Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Papua cannibal
11" x 8.5"
ink, pencil on paper, 2013
The song by Kunimaipa natives of Papua New Guinea that is listed in my Top 100 of 2012 may not be the most exciting track musically but the context makes up for it, big time. It's a cannibal song, recorded during a time when this was still common practice in certain parts of the world. And, according to the liner notes of The Columbia World Library record dedicated to Australia and Papua New Guinea, the practice of cannibalism was practiced directly after the men were done singing: "Afterwards the bodies of the dead men are cut into pieces, cooked on hot stones, and eaten." The idea of these warriors, headhunters, are about as extreme in the Western concept of otherness as you can get. Just the thought alone will strike fear in your heart. It's the moment when the romanticism of far away exotic cultures turns into nightmare. The image of the white man being cooked in the pot is the image authors in the early- and mid-twentieth century used as the ultimate depiction of the barbarian world that's out there just beyond the reaches of our civilized towns. The missionaries and musicologists that went out there, to Papua, to make recordings of such tribes must have had a very strong heart. Officially the practice of cannibalism is curtailed in Papua (as well as in other parts of the world) but some areas of the island are so inaccessible and remote that you can't be totally sure. I found an article in the Guardian with a recent account of cannibal practice: "“We ate their brains raw and took body parts such as livers, hearts, penis and others back to the hausman (traditional men’s houses) for our chief trainers to create other powers for the members to use,” one of the tribesmen has said." (July 14, 2012, The Guardian)
The image above is based on a photo the Guardian used to illustrate the story.

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