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Films >> How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (Como Era Gostoso o Meu Francês) (1971) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay by Alexander Vernak

[1] The film How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman is based on the account of a German named Hans Staden’s nine-month stay as captive of an indigenous group known as the Tupinamba in Brazil. His account goes into great detail concerning the practice of cannibalism amongst members of the group and gives many other details of their cultural practices in general. Though many of the details of the account were changed in a practice of artistic license, the account served as a guideline for the subject matter of the film.

[2] Staden’s account of his encounter with the Tupinamba begins in 1552 during his second journey to the Americas with a Spanish fleet. After he was shipwrecked near the Portuguese island of Sante Vincent, he served as an artillery expert at a nearby settlement called Brikioka. During his time there he was placed in charge of defending the settlement against the Tupinamba, who attacked regularly. It was during his time here that he was captured. While hunting with his slave in the forest, the natives surrounded them and took him to their canoes, which were hidden in the forest near the sea. “A great crowd was gathered next to them,” the account reads, “As soon as they saw how I was being led there, they all rushed toward me” (49). Immediately, according to Staden, they made their intentions clear: “They were all decorated with feathers according to their custom, and they bit their arms, threatening me that they wanted to eat me in this way” (49). Though Staden claimed that many of them wanted to kill and eat him at that very moment, “the king, who wanted to keep me, gave orders to carry me back alive, so that their women might see me alive and celebrate their feast with me” (49). After an attempted rescue by the Portuguese, the Tupinamba took him to one of their settlements.

[3] After spending one night bound to a tree and under their constant vigilance, Staden departed with them the next day toward their home. The journey to their eventual resting place took three days in total according to Staden’s account. Upon his arrival there, the women and children of the village beat him savagely while the men retired to their huts. “As I now entered,” Staden says, “the females ran up to me and beat me with their fists, tearing my beard and saying in their speech: Sehe innamme pepike a e, which is to say: With this blow, I take revenge on you for my friend, the one who was killed by those, among whom you have been” (54). Throughout the entirety of the night, the women and children beat him while the men celebrated his capture.

[4] While still in the village, the men who had captured him informed Staden that he was given to their uncle out of a sign of friendship. Before he was handed over, however, he was forced to dance a ritual dance with the women of the village. After this ritual was complete, he was handed over to his captor’s uncle. It was at this time that he learned of the reason for the natives disdain for the Portuguese. Portuguese traders had deceived them, and many of their people were given as slaves to a group of rival natives, who killed and ate them. The reason for his captivity, however, was made much clearer. Those who had captured him claimed that the Portuguese had killed their father, and they had taken him to gain revenge for their father’s death.

[5] During the entirety of his time with the Tupinamba, Staden claimed that he was not an ally of the Portuguese, but rather of the French with whom the natives were friendly. On one occasion, similar to the one depicted in How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman, a French trader was brought in so that the natives could learn if he was being honest. Because he was German and not French, however, he had great difficulty communicating with the Frenchman. This resulted in the Frenchman believing that Staden was of Portuguese heritage and telling the natives to kill him. After this Staden believed he was to die very shortly. He, however, was afforded the opportunity to explain himself. This is a common theme throughout his narrative. He is always handed over to authority figures within the Tupinamba tribe and subsequently allowed to explain himself. Much of this can be attributed to his claims that, through the grace of God, he was able to both foretell the future and heal the sick. He tells of oncoming attacks, predicts maladies that were to befall the tribe, and heals one of the tribe’s leaders. These actions led to much leniency with many members of the tribe. After he healed the tribe’s leader, the women in that tribe begged him for mercy. “[They begged me:] Please do not let me die. We only treated you so, because we thought you were a Portuguese, whom we are very angry with” (71). This belief in Staden’s “angry” God is what first convinced the tribe that he was not Portuguese.

