The Cannibal Museum
1 hour live-film performance / experimental lecture
Musée de la Nature et de la Chasse, Paris, May 2015
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, Colombia, April 2016.
A one hour live film performance unfolding a fictitious museum dedicated to literal and figurative cannibalism. Presented in a cinema hall, it is every time different and cowritten with the projectionist. An in situ, improvised piece at the same time that it is highly scripted.
Accidents happen while an effort to decolonialize cinema is put on stage, accidents that look and feel real but are in fact choreographed, proposing an experience in between facts and illusion. As History itself... The Cannibal Museum is a polyphonic experimental speech to rewrite the past and the present, through moving and still images.
Script excerpt :
"The narrator :
In the thirteenth century, Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant, traveled through Europe and Asia to China. He met the emperor Kublai Khan, who he called "the Great Khan."
In the fifteenth century, the land routes linking Europe and India were closed by the Ottomans. So Portuguese sailors found a sea route to the East, along the African coast. It was called “the road of the Indies.”
In 1492, Christopher Columbus, supported by the Catholic kings of Spain, took another sea route to reach India from the West. If the earth was round, he thought, it would be possible to attain the shores of Asia.
After months at sea, he reached an island called Guahanani, inhabited by the Tainos, a place that the conquistador immediately named "San Salvador." Columbus said he had arrived to "India" and that the indigenous were "Indians.".
This was said to be the first contact between Europe and America.
During this first visit, the Tainos told Columbus about the existence of "Canib" or “Carib," enemy people living on the other side of the sea, who were said to have cannibalistic practices.
As Columbus believed he was in Asia, he thought these warlike men could be the army of the Great Khan. Back in Europe, he declared that he had seen the cannibals, man-eating, fierce and wild creatures, half humans, half dogs.
In the courtyard of the Catholic Monarchs, these remarks were transcribed by Pedro Martyr d'Anghiera, who became a historian of the New World, although he had never been there:
Text title screened:
" When sailing from the Fortunate Islands, also known as the Canaries, to Hispaniola(as is, indeed, the name of the island where we landed), near noon, a huge archipelago can be spotted, populated by insular savages called Cannibals or Caribbeans. Although they are naked, they are fierce warriors. The bow and the bludgeon are their favorite weapons. They have boats dug into the trunk of a single tree, very large and which they call canoes. They use it to land in mass in the populated islands nearby, where civilized natives live. They arrive unexpectedly upon their villages and eat at once the men who were taken as prisoners. As for the children, they castrate them as we do with chickens and then, they let them grow, fatten them, slaughter them, and eat them.
Screening : From Ruggero Deodato´s Cannibal Holocaust - Faye, a young beautiful woman is stripped so as to be eaten, in a rather pornographic mise en scène. (1min)
In the sixteenth century, Hans Staden, a male German traveler, was taken captive by the Tupinambas, a Brazilian indigenous community. In his memoirs, Staden recounts the time when he was taken captive in these terms:
Text title screened:
" While I was going through the forest, I heard savages near me, wailing greatly, according to their customs. I soon saw myself surrounded and exposed to their arrows. I hardly had time to cry out : ”Lord, have mercy on my soul!" when they overthrew me and knocked me out with their weapons. They tore my clothes. One grabbed my tie, the second took my hat, the third my shirt, and so on.
They were adorned with feathers, according to their customs, they bit their arms, and threatened me as if they wanted to eat me. Their king was walking in front of me, holding in his hand the bludgeon with which they kill their prisoners.
I prayed, waiting for the stroke of death; but the king, who had made me prisoner, spoke up and said he wanted to take me alive to celebrate a party with me, to kill me,and kawewi pepicke, that is to say make their drink, celebrate a party and eat me all together."
During their wars, the Tupinambas would take warriors as hostages. These warriors were then welcomed into their villages, and were offered to have a Tupinamba wife, with whom they were sustained and encouraged to reproduce. After a long cohabitation, the hostage was eaten. The Tupinamba´s anthropophagy was a ritualised process, lasting sometimes for years, with a very precise objective. They ate their enemies so as to gain their strength, after hosting them long enough to assimilate their knowledge, and after having integrated them into their society. The Tupinamba´s anthropophagy was a metaphysical experience. Within the Tupinamba community, to be eaten was a great honour indeed. Only the bravest warriors could accede to this great tribute.
Hans Staden spent nine months with the Tupinambas. In Brazil, it is said that Staden was considered by the Tupinamba as being too much of a coward, too scared to be eaten, and so he was sold as a slave. After being freed, Staden wrote his memoirs called :
Text title screened :
" True Story and description of a country inhabited by wild men, naked, ferocious, and cannibal, located in the New World, named America, unknown in the country of Hesse, before Det since the birth of Jesus Christ, until last year. Hans Staden from Homberg had known it by his own experience and reveals it now by means of print."
A modest title.
Hans Staden states in his memoirs that he managed to escape from the Tupinambas by convincing the "Indians" that he was a messenger of God, and that calamities would fall on them if he was eaten. He says, however, that he finally left the Tupinambas traded as a slave.
The myth that indigenous people allowed themselves to be persuaded and scared by fantasy apocalyptic stories, sleights-of-hand narratives, or impressed by technological devices was widespread during the conquest of America.
Bernal Diaz del Castillo, conquistador and chronicler of the conquest of Mexico, tells in his memoirs how the natives naturally fell in veneration before a wooden cross that the conquistador Cortés had planted before them.
Screening : Cannibal Holocaust - the cannibalistic ritual is triggered by an audio tape (2min 48 secs)