ABSTRACT

It has been said that cannibalism is an acquired taste. To some extent, Jean de Léry, during his stay in Brazil from 1556 to 1557, did acquire that taste. Not literally and corporeally, of course, but figuratively and metaphorically, in his largely sympathetic portrayal of the Tupinambá. A number of accounts preceding the publication of Léry’s Histoire d’un voyage in 1578 had described the Brazilian natives in caricatural terms, as in the Portuguese Atlas Miller of 1519: in the upper left corner of the map of Brazil, a paragraph in a text box offers a condensed description of the natives as dark-skinned, savage and cannibalistic: “Gens vero eius negrescentis coloris fera et immanissima carnibus humanis vescitur …” [Indeed, the race of this dark color—wild and most monstrous—feeds on human flesh …].1 In Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia universalis of 1544, the imaginary prevails in engravings of natives slicing up bodies on a chopping block with a butcher’s knife (Fig. 12.1). The frontispiece of Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terrarium of 1572 visually encapsulates Brazilians as savages, with the allegorical figure representing the new world holding a severed head in her hand (Fig. 12.2). Even André Thevet’s Singularitez de la France Antarctique of 1559, purportedly based on his travels to Brazil as the king’s cosmographer, depicts the autochthonous people with little finesse: “Il n’y a beste aux desert d’Afrique, ou de l’Arabie tant cruel, qui appete si ardemment le sang humain, que ce peuple sauvage plus que brutal” [There is no beast in the African desert or in Arabia as cruel, who relishes human blood as ardently, as this savage and worse than brutal people].2