Essay of Cannibals
Montaigne’s Essay of Cannibals seems to generally be about the Renaissance and what was going on during 16th Century. People were starting to question authority instead of blindly following it. The Renaissance in a way put Western civilization into what is now modern times. When Montaigne wrote those Europe had not yet changed and grow to what it later on became, so he does an excellent job pointing out a lot of flaws during society at that time. The general theme seems to be about human rights and equality.
What Montaigne essentially does is compare a tribe in South America to Western society. The sarcastic tone that is used when he says, “Now, to return to my subject, I think there is nothing barbarous and savage in that nation, from what I have been told, except that each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice; for indeed it seems we have no other test of truth and reason than the example and pattern of the opinions and customs of the country we live in. (Montaigne 2646)” Montaigne uses this quote to show the prejudice that was present during the time.
There was still persecution based on religion and social class, so this quote paints that picture well. The Native Americans in the book live very simplistic life styles. The men hunt and gather food, while the women prepare the food and drink for the men. Everything is shared among the tribe. Montaigne says that the innovation that has occurred in Europe basically has created different social class, people in politics have more influence over things, and things in general turn into a more complicated lifestyle.
It is evident that the Native Americans, although living a simple lifestyle, live a healthier lifestyle. What they eat and they way they cook it is healthy. They use all natural material, so there is no harm to the environment; everything is in balance. What makes the Native American tribe seem very savage like is the cannibalism and polygamy. The thought of eating another person is sickening, but when you look at the reason why the Native American tribe engages in cannibalism, it seems to be more cultural and ritualistic.
The Native Americans are constantly battling other groups of people and when they fight they use the bows and wooden swords. For a person who has fought in battle taking the head of the dead enemy and putting it on display in front of their home is viewed as a trophy. The tribe that looses the fight are taken as prisoners and fed for days before they are killed and eaten. The Native American tribes use cannibalism as the most sever form of revenge, but Montaigne makes is seem that they perform cannibalism in a humane way.
Montaigne compares the Native American cannibalism to “cannibalism” in Western society. He says that at least the Native Americans kill the person then eats them, unlike Western society, which would begin to eat you alive. For example the gap between the filthy rich and the poor, who are starving. The “prophets” in the Native American tribes stress that it is important that love be shown to women. For this reason the Native American tribe engages in polygamy.
Montaigne even goes a step further by saying that there is even polygamy practiced in the Bible, which seems to take a stab a little bit towards the church at the time. Montaigne also mentions how King Charles IX spoke with three Native American men and the two things that they remembers that really stood out to them was that they didn’t understand why fully grown men would take orders from a child and that they didn’t understand why they saw people who were well off and others who were beggars.
In the Native American society everything is shared with the tribe and the elders are respected, so in the end it were to seem like the society that was more barbaric and savage would be the Western society and not the Native American tribe. Works Cited Lawall, Sarah N. , and Maynard Mack. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 1500-1650. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.