• Image«I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.» (Walt Whitman, Song of Myself)

    The Brazilian Tupinamba tribes seem to have been the only attested human society structured and functioning around the central practice of cannibalism. As Alfred Métraux put it: ”their bellicose disposition and craving for human flesh loomed large in many aspects of their culture, such as education, oratory, poetry and religion“. Most of what we know about them comes from the book of the German adventurer Hans Staden, who, after being captured by the Tupinamba in 1552, managed to return to Europe a few years later and published in 1557 his :

    Warhaftig Historia und beschreibung eyner Landtschafft der Wilden/Nacketen/ Grimmigen Menschfresser Leuthen“ (”True Story and Description of a Land of Wild, Naked, Sinister Man-eating Human Folk“; the book is available in facsimile here, complete with the uncensored original woodcuts:)


    With few exceptions, all prisoners, male or female, were eventually eaten, although some of them had lived long enough in the community to marry inside the tribe and have children. Prisoners were well treated, but in the end killed and consumed during an elaborate ceremony. Until then, a Tupinamba would starve rather than deprive his captive of food, and usually gave him a sister or daughter as wife.

    A prisoner could thus live for years among the Tupinamba, hunt and fish and eat and have children among them, but occasionally, says Staden, ”at drinking bouts portions of his body were allotted beforehand to the tribesmen, each of whom -in the future victim‘s presence- learned the part he was to receive at the ceremonial execution.“

    Preparations for the sacrifice started a long time in advance. Great quantities of alcohol had to be brewed for the occasion.

    The prisoner feigned indifference, or he indulged freely in all sorts of mischief to revenge his future death.

    On the night preceding his sacrifice, old women sat with him in the hut singing songs depicting his fate.

    On the day of the feast, he was requested to dance. After he was clubbed by everybody, and his skull shattered by a skilled executioner, his wife shed a few tears over his body, then joined in the banquet.

    Old women rushed to drink the warm blood and children dipped their hands in it. Mothers would smear their nipples with blood so that even babies could have a taste of it. The body, cut into quarters, was roasted on a barbecue and the old women licked the grease around the sticks. Such delicacies as the fingers, or the grease around the liver or heart, were allotted to distinguished guests.

    The executioner received the lips to wear as a bracelet.

    ”Manioc“ and ”toucan“ are two words that came to us from the Tupinamba people.