Cannibal: Part One
RACHEL ATTITUQ QITSUALIK
Two cannibals were eating a clown. One paused and looked up at the other, saying, “Does this taste kind of funny to you?” – Old joke
There was once a hunter who visited an unknown people. Upon arrival, a blind old man approached him, warning, “You are among cannibals. They will kill and eat you. Stay in my home. They won’t attack you there.”
Grateful, the exhausted hunter decided to nap in the old man’s iglu. He had not been long asleep when a strange noise awakened him. He saw the old man’s two sons shuffling toward him, carrying a large stone with which to kill him. The hunter realized that the old man and his sons were cannibals as well, that they had merely wanted him for themselves. He leapt up and seized his harpoon, surprising the sons, so that they were easily killed with quick thrusts to the heart.
Then the hunter hid behind some skins, and waited. Soon, the blind old man arrived. Crouching, he began to grope around the floor for the meal his sons had left him. As soon as the old man’s probing fingers drew near, the hunter impaled him upon his harpoon. Wasting no time, the hunter fled. He had not traveled far, however, before he turned to see the other cannibals and their dog teams chasing him.
Fortunately, the hunter was something of a shaman. He faced the cannibals and rapidly began to fire arrows at their lead dogs. The arrows struck the dogs, making them turn toward the icy water. All of the dog teams rushed in, drowning the cannibals along with themselves. The hunter returned home, explaining to his people that they would remain safe from cannibals ever after.
– Old story
I can’t remember what age I was when I finally learned that Indians don’t eat people.
I was very little — that’s for sure. My friends and I all held a marked fear of First Nations peoples, whom we believed – through various stories passed among us — were cannibals. It wasn’t until I at last befriended an Indian girl at school that I learned differently, and I additionally learned that the Indian kids held the same fears of Inuit.
It was a strange revelation, and somewhat confusing. I explained to her that Indians were supposed to be savage people who kidnapped Inuit to eat. No, she told me, it was Inuit —or so their stories told — who were cannibals, capturing Indian kids and eating them raw. I corrected her, of course. We would never eat Indians raw. Maybe boiled…. (Just kidding!)
So we both soothed each others’ fears and become good friends over the course of years. And, naturally, neither of us even once eyed the other hungrily.
Inuit are not unique in their traditional dread of cannibalism, which haunts nearly all cultures worldwide. The Inuktitut term for a cannibal is inuktuurniku, or “one who has eaten an Inuk.” Inuit legends are rife with mention of semi-human cannibal monsters, betraying their age-old fear of the phenomenon.
There is the Netsilingmiut amayirsuk, for example, a huge crone that imprisons children within the hollow hump in her back, carrying them away to be devoured; or the nakasungnaikut, a man without bones in his legs, who crawls through the icy darkness hunting for normal humans, whom he ambushes and eats alive.
The dreadful nature of such near-human monsters serves as a clue to just how perverse the cannibal is perceived to be. The cannibal is not at all the usual sort of bestial monster, the one with several limbs and an appearance/lifestyle so alien that there is no hope of identification with humanity.
It is not the simple beast, the animal-like monster that, although it stalks, kills, and eats people, is somehow understandable. After all, it is natural for bestial predators eat other creatures not of their own species. Wolves eat caribou. Bears eat seals. Owls eat lemmings. We all comprehend this simple dynamic of nature.
But the cannibal is not a common, ornatural, and thus anunderstandable occurrence. The cannibal, in common human thinking, is a deceiver — a traitor. One who eats his own.
And it is within the next few articles that I shall discuss this phenomenon, real or imagined.