European Travelers and Local Informants in the Making of the Image of “Cannibalism” in North Sumatra
By HIROSUE Masashi, Rikkyo University, Tokyo
The Memoirs of the Toyo Bunko, 63, 42.
Abstract: This paper discusses the role of local informants in forming the image of “cannibalism” in Southeast Asia, as well as how European travelers and researchers got into the act. Although scholars like Arens are inclined to pay more attention to the biases of Westerners toward “exotic” cultures and customs, it is a fact that their descriptions and images about those cultures and customs were often based on data and information provided by their informants.Therefore, the question of whether the people of the region were really eating human flesh is of secondary importance to the present article. Although it goes without saying that much caution is needed to prove “anthropophagy” as historical fact; there is no doubt that the practice was in fact widely believed by Arabian, Chinese and European travelers to have existed in various partsof Southeast Asia, despite the fact that those foreign visitors did not (at least until the nineteenth century) usually travel to the inland locations where the inhabitants were suspected of being “cannibals.” When they did begin to venture there during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most of their descriptions were based on information provided by local chiefs, who seemed to go out their way to circulate stories about “cannibalism” among foreign visitors.