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Christianity and Cannibalism: Three European Views of the Tupi in the Spiritual Conquest of Brazil, 1557–1563

Anne B. McGinness


Figure 1
Original 1557 Hans Staden woodcut of the Tupinambá
portrayed in a cannibalistic feast.á

     Following the initial arrival of the Portuguese and Spanish into South America, European missionaries launched a "spiritual conquest" of the native peoples. This "conquest" was never easy or straightforward, especially in its early stages. Local customs, such as cannibalism, posed a major barrier to the Christian conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity: the teaching, "Love thy enemies" had to overcome the tradition of eating them. During the middle of the sixteenth century, three men of different confessions though similar zeal lived among the Tupinambá, indigenous peoples of the coast of Brazil belonging to the larger ethnic group of the Tupi. These three Europeans attempted to understand the Tupi way of life and potential for conversion. The way each man interpreted the customs and peoples of the New World bore the stamp of his particular religious beliefs, and his reaction to the ritual practice of cannibalism marked the success or failure of his mission.

     The three European interlopers under study here hailed from different backgrounds. First there was Hans Staden, a gunner on a German ship who spent six years in Brazil, including a year in Tupi captivity. A layman rather than a cleric, Staden was ill-prepared for pastoral duties and came to despair of the Tupi's conversion. Our second individual, the yet-to-be ordained Huguenot missionary Jean de Léry, had been sent from John Calvin's church in Geneva as part of Calvin's initiative to train native Frenchmen to return to France as missionaries of the Reformed Gospel. However, instead of returning to France, Léry, among others, was called upon to start a mission in Brazil. Léry claimed that Nicolas de Villegagnon, the leader of the Brazilian expedition, wrote to Calvin requesting ministers and messengers of the Word. Regardless of the authenticity of this statement, which has been doubted by scholars, the ministers and colonists with Léry believed that Admiral Coligny and Villegagnon summoned them to the colony to stem the influence of Catholics in the New World.1 Thirdly, there was the learned Spanish Jesuit, José de Anchieta, who lived among the Tupi some forty years, as a modern anthropologist might. Studying them closely and sympathetically, Anchieta understood Tupi culture in its own terms and concluded that cannibalism could not be eradicated by force. Anchieta's academic approach dictated co-option. He could tolerate certain cannibalistic practices in order to preach more effectively and gradually lead the Tupi in the direction of Christianity.

     When faced with the reality of eating human flesh, each European author had to rethink his basic Christian assumptions. Did being a Christian entail doing what was essential for salvation, such as participating in the sacraments of baptism, the Eucharist, confession, etc., or was Christianity instead an entire way of life? To what extent was it necessary to change the morals and mores of native peoples, to "Christianize" their society? These three confrontations with cannibalism proffer a "moment of truth," not only because their decisions drew a line separating essential Christian beliefs and practices from those of less consequence, but also because it was a critical challenge that laid bare the inner strengths and weaknesses of each man, either his flexibility---his capacity for understanding others and ability to change himself to accommodate their needs, or his rigidity---his demand that others conform to his example.

Christianity and Cannibalism in Rio de Janeiro

     In 1500, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral "stumbled upon" Brazil. 2 Most of the land was not colonized and settled until half of a century later. Meanwhile, the French started trading with the Tupinambá and set up the colony of Coligny, which lasted for twelve years until the Portuguese eventually defeated them in battle in January 1567, with the help of indigenous allies.3 Hans Staden, Jean de Léry, and José de Anchieta all reflected extensively on cannibalism and witnessed firsthand accounts of it within eight years of each other in the same geographical location of what is today Rio de Janeiro, during the French occupation. While their three accounts limit comparison geographically to this specific location around Rio de Janeiro, and temporally to the six-year period from 1557-1563, the coincidence of space and time enhances their validity.

     Each writer shared a common European religious and philosophical tradition that they could choose to accept or deny. Cannibalism fascinated travel writers since the eighth century bce with Homer's Cyclopes. In the sixteenth century, the topic enjoyed a burst of popularity because cannibals were found in the New World. 4 This encounter verified a tradition once viewed as fantastic, mythical, and horrifying. Tales of cannibalism justified the conquest of such "savages" and their conversion to Christianity and Christian "civilization."5 Travel literature written during the period of European exploration and colonialism made cannibalism emblematic of the New World.6 For example, the cannibal drawings of Theodorus de Bry were so widely re-printed it is no surprise to find them used in identical ways to illustrate both Staden and Léry's texts. These "monstrous" races were projected on the cannibal to signify Otherness. 7 Perceptions of the New World Other, therefore, treated the unknown as somehow subhuman, ideas that were carried over from Greek and Roman times to the age of trans-Atlantic discoveries.8

Figure 1

Os Filhos de Pindorama. Cannibalism in Brazil in 1557
as described by Hans Staden (b. around 1525–Wolfhagen, 1579) .


