Cannibalism and the Imperial Urge

I am writing this from my phone during lecture, so if my grammar or my tone seems hasty, you have been warned! (Update: I found a computer to sit down at and write)

The lecture I am enjoying at this very moment has to do with the readings I was assigned over the holiday weekend, and I am a careful reader so I am not too worried about missing out on a key insight. What I would like to do is hearken back the early 15th century and the time of the Spanish attempt to conquer the major polity of the Mexico Valley: the Triple Alliance aka the Aztecs (I don’t want to get in to the specifics of why I think that the term Aztec sucks, but I will just quickly note that it sucks and has been an extremely detrimental title to the memes associated with pre-Columbian New World polities).

One of the major justifications for the Conquest was the need to rid the New World of cannibalism, which all nations practiced in the New World. The extent of this practice varied from nation to nation, of course. The Triple Alliance was perhaps the worst of the worst in this regard.  The people of the Inca Empire did not indulge very often, and the decentralized polities associated with much of the New World rarely had the elaborate practices associated with the Triple Alliance (the Mayans are an exception to this, but at the time of the Spanish arrival, the Mayans were extremely decentralized, and thus much, much harder to conquer, but that is another blog subject for another day).

Cannibalism in the New World was largely associated with war and the State, and the elaborate ceremonies of human sacrifices practiced by the priests of the Triple Alliance were loathed as much as they were feared.  So when the Spanish arrived upon the continent of the New World, cannibalism was widely being practiced not only by a not-yet-known-but-definitely-heard-about Triple Alliance, but also by the neighboring peoples of the Triple Alliance.

Now, to be fair to the Spanish (and Europeans in general), the practice of cannibalism had largely disappeared from their culture, and from the cultures surrounding European society (think of the Turks and the Barbary polities; do you think Islam permits the eating of human flesh?), so when the Spanish saw this practice they were rightly horrified as well as disgusted.

Yet, was cannibalism itself a justification for the inevitable slaughter and slavery that was to be the Indians’ lot? Continue reading