Commentary: On Cannibalism

"There must be a black Adam and Eve, a white Adam and Eve, a yellow Adam and Eve, and a brown Adam and Eve. Or else, they evolved from us."

This short film, though only five minutes long, addresses provoking questions surrounding the concept of "race" . The film demonstrates perhaps at the most rudimentary level, the ignorance of ethnocentrism. In the field of anthropology, constant amendments have to be made to preexisting theories concerning human behavior. Originally, anthropologists had theorized about the concept of race. People acted the way they did because of they were primitive, or inferior. Western races were thought to be intellectually superior to other races. It was thought that peoples such as the aboriginals and Ju/'hoansi did not have the same complexity as Europeans. More modern anthropologist replaced race with culture, and began to make observations based on the effects of culture. Still, recent anthropologists look at the idea of discourse, realizing that is to narrow a view to examine a community’s qualities based purely on culture. The discourse approach to anthropology recognizes that there are internal factors of power and politics at hand that shape culture.

It is the unfortunate reality that most people still hold these primitive beliefs regarding "race". The narrator's comment that "There must be a black Adam and Eve, a white Adam and Eve, a yellow Adam and Eve, and a brown Adam and Eve, or else, they evolved from us", demonstrates the widespread misunderstood beliefs that people have concerning "race". With further study, one can find that the concept of race does not have biological grounds as most people think. In fact, there are often more variances within "races" than between them. Further studies have indicated a common ancestor for all mankind, and that each individual’s lineage can be traced back to the beginning of the human species. However, in forming an identity around someone's lineage, further problems arise. How does one categorize an individual with lineage through both Asia and Europe? The narrator of the film talks that the Europeans could "Find the perfect index for categorizing". The implication is that there is no perfect index for categorizing. Human beings are constantly trying to categorize, to identify someone's race and place them in a "black" box, "cannibal" box, or maybe a "yellow" box. All this race business is folly--individuals cannot be categorized with such terms.

Another important element of the film is that the narrator touches on the indirect negative consequences that a misrepresentation of peoples can lead to. Take for instance, the representation of Indonesians in the film "King Kong". The people are portrayed as being primitive, violent, simple, almost like animals. These people are the notorious "cannibals" of Indonesia that were a part of fairy tales. The narrator of the film is a women by the name of Fatimah Tobing Rony. She received her PhD from Yale University. From watching the film, Fatimah demonstrates no sign of primitivity, nor savagery. One of the most memorable lines of the short film was when Fatimah says, "I understood what these savages were saying. They were speaking some kind of strange Indonesian. Suddenly, I realized that I was a Savage". Fatimah, narrating "on Cannibalism", portrays an innocent, honest, curious individual. "I am a little girl", she says. The implications are that these false representations of other cultures in the media that might otherwise be cast aside as innocent,demonstrate a deeper ignorance that parades around as knowledge. This type of propaganda for the idea of "race" superiority has detrimental effects on those who watch. For example, the innocent Indonesian inquirer might take on the identity of an inferior person. While others, say of European descent, will feel superior to other so-called "primitive races". A misguided view of the humanity and diverse cultures promotes, for lack of a better word, "racial" inequality globally. Perhaps this was what Fatimah was hinting at.

The dangers of misrepresentation can be attributed to Charles Cooley's theory of The Looking Glass Self. This sociological theory comprises three levels of development. From birth, the individual has a general sense of who they are and thus acts accordingly. Second, the individual examines how others judge his, or her actions. In the third and final stage, the individual forms an Identity based on his or her interpretations of the judgments made by others. In relation to the film, the narrator seems to be a normal individual operating in society. However, suddenly she finds out that she is a "savage" and then begins to question if others have evolved from her, thus making her inferior. If this false idea regarding her supposed primitive nature never existed, she would never have known to formulate the compromised view of herself.

Speaking from personal experience, I can identify with the narrator. When she said, "I realized I was a savage", it reminded me of when I discovered that I was "brown". I consider myself Eurasian, my father is a Thai, and my mom of European decent. For the most part, growing up considered myself to white, since my mom was white and family life revolved around Western values. However, my life took and incredible turn when my family moved from Hat yai, Thailand to the small town of Windsor, California. In Thailand I had always been called "Farlang" meaning "Foreigner". That was how I identified myself. I was simply an American. Although I am mixed blood, in my mind then I was more less regarded as white. At ten years old, I was about to receive a new identity. The demographics of Windsor Middle School at that time were more or less 50% White and 50% Hispanic. I soon realized that I was supposed to act like a Hispanic. Having a darker complexion, I wasn't white, I was brown. Brown kids are tough, they like to fight--brown kids "don't take crap from nobody." Brown kids pick on white kids. I began to look at how people perceived me and I developed a new identity based on my interpretations of their perceptions of who I was. This new identity became clear at the family dinner table. My others brothers, having similar experiences, began talking about how we act a certain way because we are brown. What was most interesting, was that this new identity happened almost overnight. We talked about being brown and acting this way, like that was the way it had always been. I remember my mother saying, "I always thought I had white kids".

These common misunderstandings regarding the concept of race lead to inequality and oppression. A human being cannot be categorized into one group or another based on his or her race. The term race, in objective scientific terms, is meaningless. Fatimah Rony has identified the ignorant beliefs that promote inequality, and exposed their fallacies.The ultimate goal of anthropology is to find the objective reality underlying the motivations and rationales for why people are the way they are. A lack of understanding for human differences initiates conflict. Without an objective knowledge of the Indonesian cannibals, they will continued to be regarded as inferiors. It is apparent that Fatimah is not a "cannibal", but without further anthropological knowledge of culture and diversity, it might not be obvious to some that she is not inferior either.

Home Required Films

More pages