Hans Staden's True History

     Hans Staden's story of his captivity among the Tupinambá of the coast of Brazil, Wahrhaftige Historia (1557) became immediately popular upon its release. True History was written by a religious German gunner and adventurer who actively sought out his passage to Brazil. His story recounts his journey to Brazil, his capture, captivity, escape aboard a French ship, and his return to Europe in 1555. After sailing to the New World on a Spanish ship, he was employed by the Portuguese in their fort in São Vicente, near present day Rio de Janeiro, where the native Tupiniquin of the area became their allies. He worked at the fort for five years (1549-1553) where he learned the Tupi language and it was at the fort that he was captured by the Tupinambá, the enemies of the Tupiniquin. As was the custom of the Tupi, those captured in war were destined to be sacrificed and eaten as part of a constant battle of revenge that took place between the warring indigenous groups.9 Staden's destiny to be grilled seemed inevitable, especially since the indigenous captors wanted revenge against the Portuguese. Staden explains, "Those who had captured me made angry complaints that the Portuguese had slain their father, which they wanted to avenge on me."10 Yet, in the traditional fashion of a sixteenth-century popular narrative, God's providence was on Staden's side and he was spared.

     The thread that ties Staden's story together is his faith. Staden states on numerous occasions how God saved him and kept him alive.

To make this account of my voyage and journey as short as possible I have only described its beginning, how I fell into the hands of tyrannical people. [I did this] to show how mightily our Lord and God, the Helper in all Need, delivered me from their power, when I was without hope. Everyone shall know that Almighty God still protects and directs His faithful Christians among the godless heathen people in a most wondrous manner, just as He has done right from the beginning.11

     Staden's goal was not to give an ethnographic account of the Tupinambá, but to inspire Europeans to devotion. God was wondrous and powerful because he saved Staden from his many trials and tribulations such as shipwreck, disease, a gunshot wound and most importantly anthropophagic sacrifice.12 Staden himself states his purpose, "I have already frequently made my intention- what made me write this little book- sufficiently clear: how very much we owe it to God to praise and thank Him for having protected us, right from the first hours following our birth up to the present hour in our lives."13 His attitudes about the spiritual conquest of the Tupi were therefore a second thought for Staden, as his primary concern was inspiring his European audience to faith. Given the edifying purpose for his writing, the accuracy of his account can be called into question, yet this sensational narrative still provides a valuable lay perspective on Tupi life and religion.

     The focus of Staden's True History concerns his time living among the Tupinambá, and the crux of the story relates to the various anthropophagic sacrifices that he witnessed, as well as the ones he escaped when he was to be grilled and eaten. Even though Staden interpreted his salvation from the "savages" as an act of God, there were also external circumstances that helped his cause. On the day that the Tupinambá were preparing to eat Staden, many people were dying from a disease that struck the village. The chief called upon Staden to pray to his God to rid the village of disease. The indigenous peoples had previously concluded that Staden was a Portuguese and therefore deserved to be eaten since the Portuguese were the enemies of the Tupinambá. Staden believed that because of this grave mistake, the village had become inflicted with a disease. The chief's children, mother and brothers had died. Staden recounts,

Then he [the chief] told me to tell my God to end His wrath, so that he would stay alive. I gave him great comfort, telling him that he was not going to be in danger; however, once he recovered, he had to give up all thoughts of killing me. He then said that he would not do so [eat me].14

     Several times throughout the story, the king defers to Staden for his powers. Staden's God became famous for punishing those who hurt Staden. On another occasion, when the indigenous peoples wanted to give him away, a black cloud appeared over the village and Staden said,

I pointed the cloud out to them and told them that my God was angry with the village for having eaten Christian flesh, etc. Once they had taken me there, they handed me over to a king called Abbati Bossange. They told him that he should not burden me or allow others to do so, for my God was very vengeful towards those who hurt me. 15

     Staden then took on the role of a shaman within Tupinambá society and became well respected. In this way he gained the trust of the community and also instilled enough fear into the Tupinambá that they thought something would go awry if they actually sacrificed him.

