would deny that it is related to human sacrifice or ritual cannibalism. But the irony is that, like the lay public, scholars have, from the very beginning, believed that the Maori, Fijians, and Marquesans belonged to a group of man-eaters living in cannibal islands. This is not something, new because it has been said of several non-Western societies. It is therefore not a surprise that colonial sacrificial anthropophagy tended to lead into the man-eating myth. However, in many of the societies discussed, there were no corpses involved, but, rather, symbolic substitutes for the act of sacrificial anthropophagy. The chapter also discusses the hanging of skulls in shrines in Hawai'i and Tahiti that were postulated as the heads of sacrificial victims. However, unlike the common notion that these were sacrificial victims, the chapter concludes that these victims may be the result of rituals of sacrifice or battles. It also deals with the problems that arise in respect of cannibal talk. Such issues that might pave the way for disagreement on cannibal talk are myth, discourse on human sacrifices, and the two forms of cannibal talk: the dialogues of varying levels of complexity between people talking about cannibalism and generally misunderstanding the Other's discourse, and cannibal narratives which are deconstructed in order to show that these discourses are “empty.”

Keywords:   Polynesia, anthropophagy, human sacrifice, ritual cannibalism, man-eaters, colonial sacrificial anthropophagy, man-eating myth, rituals of sacrifice, cannibal talk

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