Who said: "Our tradition is: We shoot cannibals"?
September 2, 2014 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I told this story, which I believe to be a true story, to my son recently. He would like to source it. I have no idea how to find it. I have done some googling but I don't have names or dates or anything to go on. Please hope me.

The gist of it is that a British guy reports for duty as the new guy in charge at some British colony. The natives practice cannibalism. He is told he needs to put a stop to this practice. He goes to the local chieftain and tells him they have to stop this. The chieftain calls upon what I guess was Britain's version of Star Trek's rule of not interfering with local culture and he tells him "You can't make us stop. It is our tradition." And the British guy replies to the effect of "Okay. We respect your tradition. And you respect ours. Our tradition is: We shoot cannibals." And the cannibalism did end.

I know that is really vague and hand-wavy in some sense. I am hoping someone knows who said this or what British colony this was or what the tribe was or SOMETHING. Because googling seems to be not productive so far.

posted by Michele in California to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Charles James Napier
posted by Jahaza at 1:47 PM on September 2, 2014

Sounds like you mean Charles James Napier

A story for which Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:

"Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 1:47 PM on September 2, 2014 [15 favorites]

For my son's purposes, that's definitely good enough. Thank you for the quick replies.

(Though for the sake of my own ego, I am hoping there really is also one involving cannibalism.)
posted by Michele in California at 1:54 PM on September 2, 2014

I'm pretty certain there is no good evidence of a culture that regularly practiced cannibalism in the sense common to our cultural imagination (outside of times of starvation for example).
posted by latkes at 2:04 PM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

To answer that secondary question, I think your best bet would be something involving PNG? That's the only area I can think of offhand that was both a british colony (sort of) AND for which there is actual physical evidence that they practiced ritual (non-starvation-based) cannibalism at the time it was a crown protectorate.

Really though, colonialist reports of stuff like this tends to have a good chance of being the usual racist blood libel bullshit in order to dehumanize the people they were killing to steal their land.
posted by elizardbits at 2:05 PM on September 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

Maybe you're conflating it with the part of Robinson Crusoe where he dithers about whether it's morally OK to kill cannibals?
posted by MarkAnd at 2:12 PM on September 2, 2014

I am pretty sure I am not conflating two stories. I kind of wonder if I got a mangled version where "when the widow is consumed" got misinterpreted by someone to mean "when her flesh is eaten" rather than "when she is burned alive."

I am thrilled to have the first two answers here. That might be all I got: Some mangled version of what Charles James Napier said/did. But, for my son's purposes, it is brilliant and wonderful, even if my story was some mangled version of real life events.

But I am also happy to hear any other suggested leads. I am currently reading about Kuru among natives of Papua New Guinea, a disease transmitted by funerary cannibalism.

posted by Michele in California at 2:21 PM on September 2, 2014

There's lots of evidence that the Māori in New Zealand also practiced cannibalism as a tactic of warfare well into the 19th century, so that would be your other candidate colony, I think, but I'd say that it's much more likely this is a slightly garbled version of Napier.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:49 PM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

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