     Staden appreciated the connection between cannibalism and other aspects of Tupi economy and society. The second booklet of True History is a "true and brief account of manners and customs of the Tuppin Inbas, whose captive I was."16 Staden understood the Tupinambá as a hunter-gatherer and warring society.17 He states, "These aforementioned tribes all make war amongst themselves, and when one of them captures an enemy savage, they eat him."18 Staden grasped that the social order functions based on honor and revenge. Honor is gained in society by killing the most enemies. He states, "This is what they consider honor to be: when someone has captured and slain many enemies- for this is customary among them."19 Staden understood the reasons for war to be first revenge, because his own capture was for the purpose of killing him and avenging the Portuguese. The second reason for war was because the pajés, or the soothsayers of the community, called for war. The pajés had maracas, which they believed were the vessels through which spirits communicated with them and demanded war. He states,

Nevertheless, it is the soothsayer who speaks; he does the same with all the rattles, one after the other. Then everyone thinks that his rattle holds great power. Then the soothsayers tell them to make war and capture enemies, for the spirits who are in the Tammaraka [maracas] crave the flesh of slaves. Then they set off to war.20

     Tupi society lacked written laws, yet they did follow a customary, unwritten law. Staden understood that, "If one person strikes or shoots another person dead, his friends are ready to kill [the murderer], but this happens rarely. They also obey the chief of the hut: when he commands, they comply, but alone out of good will, without compulsion or fear."21 However, cannibalism existed among the Tupi due to hatred, jealousy, and vengeance.

They do not do this from hunger, but from great hate and jealousy. When they skirmish during war and are filled with hate, one will call out to the other…'I am here to take vengeance on you for the death of my friends… This day, before sunset, your flesh shall be my roast meat.' They do all this because of their great hatred [for one another]."22

     Though Staden possessed a good grasp of the operating principles within indigenous society and his understanding of the social and economic organization of the Tupi appears accurate and at times even perceptive, he was less concerned with the Christianization of the Tupi. He was pious, but not interested in being a missionary to the Tupi. While his harrowing tale has fascinated readers for centuries, he represents the European perspective that is most disengaged from the spiritual conquest of Brazil when compared with Léry and Anchieta. Perhaps the Tupi were so beyond the limits of his comprehension that Staden did not even think of their conversion, since he refers to them as "savages," "tyrannical people" and "godless heathen people."

Jean de Léry's History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil

     When the French arrived in the year 1555 in southeastern Brazil at Guanabara Bay (the Tupi name of the region) they named it France Antarctique and soon began trading brazilwood there. Nicholas de Villegagnon, who organized a group of people from France to sail to present day Rio de Janeiro, established a colony to help protect and expand French influence in the region. Supposedly Villegagnon asked John Calvin to send ministers for his expedition and Jean de Léry, a young Huguenot missionary (and later a Reformed minister) was included in Calvin's mission. 23

     Unlike Staden, the stated purpose of Léry's travels is religious- to minister to the spiritual needs of the French colonists. Léry shares something of the spirit of adventure and discovery evident in Staden.   He had Staden's youth, if not his enthusiasm, arriving in Brazil at the age of twenty-two.  Léry lived among the Tupinambá from 1557-1558, while Staden spent five years (1549-1553), with three months in captivity.  While Staden's tales of adventure appeared in print six years after his return, Léry's experience in Brazil took the form of a natural history in his book, Histoire d'un voyage fait en la Terre du Brésil (1578), which appeared some twenty years after his return to Europe.  The desire for commercial success was certainly a motive driving Staden to write his popular book, and one cannot exclude the possibility that this inspired Léry to writes his own book, which was neither as lively nor popular as True History.  Despite Léry's claim that he had not read Staden's book and was only inspired to write down his account after witnessing the brutality of France's Wars of Religion, similarities between the texts are plentiful.24   For example, in the first pages of both of their books they quote Psalm 107.25

     However, Léry's approach is very different from that of Staden. Léry has a more scientific approach as he describes in much detail the customs and practices of the Tupinambá. Léry is a humanist writer of France, mimicking the style of the ancients such as Pliny, with his descriptive techniques and details, and quoting Josephus and Ovid among many other classics. Staden, being a simple commercial worker and presumably, therefore, lacking a classical training, did not make references to the historical tradition of cannibalism and attracted a more popular audience than Léry's more erudite readership. Like Staden who acknowledged that God saved him, God's providence is also at work in Léry's narrative. For example, he speaks "Of the extreme famine, tempests, and other dangers from which God delivered us as we were returning to France."26

     Léry waivers between being hopeful that the Tupinambá could be converted and his alternating sense of despair, the latter of which was due to the fact that he deemed the Tupinambá to have no sense of divinity and thus his mission prematurely ended. Léry explained that he abandoned his mission because Villegagnon, the Calvinist leader of the expedition, had given up his own Calvinist faith. He states, "I am still of the opinion that if Villegagnon had not revolted from the Reformed Religion, and if we had longer in that country, we would have drawn and won some of them to Jesus Christ."27 In a state of despair he writes,