[6] Other attempts to save Staden were made but in vain. On one occasion, the Frenchman who had delivered him to death earlier returned to attempt to reason with the Tupinamba after realizing that he was, in fact, not Portuguese. They would not release him, however, unless his “own father or brothers came there and brought them a shipload of goods” (72). This was the first occasion on which his eventual freedom was even purposed by the tribe. Though they seemed less inclined to kill him at this point, Staden still claims that he was nervous that their sentiments would change. On another occasion, Staden attempted to escape on a French ship but was not permitted because they thought that if they harbored him the Tupinamba would become their enemies. All of these failed attempts Staden attributed to being against the will of God.

[7] While waiting to be delivered from the tribe, Staden accompanied them to both feasts and wars. In his account, he describes how several of his fellow Christians were both roasted and eaten. On one occasion, after accompanying them as they went to war, Staden took note of their treatment of other captives of war. “Then each man took his captive into his hut; those who were gravely injured, however, they took ashore and killed immediately,” he says (87). Each of these men who had been gravely injured was then roasted and consumed by the Tupinamba. According to his account, Staden tried to provide moral support to the others who had been captured by the tribe. Telling of how he “had now been about eight months among them [the savages], and God” had protected him (89). Though he tried to intercede on the captives’ behalf, his pleas fell on deaf ears, as they were all ultimately roasted and eaten.

[8] Eventually, Staden was delivered to another tribe who when promised a great haul of goods agreed to protect him until his "brother" came to receive him. While with them he was counted among the king’s sons and hunted with them. After a short stay with these natives, another ship came from France. It was on this ship that he was to be delivered. According to Staden, the mission of this journey was to deliver him: “They said that it was because of me [that they came]; they had been given orders to take me to the ship, using whatever means necessary” (97). Staden explained that one of them had to pretend to be his brother in order to ensure his peaceful deliverance. After much deliberation with the king to which he was enslaved, who claimed that he now looked at him as a son, Staden was permitted to leave with those on that ship.

[9] In his second book, Staden goes into great detail concerning the ritualistic nature of the Tupinamba cannibalism. As he described when he first arrived with the tribe, initially the women and children of the tribe beat the victims. Then, they were decorated and participated in a ritual dance. It is after this that his account seems to resemble the heart of what How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman deals with: the assimilation into the tribe. The victim, according to Staden, is then provided a “woman who attends to him and is also doing things with him” (131). During the entirety of his time with the tribe, the captive is kept alive so that they can prepare everything for his eventual death, Staden claims.

[10] Once all of the preparation of the drinks and ritual elements is complete, those from neighboring villages are invited to take part in the ceremony. The captive is then ritually painted and mocked by the women until his eventual death by a club decorated for this purpose. Interestingly, the dialogue before he is struck with the club is quite accurate in the film. The one who is to kill him says to him, “Well, here I am. I will kill you, since your friends have also killed and eaten many of my friends” (132). The captive is meant to respond, “When I am dead, I will still have many friends, who are certainly going to avenge me” (132,138). The mockery does not stop with the victim’s death: “When he has then been skinned, a man takes him and cuts off the legs above the knees, and the arms at the body. Then the four women come and seize the four pieces and run around the huts with them screaming loudly in joy” (137). The children are fed the innards and head of the victim in a ritual nature before the ceremony is over. After the victim was divided amongst the rest of those in attendance, they all return home.

[11] The account of Staden’s stay with the Tupinambas has been an authoritative source on the nature of cannibalism in Brazil. Though some have doubted its accuracy, claiming Staden could have written whatever he liked, nothing else like it had been written at the time of its publishing. The way in which he described both the cultural clash between natives and settlers and the nature of the Tupinamba in general made this account relevant not only at the time of publishing but also in today’s definition of that time in history.

Works Cited

Staden, Hans. Hans Staden's True History: An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil. 1557. Ed. Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Harbsmeier. Durham: Duke UP, 2008.

