Columbus and Other Cannibals
The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism,
Jack D. Forbes – Seven Stories Press
234 pp – $14.95
“I will argue that we can compare the commemoration of Columbus with the doings of the neo-Nazis organizations in Europe and the Americas, groups which commemorate the great dates of Hitler’s regime. The difference is that the neo-Nazis are a minority and their commemorations usually do not receive much attention. The followers of Columbus, on the other hand, occupy seats of power throughout much of the Americas. Their holidays are national ones, often imposed on their respective societies.”
— Jack D. Forbes
Christopher Columbus is an enigma in America. For many Americans, Columbus is viewed with romanticism of a heroic explorer who “sailed the ocean blue.” He is part of the American construction by an educational system that creates heroes of legendary proportion that are perpetrated from generation to generation.
Not all groups romanticize Columbus. To American Indians, Columbus is likened to a criminal who came to shores of the Western Hemisphere to pilfer and commit hideous crimes against indigenous women.
“Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism and Terrorism” is a powerful book that dethrones the enigmatic Columbus and puts into perspective colonization of the Americas. Written by Jack D. Forbes, the former chair of Native American Studies at the University of California at Davis, the book pushes the envelope way beyond what American students are traditionally taught about Columbus in school.
According to Forbes, cannibalism is a disease. He refers it as the “wétiko”, cannibal, psychosis. He writes of this form of cannibalism on the Americas brought by Columbus and crew: “Brutality knows no boundaries, Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. Arrogance knows no frontiers. Deceit knows no edges.”
Forbes, Powhatan-Renápe and Delaware-Lanápe descent, passed away in February 2011. Forbes authored twelve books, including “Apache, Navaho and Spaniard,” that has been in print for over thirty-two years.
In “Columbus and Other Cannibals,” Forbes will challenge those who have been brought up in an American society that has chosen to whitewash, no pun intended, all of the atrocities done to the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
What is fascinating is Forbes does so without the tone of anger that is typical in those who seek to provoke thought to a different level. Forbes seeks to provoke thought, but writes as a philosopher who understands the context of who he is.
First published in 1978, “Columbus and Other Cannibals” was revised and rereleased in 2008. The latest edition provides interesting perspective that include contemporary worldviews that are inclusive of George W. Bush’s war on terror. And, on the word terrorism, which Forbes argues was part of Indian Removal from their lands during the 1800s. So, while Forbes writes about Columbus, he argues the premise of Columbus’ cannibalism has extended to future, and including this, generation of Americans.
“Columbus and Other Cannibals” should be read by those who want to better understand America and why it behaves as it does today.
American Indian students will benefit from this book as they prepare to educate future generations of American Indians the “why” behind what happened to our ancestors.