Although the adage of Cicero is held by all as an indubitable maxim- that there is no people so brutish, nor any nation so barbarous and savage, as to have no feelings that there is a divinity- nonetheless when I consider closely our Tupinamba of America, I find myself somewhat at a loss in applying it to them. Not only are they utterly ignorant of the sole true God, … they neither confess nor worship any gods, either of heaven or earth.28

     Yet in a moment of hope, he states, "I do recall, however, another example that I will put forth here, showing that these nations of savages living in the land of Brazil are teachable enough to be drawn to the knowledge of God, if only one were to take the trouble to instruct them."29 Amidst his vacillations between hope and despair, Léry recognizes that the Tupi can be taught even if their worldview poses a major barrier to evangelization. The Tupi are not totally Other, as they most likely were for Staden.

     However, Léry's chief concern was not the Christianization of the Tupi, but it was moral and didactic. The brutality of France's religious wars drove Léry to examine the Tupi, who served as foils for Europeans. Their exotic differences merited neutral and accurate descriptions; by illuminating their foreignness, Léry could establish the Tupi as distinctly Other, as illiterate, unclean, polygamous, technologically primitive, etc. Léry could analyze Tupi way of life in its environment with scientific detail. Focusing on their brutality, particularly the savagery of their cannibalism, marked the limits of their incivility, but those very boundaries served as mirrors in which Europeans were to recognize themselves in the full horror of their own cruelty and barbarism.

So let us henceforth no long abhor so very greatly the cruelty of the anthropophagus- that is, man-eating- savages. For since there are some here in our midst even worse and more detestable than those who, as we have seen, attack only enemy nations, while the ones over here have plunged into the blood of their kinsmen, neighbors, and compatriots, one need not go beyond one's own country, nor as far as America, to see such monstrous and prodigious things.30

     Léry had a fondness for the Tupi, which also served his didactic purpose. Léry needed to humanize the Tupi so that they could be seen as mirrors for the shaming of his fellow Europeans. By showing tenderness toward the Tupi, he avoids demonizing them entirely, which would undercut his argument. Léry thought them worthy and capable of reform, since he did have hopes that they could be reformed. For example, he described the kindness inherent in the Tupi custom of receiving visitors, as he was received in this way.31 "As we were having our dinner in an open area, the savages of that place assembled- not to eat with us but to view us. For if they want to do honor to a personage they do not take their meal while he does (not even the old men, who were proud to see us in their village, and showed us all possible signs of friendship)."32 The Tupi bestowed kindness upon the French since the French were willing to fight in battle along side them. He states, "Since there was nothing we could have done to give them more pleasure than go with them to war, they continued to hold us in such high esteem that, since that time, the elders of the villages we visited always showed us the greatest affection."33 Ultimately Léry saved himself from being eaten by the cannibals, since an alliance was formed between the Tupinambá and the French.

     The most interesting debate that Léry reported relates to the Eucharist. As the Huguenot Léry was steeped in the debates surrounding Reformation theology in Europe, he brought those theological disputes with him to the New World. As Léry recounted, Villegagnon fell away from his Protestant faith and told Léry that he now believed in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. Léry responded, "Nevertheless, they wanted not only to eat the flesh of Jesus Christ grossly rather than spiritually, but what was worse, like the savages named Quetaca, of whom I have already spoke, they wanted to chew and swallow it raw."34 Janet Whatley, literary scholar and translator of the Léry's Voyage, explains Léry's reason for fleeing Villegagnon. "To escape from his [Villegagnon's] domination and join les sauvages on the coast is to trade the proximity of spiritual cannibalism for that of the merely physical."35 Thus, Léry's cultural relativism is seen again when he decides that it is better to live among the real cannibals then those who want to treat the Eucharist as an anthropophagic feast.

     Léry's framework was not that of the average Christian. Cannibalism was not the summum malum for Léry because he understood it comparatively within the context of multiple European acts of brutality. Cannibalism, which centered on the eating of human flesh and drinking of human blood, when paralleled to the Roman Catholic idea of eating and drinking Christ's body and blood, was found to be more tolerable for Léry.36 The monstrous cannibal that the Europeans fearsomely judged in the New World was actually haunting people in Europe, Léry maintained. Thus the New World became not so "foreign" and "Other" as Staden would make it seem, but rather cannibalism as a concept was already intimately wound up in the belief systems of Renaissance Europe, in its political façade as well as its theological backdrop.37

