Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Golden Quotebook (6): Among the Noble Savages

Today, on Colin Davies’s blog Thoughts From Galicia, I was invited to offer my opinion concerning Jonathan Swift’s cannibalistic cookbook. To tell the truth, I don’t know why (unless it has something to do with my exquisite recipe for Deep Fried French Chef posted on 9 March, below). I am of course a gourmet cook, and my forthcoming culinary bible Impress Through Simplicity will unquestionably become the greatest sensation among sauciers since Carême invented his Gâteau de Valençay. But I must confess that, when it comes to Sins of the Meat, my experience stops with a Tanzanian Sirloin of Chimpanzee. Back in the 50s, as I arrived on Tumumoa to visit good old Maggie Mead, cannibalism had just been declared undesirable for fiscal reasons (see my article The Flying Rabbits of Tumumoa for  context). And when I took up residence among my beloved Blantun Indians in the Mato Grosso jungle some years later, the keen interest with which some of the tribal elders studied and even pinched my fresh white meat, prompted me not to enquire too deeply into their culinary traditions and to sleep with a Colt .45 under my pillow.

My knowledge of the practice is therefore limited and I must rely on other folk’s insights for today’s Quotebook. Out of my large collection, I will give you three charming ones: one about the famous anthropologist Levi-Strauss, one by that weird fellow George Borrow, and a resounding parting shot from Melville.

In his analysis of myth and culture, Mr Lévi-Strauss might (…) consider the differences in meaning of roasted and boiled food (cannibals, he suggested, tended to boil their friends and roast their enemies)

[Ed Rothstein,  International Herald Tribune, 3 November 2009]

'Los Gitanos son muy malos! - the Gypsies are very bad people,' said the Spaniards of old times. They are cheats; they are highwaymen; they practise sorcery; and, lest the catalogue of their offences should be incomplete, a formal charge of cannibalism was brought against them. Cheats they have always been, and highwaymen, and if not sorcerers, they have always done their best to merit that appellation, by arrogating to themselves supernatural powers; but that they were addicted to cannibalism is a matter not so easily proved.

Their principal accuser was Don Juan de Quinones, who (…) gives several anecdotes illustrative of their cannibal propensities. Most of these anecdotes, however, are so highly absurd, that none but the very credulous could ever have vouchsafed them the slightest credit. This author is particularly fond of speaking of a certain judge, called Don Martin Fajardo, who seems to have been an arrant Gypsy-hunter (…) It came to pass that this personage was, in the year 1629, at Jaraicejo, in Estremadura, (…) in the capacity of judge. (…) [He] laid his claw upon four Gitanos, and having nothing, as it appears, to accuse them of, except being Gitanos, put them to the torture, and made them accuse themselves, which they did; for, on the first appeal which was made to the rack, they confessed that they had murdered a female Gypsy in the forest of Las Gamas, and had there eaten her.

I am myself well acquainted with this same forest of Las Gamas, which lies between Jaraicejo and Trujillo; it abounds with chestnut and cork trees, and is a place very well suited either for the purpose of murder or cannibalism. It will be as well to observe that I visited it in company with a band of Gitanos, who bivouacked there, and cooked their supper, which however did not consist of human flesh, but of a puchera, the ingredients of which were beef, bacon, garbanzos, and berdolaga, or field-pease and purslain, - therefore I myself can bear testimony that there is such a forest as Las Gamas, and that it is frequented occasionally by Gypsies, by which two points are established by far the most important to the history in question, or so at least it would be thought in Spain, for being sure of the forest and the Gypsies, few would be incredulous enough to doubt the facts of the murder and cannibalism. . . .

On being put to the rack a second time, the Gitanos confessed that they had likewise murdered and eaten a female pilgrim in the forest aforesaid; and on being tortured yet again, that they had served in the same manner, and in the same forest, a friar of the order of San Francisco, whereupon they were released from the rack and executed. This is one of the anecdotes of Quinones.

And it came to pass, moreover, that the said Fajardo, being in the town of Montijo, was told by the alcalde, that a certain inhabitant of that place had some time previous lost a mare; and wandering about the plains in quest of her, he arrived at a place called Arroyo el Puerco, where stood a ruined house, on entering which he found various Gitanos employed in preparing their dinner, which consisted of a quarter of a human body, which was being roasted before a huge fire: the result, however, we are not told; whether the Gypsies were angry at being disturbed in their cookery, or whether the man of the mare departed unobserved.

Quinones, in continuation, states in his book that he learned that there was a shepherd of the city of Gaudix, who once lost his way in the wild sierra of Gadol: night came on, and the wind blew cold: he wandered about until he descried a light in the distance, towards which he bent his way, supposing it to be a fire kindled by shepherds: on arriving at the spot, however, he found a whole tribe of Gypsies, who were roasting the half of a man, the other half being hung on a cork-tree: the Gypsies welcomed him very heartily, and requested him to be seated at the fire and to sup with them; but he presently heard them whisper to each other, 'this is a fine fat fellow,' from which he suspected that they were meditating a design upon his body: whereupon, feeling himself sleepy, he made as if he were seeking a spot where to lie, and suddenly darted headlong down the mountain-side, and escaped from their hands without breaking his neck.

These anecdotes scarcely deserve comment; first we have the statement of Fajardo, the fool or knave who tortures wretches, and then puts them to death for the crimes with which they have taxed themselves whilst undergoing the agony of the rack, probably with the hope of obtaining a moment's respite; last comes the tale of the shepherd, who is invited by Gypsies on a mountain at night to partake of a supper of human flesh, and who runs away from them on hearing them talk of the fatness of his own body, as if cannibal robbers detected in their orgies by a single interloper would have afforded him a chance of escaping. Such tales cannot be true.

[George Borrow, The Zincali (1841), part 1, chapter 5]

Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christi­an.

[Melville, Moby Dick chapter 3]

No comments:

Post a Comment