You’ve seen a million times the cartoon trope of an explorer (usually white) in the jungle (usually in Africa) sitting in a huge kettle cooking on a fire. And nearby (usually) is a dark-skinned chef (occasionally with a spear).
Just to show how well-established this trope is, here are some Google Images results.
Yeah. Racist as hell. Many of myths and stories about cannibalism seem to arise from one culture trying to smear another culture as barbaric – and therefore worthy of subjugation if not extermination.
All that came to mind when I ran across this man-sized kettle in Madagascar:
The location is a little island off of Fenoarivo Atsinanana (a.k.a. Fénérive Est). It’s a small uninhabited place, just under 1 kilometer (.6 miles) around. It doesn’t appear on Google Maps unless you switch to satellite view.
No humans were cooked in this kettle. (Probably)
Chances are that the big kettle is European in origin – possibly an artifact from when Fenoarivo Atsinanana was a port for piracy in the 17th century.
There is a disputed account of 19th century cannibalism in Madagascar, based on a fair amount of conjecture by Louis Molet, a French missionary, who published his cannibal conclusions in the 1950s.
Molet heard second- or third-hand about a supposed Malagasy funerary tradition. Supposedly, before grilling some zebu beef steaks the person officiating the funeral would say to the mourners a benediction along the lines of, “We’re so sad about our loss, but let’s eat some cow meat instead of the dead guy.”
Molet read this account, and was like, “Huh? Instead of? That must mean…“
Even if true, those were the Merina people – from the highlands (where I live) – not the Betsimisaraka people who come from the area around Fenoarivo Atsinanana, where I found the big kettle.
Cannibalizing American Culture
One famous example of the cannibal cooking kettle trope, is from a Looney Tunes cartoon called “Jungle Jitters.” A persistent dog-like salesman named Manny goes door-to-door in a stereotyped African village. The villagers decide they should eat him and take his gadgets.
“Jungle Jitters” is one of 11 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons removed from syndication in the United States in 1968 because of their use of African stereotypes. They’re called the “Censored Eleven” because, unlike other cartoons from these studios, these cartoons are so full of stereotypes that the offensive bits can’t be edited out – nothing would be left of the original cartoon if they tried.
I’m old enough to remember seeing certain Tom and Jerry cartoons on TV featuring Mammy Two-Shoes, the “mammy” stereotype. In the versions of these cartoons still in syndication in the USA, this character has since been politically corrected – edited, dubbed, or re-animated. (None of the Mammy Two-Shoes cartoons are in the Censored Eleven.)
Still, when I first arrived in Madagascar, I was surprised to see the cartoon “Push Button Kitty,” playing on a gas station TV (dubbed in French). This was the final cartoon featuring this character.
Like so many things Americans disown – t-shirts, plastic, toxic electronic waste, etc. – the entertainment we toss out also ends up dumped in Africa. Cannibalized, you might say, by African TV networks looking for cheap programming to fill their airtime.