José de Anchieta's Letters from Captivity

     The first province that the Jesuits founded in the New World was in Brazil. In 1563 the Spanish Jesuit José de Anchieta, arguably the most influential priest in the early Jesuit missions to Brazil, was taken hostage in Iperoig, a neighboring town of Rio de Janeiro.38 He was held captive for three months as the provincial, Father Manuel de Nóbrega, went to Rio de Janeiro to establish peace between the Tamoyos and the Tupinambá, who were at war in Rio de Janeiro, the place where the captaincy of São Vicente and the Jesuit college was established. Meanwhile, Anchieta was held behind in captivity by the Tamoyos because they did not fully trust the Jesuit peacemakers and needed to hold one of the two priests for ransom. Anchieta wrote fourteen letters and two poems reflecting upon the French presence in the area, including letters from his captivity. 39

     Due to the Jesuits' tremendous capabilities with the indigenous language and the extended time periods that they spent among indigenous groups, their personal accounts often outdo in many ways those of the writers of travelogues, in terms of the amount of written records available and the accuracy of the ethnographic data presented. In addition, the Jesuits in the early missions were not writing for pleasure, but were ordered to write letters to their superiors, recording events as they happened. The Jesuits had a duty to be truthful in their letters and to objectively record events of the mission, unlike Staden who was under no obligation to tell the truth as he was not commissioned by the crown or a third party.

     In addition to cannibalism, the Jesuits' main obstacles in converting the Tupi included deviant sexual practices, their semi-nomadic lifestyle, and their lack of political authority, compared to Spanish American frontiers where idolatry was considered the chief vice and challenge to evangelization.40 The Jesuits in Brazil defined as sins acts that fell outside the usual Roman catalogue of sins. Literature about the first contacts with the natives usually places cannibalism as an unsurpassable and supreme vice. However, Anchieta had a distinctive taxonomy of vices compared to other Jesuits in Brazil at the time and he was able to compromise on the issue of cannibalism for the sake of preaching Christianity more effectively. Pagden reported on the sensitivity of Anchieta to this indigenous custom, claiming that "so integral indeed was cannibalism believed to be to their social world that one Jesuit [Anchieta], fearful of the consequences of too rapid exposure to European norms, argued that 'they should not be dragged too hastily from a practice in which they place their greatest happiness.'"41

     Anchieta's ability to compromise on cannibalism was extraordinary considering that, like Staden and Léry, Anchieta also received threats that he would be cannibalized. He reported that women told him that if a disaster befell their husbands then "the women themselves would be the meat slayers (carniceiras) and kill me and eat me, and with rage burn the little house where the priest was to say mass."42 As Helen Dominian, a biographer of Anchieta, suggests, "as always, some of the more blood-thirsty clamored for a feast upon José."43 Anchieta knew that the Tupinambá have the reputation of "eating their victims down to the last fingernail" and Anchieta often feared the same would happen to him and prayed to God that he would be prepared for that day.44

     Just as Staden was declared a shaman by the Tupinambá, Anchieta was also esteemed as an agent of the divine by the Tamoyos. As Dominian reports, "His prestige as an oracle had spread among the primitives who came to speak of him as 'the padre who deals in the affairs of God."45 The chief of the Tamoyos in the town where Anchieta was being held captive approached him and asked him to tell him the fate of the Tamoyos of São Vincente. The whole village eventually came to demand of his powers of communicating with his God, and Anchieta's God seemed to respond to their problems, like curing diseases. As Dominian reports, "Mothers came with sick babies in their arms to the white pagé whom they grew to love and trust and who, unlike native pages, exacted no payment." 46

     Anchieta's status as a shaman also meant that he was attributed with powers to predict the future. "The increasing fame of Anchieta's powers frequently prompted him to tell the Indians, 'I do not believe in dreams, and you must not. Your people are safe and well treated, as you will find later.'"47 Thus, like Staden while he was in captivity, Anchieta also became respected by his captors. Anchieta convinced the Tamoyos of the power of God and his fame greatly contributed to his mission to evangelize. Anchieta and Staden's supposed works of prophecy instilled fear in the Tupi who believed that evil would befall them if they misbehaved or harmed them in any way. Thus their fame gave them safety in captivity because the Tupi respected them and trusted them. Perhaps Anchieta was more tolerant of cannibalism because he was so honored in society, or reversely, his tolerance for cannibalism could have been one of the reasons he was considered a holy man.

     Anchieta vividly recounts his first experience of witnessing the cannibal feast while celebrating Corpus Christi in the New World alongside Manuel de Nóbrega,

The other day which was [the day of] Corpus Christi, we went very early in the morning to their village where some days ago he [Father Nóbrega] sent us to make a small house in the middle of the village in order to say mass. And when he [an Indian of the village] saw us, he and all the other women of the village received great joy, as if we were brought back from the dead at that hour, speaking words of much love to us; and he went to another village to invite the others to come and drink at their village, where he had great wines.

