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Class Year

2010

Abstract

Contemporary Italian playwright Dario Fo wrote a satirical play entitled Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas which purported to be the account of one Johan Padan, a contemporary of Columbus, who journeyed to the New World, was shipwrecked, and rescued by some friendly Indians. At one point, Padan and a group of his fellows discussed the hospitality of the Indians, who were quite generous. One of them expressed the fear that the Indians simply care for them so that they will make a splendid feast. Another man remarked, quite scathingly, “This is the third voyage I’ve made to the Indies and I’ve never met Indians with pieces of arms and legs hung up to dry in their huts, like those charlatans Amerigo Vespucci and Alfonso Gamberan talked about…They just told those stories to have an excuse for treating the Indians like animals: They’re cannibals, so we can make them slaves.” Although Fo is more concerned with literary conventions that with factual and historical accuracy, he succeeds in tapping into one idea which partially explains the proliferation of European literature about the Indians and their cannibalism, namely that cannibalism became a means whereby Europeans could justify their enslavement of the Indians. However, to say that the practice of cannibalism was simply used as justification for the enslavement of the Indians would be a grievous understatement, because cannibalism represented so much more to the Europeans. What was noted down originally as a new, curious, and revolting but fascinating practice, gradually transformed into a justification for enslavement of the Native Americans, a method of persuasion, and a device by which some Europeans critiqued their own countries.

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