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  3. Catalog Record: The cannibal islands, or, Captain Cook's | HathiTrust Digital Library
  4. The Cannibal Islands: Captain Cook's Adventures in the South Seas by R.M. Ballantyne
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I afterward received the same Information from two or three other, different Companies, either in the whole or in part, which made me think it necessary to acquaint Cap. On pointing them out, he questioned them concerning it, but could get nothing from them no[r] could I ever after induce them to talk on the subject. While disturbed by this revelation, the crew maintained normal relations with the local population and remained in the area for almost a month. This incident was not unique in the annals of early interactions between Britons and South Sea islanders.

Europeans were largely ill-informed about the belief systems and perceptions of their indigenous counterparts, and vice versa. In her book The Trial of The Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas , Dame Anne Salmond provides endless examples of this, such as the British mistaking the Tahitians' gesture of dismissal as one of beckoning, and their expecting immediate reciprocity from the Maori who traditionally delayed return gifts 'in counterpoint of chiefly generosity'.

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Often when these interactions were not going the way the Europeans intended, they would employ a show of force. For example, in during Cook's first voyage, he directed that muskets be fired upon some Maori when they tried to claim a buoy he was not interested in trading and then had 'a great Gun' fired to make them move further away. Such actions sometimes backfired, setting off more violent confrontations like that involving the Adventure 's cutter. The deaths in also point to another prominent and problematic theme in Britons' perceptions of and relations with the Maori and other island inhabitants - so-called cannibalism.

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Catalog Record: The cannibal islands, or, Captain Cook's | HathiTrust Digital Library

As authors have explored in recent decades, the spectre of cannibalism haunted fiction, purported non-fiction and exploration as imperialism advanced in areas such as the Pacific islands. A number of anthropologists and legal historians now argue that it was largely a concept invented by Europeans, and that the ritual anthropophagy which may have taken place in a more limited fashion in some indigenous cultures, such as mortuary cannibalism, held different meanings for its practitioners than most Europeans could fathom or accept.

The invention of widespread native 'cannibalism' seems to have mainly stemmed from factors including the popularity of literary accounts of such fearful practices and reactions against the savage, unknowable, un-Christian and potentially threatening native 'Other'. British explorers actively sought evidence of cannibalism among the peoples they encountered and reported back about their observations, including to the Royal Society.

However, their means of identifying the practice were sometimes suspect.


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Cook wrote during his second voyage that upon seeing a partial, dismembered skull in New Zealand, 'I concealed my indignation and ordered a piece of the flesh to be broiled and brought on the quarter deck where one of these Canibals eat it with a seeming good relish before the whole ships Company had such effect on some of them as to cause them to vomit [ There are other similar records of explorers miming flesh eating before indigenous people who then mimicked them, which was taken as proof of cannibalism.

More often, evidence of the eating of human flesh appears to suggest limited ritual anthropophagy, sometimes clearly intended to honour and to incorporate the deceased. Sections of his body were presented to the local kings and chiefs, apparently to incorporate him into their aristocracy, and to his Lieutenant.

The British then tried to determine whether this was part of a cannibalistic practice, asking a number of Hawai'ians how they had disposed of the other deceased men: 'finding them very constant in one story, that, after the flesh had been cut off, it was all burnt; we at last put the direct question, Whether they had not eat some of it?

They immediately shewed as much horror at the idea, as any European would have done; and asked, very naturally, if that was the custom among us? Brian Simpson have addressed the relatively common occurrence of 'survival cannibalism' among Europeans lost on sea and land without sufficient provisions - sometimes comparing this with the perception and treatment of so-called native cannibalism.

The Cannibal Islands: Captain Cook's Adventures in the South Seas by R.M. Ballantyne

The accounts in the Board of Longitude archives about the incident with the Adventure in New Zealand in , are also interesting because they may reflect the somewhat different approaches of the commanders and astronomers of the expedition to the indigenous populations whom they encountered and to possible 'cannibalism'. Cook and Wales were more interested in observing and interacting with the natives than were many crew members and were willing to continue meeting with them even after incidents such as that which befell the cutter crew.

Unlike Bayly, Wales entered keen and often laudatory observations on the locals into his log book. For example, on 14 March the astronomer praised the abilities of the disappeared indigenous people who made the statues on Easter Island , describing how: 'On every part of the Coasts of this Island there are erected large stone Statues of human Figures, half lengths.

Most of these stand in Groups ; but others singly ; the former stand on Platforms of Stone Work the Majority of which is very neat and Artful, scarce executed, I think, by any in England : no cement is used. Their Complexion is a pretty dark Copper, and their hair in general black where it is not turned brown by the application of a very white Powder which Many of them use as plentifully as any Gentleman in England. Of course, as can be seen in these excerpts, even more enlightened or engaged Europeans such as Wales and Cook as well as Joseph Banks -- who, on Cook's first voyage, eagerly immersed himself in Tahitian culture and returned to England with tattoos -- were still various shades of patronizing, exoticising and moralistic.

Very few Georgian Britons would have questioned the ultimate superiority of their culture and religion to those of non-white populations or would have questioned their right to behave rather presumptuously, and at times violently, towards them. Captain Cook may not have tried to punish or to alienate the indigenous people whom he judged 'cannibals', but his writings show that not only was he horrified by and deeply censorious of their beliefs, but that he was mainly able to set them aside in the case of the Maori because he believed that these 'savages' were 'in some degree civilized'.


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He judged them somewhat civilised in part because of their 'readiness to oblige' and their being 'far less addicted to thieving than the other Islanders' and thought that they would abandon the presumed practice of eating their enemies as they became more 'civilized' and fought less among themselves. Unfortunately, the experiences and voices of the indigenous people who encountered the crews of well-known voyages of 'science' and exploration such as those of Captain Cook are largely absent from the archives of the Board of Longitude, as one might perhaps expect.

However, it is important to remember that cultural intersections and occasionally conflicts were as elemental a part of such expeditions as were the 'scientific' and navigational activities with which one associates the Board - and that even the historical figures who are sometimes lauded today for their comparatively enlightened views on indigenous peoples were not entirely divorced from the cultures and times which produced them.

Culture clash and 'cannibalism' in the voyages of Captain Cook. Experience more. You might also enjoy. Delve deeper into this fascinating topic.

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Can I view this online? Ask a librarian. Members of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori communities are advised that this catalogue contains names and images of deceased people. Book , Online - Google Books. Robert Michael , Cook, James, -- Juvenile literature.