            And they carried on drinking and dancing with the great party, and he said to them that he did not want anyone to do harm to us, nor speak any bitter words against us, and to not disturb the peace that that he [Nóbrega] made with us, which he was determined to defend, even though he knew that it could be broken with them. And one of the worst said, "Don't make me mad, because I already killed one of yours and ate him!" which was said about a slave of the Portuguese that was from Rio de Janeiro, that a few days ago he was there and he had killed him. And therefore he sent one of his woman to take off a shinbone of the leg that he had saved, of which was left over to make flutes. The others seeing this said, "You killed and ate him, let us eat him also." And asking for flour [their substitute for bread], one took one strip [of meat], another took another, they began to gnaw on the leg like dogs. 48

     This passage illustrates the core of the problem of the spiritual conquest of the Amerindians- conversion to Christianity must be cultural, and therefore certain practices needed be tolerated while the Tupi were being exposed to a new belief system. In other words, how do you convert the Tupi using customs that are familiar to them?49 Anchieta understood that cannibalism could not be immediately eradicated. Yet there was undoubtedly an irony in celebrating the Catholic feast glorifying the Eucharist, Corpus Christi, with an act of cannibalism. However, as Anchieta's poems and writings indicate, he was more preoccupied with the French Calvinists' treatment of the sacrosanct Eucharist than with the inappropriate indigenous customs at the celebration of Corpus Christi. In response to the Calvinist debates over the Eucharist circulating in Rio de Janeiro among Villegagnon and Léry, Anchieta wrote, in his epic poem De Gestis Mendi da Saa, that "the generation of Calvin rejects with impiety the celestial alimentation, they do not even believe that the substance of the bread contains Christ."50 The French Calvinists who deviated from the Catholic religion were more appalling to Anchieta than the indigenous "pagans" to whom the Good News had not yet reached.


     Cannibalism in the New World presented the greatest intellectual challenge to understanding the Tupi and consequently missionary work. Cannibalism was antithetical to the preaching of the Gospel, since it violated the Golden Rule, yet Staden did not concern himself with the salvation of the Tupinambá, even though he was extremely devout. Léry was only slightly concerned with the salvation of the Tupi because his mission had failed. Anchieta, on the other hand, was fully committed to "saving souls."

     Both Hans Staden and José de Anchieta were participant-observers of Tupi society. They were received as shamans in their respective communities and the Tupi claimed that they possessed powers to prophesize and heal. They were, to some extent, sacred and holy men in Tupi communities and communicated with the next world. The Tupi was always the "Other" for Anchieta and Staden. Staden held the most extreme view of this "Other" and saw the Tupi as tyrannical. His captors were "wild, naked, savage man-munching people."51 Anchieta took the middle position between Staden and Léry. He saw the Tupi as "Other" but still understood them to be reasonable and capable of being converted. Anchieta interpreted indigenous customs as they compared to Europe, but did not see the European counterpart to cannibalism, in other words, the act of cannibalism still remains an act of the "Others." Yet Anchieta understood the importance of the Tupi culture to the extent that he was willing to compromise and tolerate cannibalism as part of their society until the practice was successfully replaced by Christian ritual practices.

     Léry possessed the greatest degree of empathy, to the point that he actually preferred the company of cannibals to non-Calvinists. Léry was a cultural relativist. Compared with Staden, Léry was a more scientific thinker and thus his interpretation of the situation among the Tupi was more nuanced. Léry was never held captive nor was he hailed as a shaman like Staden and Anchieta. He did not cure people or prophesize and this could be one of the reasons that his preaching in America was not effective. Thus, the way in which the indigenous peoples attributed religious powers to these three figures, or did not in Léry's case, framed their experiences. For example, Léry's pessimistic view of the Tupi's lack of religion could have been attributed to Léry's inability to be seen as spiritual or an oracle by them. Léry did not write with a discrete agenda, which is evident when he is compared with Staden, who wrote to edify his reader and Anchieta, whose purpose was his evangelizing mission. Léry was the most observant of the three and this was due to his lack of religious agenda concerning the Tupi. This gave Léry the freedom to write for anthropological and ethnographic purposes. Thus, for these sixteenth-century writers, their religious views in relation to the Tupi framed their writings of the New World. Religion in the sixteenth century did not just shape one's view of the cosmos, but also shaped the way they were able to perceive the "Other," cannibalism, and consequently spiritual conquest.

