|From Hans Staden as depicted by De Bry
Later I will have more to say about Exploration Fawcett, the book culled from Colonel Percy Fawcett's diaries covering 19 years of exploration in the Amazon before he vanished in the Xingu, famously. Here is a strikingly relativist 1907 appraisal of cannibalism.
Senor Donayre ... was an interesting man. At one time the German firm for which he worked on the Purus sent him to the Putumayo to contact Indians on that river, learn their language, and report on the chances of rubber and trade. In one large tribe he was given a wife, and stayed with them for two years.
"These people were cannibals," he said, "and many a time I have seen bits of men - white men - cooked. They didn't care to much for eating whites - man of other Indian tribes were preferred. The taste is rather like monkey meat."
"Did you ever sample the flesh yourself?" I asked.
"I lived with them, remember, and it was necessary for me to adopt their habits. If I had refused to do what they did I wouldn't have lived to tell the tale."
"How developed were they - I mean mentally, socially...?"
"Oh, they were intelligent all right! They had an organized government; and while each separate community had its own chief, there was a supreme chief who acted as a king over the whole tribe. They sometimes cremated their dead, but usually ate them. Women were plentiful, and though polygamy practised, their morals were of a high order."
"It's easy to condemn cannibalism as disgusting, Major [Fawcett was never a real Colonel], but when you come to think of it, is it any worse to eat a dead man than to eat a dead beast or bird? It as least provides a reasonable motive for killing a men, which is more than you can say for civilized warfare; and it's a convenient way of getting rid of the death, without occupying valuable ground and polluting clean air by burying the corpse! Of course, it is a matter of viewpoint. One's first thought is that cannibalism is revolting, but when you are familiar with it there seems little to object to."