Print Resources

Arens, William. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.
Arens divides his book in six chapters. He devotes the first chapter to point out the origins of Anthropology and Anthropophagi as fields of study. He then sets as his goal to critically assess the documentation regarding cannibalism and questions its existence in circumstances other than survival or as an isolated "regrettable and antisocial behavior" condemned by society. In Chapter 2, "The Classic Man-Eaters," Arens examines and questions the credibility of the reports concerning two particular groups, the Caribs and the Aztecs, which are generally considered cannibals. Chapter 3, "The Contemporary Man-Eaters" refers to instances of what some scholars refer to African Cannibalism. Arens questions their conclusion mainly due to the lack of first-hand documentation of hard and fast evidence. Chapter 4, "The Prehistoric World of Anthropophagy," discusses the most common interpretations of the behavior of prehistoric man which do not show a convincing correlation between cannibalism and the primitive man. In Chapter 5, "The Mythical World of Anthropophagy," Arens looks at specific historical instances where particular groups have been considered cannibals. He explains how convenient it has been for certain groups to consider "others" as cannibals. He states that "rendering whole groups as cannibals" has made "warfare and annihilation… excusable" (141). In his last chapter, "The Mythical World of Anthropology," Arens goes back to his original claim stating that in his research he hasn't been able to find a single complete first-hand account of cannibalism which leads him to question the generally accepted claims made by renowned experts in the field of Anthropology. Arens includes and discusses numerous illustrations throughout his book.
Bôas, Luciana Villas. "The Anatomy of Cannibalism: Religious Vocabulary and Ethnographic Writing in the Sixteenth Century." Studies in Travel Writing 12.1 (2008): 7-27.
DeLery, Thevet, but especially Staden: "The essay indicates how the discourses of religion and medicine intersect on the language used to represent Tupinamba cannibalism. The exploration of the carnivalesque and anatomical elements defining the festive framework of Staden's text suggests that they are not only appropriative, but also fulfill a specifically ethnographic function. The conceptualisation of cannibalism as a feast allows at once for the description of its symbolic ritual aspects and the emphasis on the cross-cultural conditions of the traveler's experience in colonial Brazil."
Boucher, Philip. Cannibal Encounters: European and Island Caribs, 1492-1763. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.
Boucher focuses on the relations between European and Island Carib cultures after the discovery of the New World by Columbus. The author discusses the emergence of the "cannibal" image of the people of Lesser Antilles and its transformation as a result of growing contacts between the indigenous people and Europeans. Much attention is paid to the comparison of French and British politics towards the Island Carib. The extensive use of various historic material, such as travelers notes, colonial archives, etc. gives the reader a convincing picture of the Carribean Natives and the complicated relations between them and Europeans stemming from Anglo-French rivalry in the region.
Burns, E. Bradford. A History of Brazil. New York: Columbia UP, 1993.
Burns has divided this history into several different sections to help make the immense amount of information simpler to understand and remember. The first chapter -- of most interest to us -- discusses the geographic conditions of Brazil as well as the establishment of the first Portuguese colony. The next following chapters explicate further into the developments of the colonizers' experiences and then the eventual independence of Brazil. This change brought new political and socio-economic issues that Burns expounds upon as well. Several chapters are dedicated to this "New Brazil" and the challenges and consequences of reform. The final chapter discusses military problems of the past that had resurfaced and therefore resulted in creating new ones. Burns's book also has several pages devoted to showing readers the geography and the people of Brazil. Such images include street scenes in areas such as Salvador, Bahia, school children in Rio de Janeiro, the opera house, Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Sao Francisco Church in Salvador, and many others.
Forsyth, Donald W. "Three Cheers for Hans Staden: The Case for Brazilian Cannibalism." Ethnohistory 32.1 (1985): 17-36.