Anne B. McGinness is a graduate student in Latin American History at the University of Notre Dame and writing her dissertation on the religious history of colonial Brazil. She is a corresponding researcher for the Centro de História de Além-Mar at the New University, Lisbon and was a visiting Professor of Theology at the Catholic University of Bolivia, Carmen Pampa. She thanks Dr. Carole Straw for her assistance with this article. She can be contacted at


1 See Janet Whatley's discussion of the letter that Villegagnon sent to Calvin from the colony requesting that the Reformed Church of Geneva send people to instruct on religion. Janet Whatley, introduction to, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, otherwise called America, by Jean de Léry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), xx. While "de Léry" is the correct form of his last name, the conventional name of "Léry" will be used in keeping with the scholarly trend.

2 For more on the debate concerning Brazil's "accidental" discovery, see Jorge Couto, "Casualidade versus intencionalidade" in A Construção do Brasil (Lisboa: Edições Cosmos, 1997), 171-182.

3 In 1560 the Portuguese captured and destroyed the French fort in Rio de Janeiro. However the French then moved to the mainland where they befriended the Tamoyos and launched successive attaches against the Portuguese, who were aligned with the Tupinikin, the enemies of the Tamoyo. In 1567 reinforcements arrived from Portugal and the French were defeated. Staden writes when the French are present in Rio de Janeiro yet before the warring between the French and Portuguese begins. Anchieta and Léry write while they are at war.

4 The topic of cannibalism also fascinated writers for years to come. See Michel de Montaigne, "Of cannibals," in The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald M. Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1948), 150-59.

5 Three issues directly related to cannibalism are sexual excess, eating filth, and sacrifice. They will not be treated here yet are important to the idea of anthropophagic ritual. The Mongols were said to eat dogs, wolves, foxes and mice and thus it was a trait of barbarians to eat unclean food and be unable to decipher the proper hierarchy of the animal world and food chain. See Anthony Pagden, The Fall of the Natural Man. The American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 88. In relation to sexuality see Frank Lestringant, Cannibals: the Discovery of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). For more on sacrifice, see Pagden, 89.

6 Modern anthropology generally agrees that there was cannibalistic activity among the tribes of Brazil, except for one anthropologist. See William Arens, The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). Arens has criticized the evidence presented by Staden arguing that since he gives the only eye witness account, it is unlikely that anthropophagic practices existed. Many anthropologists have spoken against Arens and claim that cannibalism was a practice of the Tupi. Arens clearly failed to look at a variety of extant sources, including Jesuit reports.

7 The subject of alterity has been extensively discussed by scholars from Late Antiquity up through the sixteenth century. See, for example, Mary Baine Campbells, The Witness and the other World. Exotic European Travel Writings, 1400-1600 (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1988). Also, Pagden states, "Accusations of cannibalism contributed to the de-humanization of the outsider, for men who ate other men were never thought to be quite human," 81

8 The term "barbarian" was invented by the ancient Greeks in order that the superiority of the Greek civilization might stand out from their neighbors. The term became synonymous for those warriors who were without law, king and faith and these irrational practices thus proved that they could be legitimately conquered.

9 It is widely acknowledged by historians and anthropologists alike, as it was acknowledged by Staden, Anchieta and Léry, that "vengeance is the hermeneutical key to interpreting anthropophagic ritual." See Staden, xxxiv. Also see Padgen, The Fall of the Natural Man, 83-84, who acknowledges revenge, as well as supposed need a secondary hermeneutical key of the Europeans for interpreting cannibalism. He mentions how the Castilian crown ordered Cortés to increase the importation of cattle to Mexico in order to take away the need of protein from human meat. Note how the case of cannibalism in Mexico was more extensive than the Brazilian case and is discussed at length by numerous scholars. See, for example, Davíd Carrasco, "Cosmic Jaws: We Eat the Gods and the Gods Eat Us," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63 (1995): 429-463.

9 Hans Staden, True History. An Account of Cannibal Activity in Brazil, ed. Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Harbsmeier (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 59.

10 Hans Staden, True History. An Account of Cannibal Activity in Brazil, ed. Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Harbsmeier (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 59.

11 Staden, True History, 143.

12 As Anthony Grafton states, "His goal is to tell a traditional Christian moralizing tale both to edify and to inspire devotion." Anthony Grafton, New World, Ancient Texts. The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1992), 108-109.

13 Staden, True History, 143

14 Ibid., 6, 9-70.

15 Ibid., 96.

16 Ibid., 105.

17 Ibid., 127.

18 Léry includes Villegagnon's letter in his introduction, yet scholars debate if it was really Villegagnon's letter and if those were his intentions.

19 Staden, True History, 124.

20 Ibid., 125

21 Ibid., 117.

22 Ibid. True History, 127.

23 Léry includes Villegagnon's letter in his introduction, yet scholars debate if it was really Villegagnon's letter and if those were his intentions.

