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Randy Wray <[log in to unmask]>
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AFEEMAIL Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 24 Jun 1998 09:40:07 -0400
TEXT/PLAIN (40 lines)
i have been away and so this is somewhat dated, but i think it is an
important issue. i agree with john henry and anne mayhew in doubting
that cannibalism has ever played an important role as a source of protein.
my old teacher, joe furey, used to argue that there are no documented
cases of cannibalism (outside the emergency situations such as the calif
donner party, colorado's alfred packer, argentina's (?) "alive" soccer
team). rather, claims of cannibalism are levied against one's enemies as a
way to dehumanize them to justify killing and torture (and this is not
only by the european colonizers--i think amazonian tribes sometimes make
such claims about their enemies). ritual drinking of blood or eating of
organs certainly should not be seen as cannibalism (that is, as a source
of food). i do not know of joe's sources, and he has passed away but
perhaps john henry or marc tool heard him talk of this and can provide
more comment. in any case, i think joe's argument is plausible. it is
quite one thing to demonize enemies so you can kill them, or to eat an
organ (which joe said really was to show respect for the power of one's
foe and a ritualized means to capturing some of the
strength--spiritual--of the foe), but quite another to see other
communities of humans as potential foodstuff. john adams noted the social
prohibition placed on eating the animal that is kept as a pet, but
certainly the strictures against sitting down to a nice bowl of human
flesh have got to be much stronger. on one hand, there is not much that
humans might do that would surprise me, but on the other, the supposition
that some groups eat human flesh to provide a protein supplement requires
careful documentation.
in any case, anne is right, i believe, to doubt that there was a protein
problem. as i understand it, the aztecs ate amaranth which is the grain
that has the highest protein content. at least that is what i remember
from my breakfast cereal box but my memory could be faulty. i'll check
tomorrow at breakfast.

L. Randall Wray
Senior Scholar
Jerome Levy Economics Institute
Bard College
Annandale on Hudson, NY 12504
email: [log in to unmask]
fax 914-7581149
phone 914-758-7730