5. Against Taste: The Ritual Power of Revulsion in Consuming the Decaying Dead
Beth Conklin [+]
The most thoroughly documented and intimate accounts of funerary cannibalism in the ethnographic record come from the testimonies of Wari’ elders in western Brazil, among whom the practice of consuming the bodies of their dead lasted until the 1960s. Contrary to taken-for-granted views of cannibalism as an act of self-gratification, Wari’ purposefully allowed their loved ones’ bodies to begin to decay before they were roasted, which made consumption a deeply unpleasant experience. Taste was just one dimension of immersive, multisensory ritual processes in which eating encapsulated and mediated spiritual, social, and symbolic relations centered in shifting dynamics of feeding and being fed, hunting and being hunted, among kin and between humans and animals the living and the dead. Wari’ experiences challenge assumptions about distinctions and hierarchies among the senses, and show how acts of eating are enmeshed in affective potencies shaped by people’s histories of procuring, producing, and partaking in food together.