24 Staden, True History, xxxvi.

25 Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, 9 and Staden, True History 7.

26 Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, 208. This is the title of chapter XXII.

27 Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, 147.

28 Iperoig is present day Ubatuba which lies to the west of Rio de Janeiro.

29 Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, 149. An example he gives as to why he thinks the "savages" can be converted is because he convinced one indigenous group to promise to abandon their customs, specifically that of cannibalism, and worship one God, and afterwards they got down on their knees to pray with Léry. See page 147.

30 Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, 133. He also makes the same argument about not condemning the savages for being naked because the excess of European clothing is "hardly more laudable," 68.

31 Ibid., 164.

32 Ibid., 146.

33 Ibid., 120.

34 Ibid., 41.

35 Janet Whatley, "Food and Limits of Civility: The Testimony of Jean de Léry," Sixteenth Century Journal 5 (1984), 389. The Quetacas are the most savage of the savages, with whom Léry compares Villegagnon, while the Tupinambá are much more civil.

36 See Caroline Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption (New York: Zone Books, 1991). Bynum presents the medieval connection between the Eucharist and cannibalism. "Pious folk in the late Middle Ages also gave extraordinary religious significance to the body of God. Not only did they believe that the bread on the altar became Christ at the moment of consecration; they also experienced miracles in which the bread turned into bloody flesh on the paten or in the mouth of the recipient. Increasingly, therefore, Eucharistic reception became symbolic cannibalism: devotees consumed and thus incorporated (as they are understood to do in other cannibal cultures, such as Iroquios or Aztec) the power of the tortured god," 185.

37 The most prominent scholar of Léry, Frank Lestringant, moved the debate concerning the influences on European perspectives of cannibalism beyond the examination of classical influences to include the political influences from Europe. Frank Lestringant, Jean de Léry ou l'invention du sauvage. Essai sur l' "Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil" (Paris: Honoré Champion éditeur, 1999).

38 Iperoig is present day Ubatuba which lies to the west of Rio de Janeiro.

39 See José de Anchieta, Cartas. Correspondencia Activa e Passiva. Obras Completas. Vol. VI., ed. Hélio Viotti, S.J. (São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 1984). For the two poems written in response to the Eucharistic discussions between the French Calvinists and the Jesuits, see De Gestis and De Beata Virgine. For more on Jesuit responses to the presence of the French in Brazil, see José de Anchieta, Poemas Eucharísticos e Outros. Obras Completas. Vol. III, ed. Armando Cardoso, S.J. (São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 1975), 44.

40 Among the Tupi there were no discernible idols and therefore missionary work in Brazil took a distinct course from that of Spanish America. Due to the lack of idols found along the coast of Brazil, missionaries in Brazil debated if the Tupi had a religion at all. The seventeenth century author, Yves D'Evreux, argued that important elements of Christian belief were found in Tupi belief systems and legends, especially the belief in an earthly paradise. Yves D'Evreux, Voyage dans le Nord du Brésil fait Durant les Années 1613-1614 par le Père Yves D'évreux (Paris: Librairie A. Frank, 1864), 262 and 322. See Sabine MacCormack's discussion on European debates concerning if the Tupinambá had a religion. Sabine MacCormack, "Ethnography in South America: the First Two Hundred years" in Salomon and Scwartz, eds., Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of South America (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 112-114.

41 Pagden, The Fall of the Natural Man, 84.

42 Anchieta's letter from São Vicente, 1565 in Serafim Leite, S.J. ed., Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu. Monumenta Brasiliae IV (Roma: Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, 1960), 241. My own translation from the Portuguese.

43 Helen Dominian, Apostle of Brazil. The Biography of Padre José de Anchieta, S.J. (New York: Exposition Press, 1958), 208.

44 Anchieta quoted in Pagden, The Fall of the Natural Man, 216, fn. 151.

45 Dominian, Apostle of Brazil, 202

46 Dominian, Apostle of Brazil, 129.

47 Dominian, Apostle of Brazil, 202.

48 Letter from Father José de Anchieta to Father Digeo Laines from São Vicente, 8th of January 1565. Monumenta Brasiliae IV, 146. My own translation from the original Spanish.

49 See the plays of José de Anchieta, which show this particular missionary's ingenuity in converting the Tupi, using a combination of indigenous and Christian customs. José de Anchieta, Teatro de Anchieta, ed. Armando Cardoso, S.J. (São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 1977).

50 Anchieta, Poemas Eucarísticos, 48. My own translation from the Portuguese.

51 Hans Staden's title is True History and Description of a Country Populated by a Wild, Naked, and Savage Man-munching People, situated in the New World, America….


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