'After me fellow caïcaï you': Eating the Other/The Other Eating

Karin Elizabeth Speedy


Abstract

When it comes to European descriptions of the Other, the act of cannibalism has long been synonymous, to the Western imagination at least, with primitivism. As such, it often operates as a boundary line between the savage and the civilised. The spectre of the Kanak “anthropophages” of New Caledonia and the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) is ever-present in the writings of Georges Baudoux, whose fascination with cannibalism reflects the 19th-century colonial preoccupation with racial hierarchies and the demonization of the indigenous Other. Indeed, in his Légendes canaques, Baudoux’s representations of Kanak cannibalism are typical of the colonial literary genre – overly bloodthirsty, sensationalised and designed to distance the “instictive savages” or “cannibal animals” from the “rational” (read “superior”) colonizers. While Baudoux does not abandon this discourse in other stories, it is interesting to see how it is nuanced in the case of the métis (Kanak-European) protagonist of Jean M’Baraï. This paper explores the representations of the Other eating, including eating the Other, in Baudoux’s work, focusing particularly on the actions/reactions/reflexivity of Jean M’Baraï. To what extent can we see this character as a vehicle for conflicting colonial discourses on the métis as either “deviant degenerate” or the “great hope” for the future “civilization” of the colonized “race”? And where does Baudoux place himself in this clash of ideologies?

Keywords

Francophone Literature; Pacific Literature; Georges Baudoux; Cannibalism; Blackbirding; Métissage

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