Jared StallerApr 7, 2022
Converging on Cannibals
Terrors of Slaving in Atlantic Africa, 1509-1670
Ohio University Press 2019
In Converging on Cannibals: Terrors of Slaving in Atlantic Africa, 1509-1670 (Ohio UP, 2019), Jared Staller tells the history of how the myth of cannibalism in West Central Africa developed between 1509 and 1670 in the context of mis-understandings between European and Africans. Many of these misunderstandings were in fact intentional, given that the myth of cannibalism proved very useful to Portuguese slavers seeking to bypass the restrictions imposed by the Papacy as to who could be justifiably enslaved. On the African side, rulers of the Kongo kingdom used the discourse of cannibals to secure Portuguese support at a time of political upheaval. The increasing chaos and violence that resulted from the slow decline of existing political structures such as the Kongo, coupled with a protracted drought, contributed to the formation of new political formations that relied heavily on violence and terror and who found the myth of cannibalism useful in their attempts to compete and survive in a dangerous and insecure world. Back in Europe, stories about African cannibals were also used as a means to reflect on the religious conflicts of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation era, allowing the myth to be passed on and survive into the modern world. Staller tells this compelling story by re-reading the most important European sources where African cannibals are mentioned as well as the few African sources that exist for this period. By carefully cross-referencing these sources and building on the knowledge that historians of Africa have been able to secure from oral and ethnographic sources, Staller is able to revisit old debates in African historiography and demonstrate that European sources, when carefully read, can illuminate our understanding of African perspectives. The book includes a detailed explanation of the methodology used, suggested readings for every chapter and brief excerpts from the sources, all of which make this book a robust contribution to the history and historiography of Africa and the Atlantic world.
Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia is an associate professor of history at Montclair State University.