Forsyth argues that William Arens's criticism of Staden's work is without substance, defending Staden's work by counterattacking Arens's claims. Arens says that Staden did not observe the Tupinamba long enough to accurately learn about cannibalism and claims that Staden did not even fully understand the Tupi language. Forsyth proves that Staden knew the language by citing passages from his book and saying that Staden had spent at least two years with Tupin Indians (who spoke Tupi) before meeting the Tupinamba. Staden could have easily learned about cannibalism through observation and conversation with Tupinamba. Arens accuses Staden of being sexist by portraying Tuipnamba women as "the ‘worst culprits' of all, more eager to eat human flesh than males" (24). Forsyth points out that Staden emphasizes that men were active participants in cannibalism as well. Forsyth shoots down Arens's use of an outdated woodcut from 1505, with which Arens attempts to show that Staden's information was inaccurate and prejudiced against native Brazilians. Arens is not convinced that Staden actually wrote the book himself, suggesting a scholar wrote the book for him or that Staden plagiarized from other authors' accounts of the same topic. Forsyth attributes the similar wording among the authors to the fact that they are all describing the same "ritual charged with symbolic meaning." A number of other authors and historians corroborate many of the facts in Staden's book (Forsyth presents them in an organized table); Arens simply chooses to ignore the evidence that does not support his criticism of Staden.
Hemming, John. Amazon Frontier: The Defeat of the Brazilian Indians. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.
Hemming follows the decline of the Brazilian Indians at the hands of the Europeans after the Amazonian Rubber Boom of the late 1800s, arguing that there was no real hope for the Indians after the Europeans moved in. If the Indians tried to assimilate into white culture, they lost their identity and were manipulated by the Europeans. On the other hand, those Indians who fought hard against the Whites and stubbornly refused to assimilate also were eventually defeated. Hemming also reflects upon how these tragic defeats of the Brazilian Indians have shaped modern day Brazil.
Lestringant, F. Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997.
The conceptualization of the cannibal is broken down by time period and location. From the beginnings of the historical account of the cannibal in the times of Columbus to more modern accounts, Lestringant delves into the world of the cannibal. He deals quite intimately with cannibalism in Brazil and, more specifically, with cannibalism amongst the Tupinambas. Within the text he provides information about many historical accounts of cannibalistic practice. Among these accounts are those of Michel de Montaigne, Andre Thevet, and Hans Staden. The book includes not only their perspectives but also images by some of these men of what the practice looked like.
Palencia-Roth, Michael. "The Cannibal Law of 1503." Early Images of the Americas: Transfer and Invention. Ed. Jerry M. Williams and Robert E. Lewis. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1993.
Palencia-Roth explores the concept of cannibalism in the new world in the sixteenth century. His essay explores the internal as well as external cultural perceptions responsible for the European fixation on cannibalism. The particular law referred to in the title essay (as dubbed by Palencia-Roth) refers to the law signed by Queen Isabella in 1503 that outlines the particular standards of behavior for Spanish New World inhabitants. Cannibalism is an unacceptable act described in the law's decree that strays from the ideal cohesiveness and civility of the New World society, hence Palencia-Roth's naming. The essay goes on to outline how European stereotypes and assumptions about cannibals affected the relationship between the natives in the New World inhabitants. Also described is the psychological and cultural justification behind the act.
Sadlier, Darlene J. "Edenic and Cannibal Encounters." Brazil Imagined: 1500 to the Present. Austin: U of Texas P, 2008.
This first chapter provides a good way of capturing the first-generation history of Brazil.
Staden, Hans. The True History of His Captivity. 1557. Trans. Malcolm Letts. New York: McBride and Company, 1929.
The older, once standard edition of the book that is the source of the film: "Throughout his narrative Hans Staden shows himself as a curious mixture of simplicity and shrewdness. He was a very pious Lutheran and was ready to see that hand of God stretched out for his special safety in every disturbance of nature. . . . The truth of Hans Staden's story does not seem ever to have been seriously questioned."
Staden, Hans. Hans Staden's True History: An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil. 1557. Ed. Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Harbsmeier. Durham: Duke UP, 2008.
The most recent edition of the book that is the source of the film.
Thevet, Andre. Singularities of France Antarctique. 1557.
Thevet, Chaplain to the Villegaignon expedition to Brazil, and, along with Staden and de Lery, is the source of first-hand accounts of cannibalism.
Whitehead, Neil L. "Hans Staden and the Cultural Politics of Cannibalism." Hispanic American Historical Review 80.4 (2000): 721-51.
The article is devoted to the Hans Staden source text for the film and its role in the cultural history of cannibalism. Staden wrote his book about Brazilian Tupi Indians in 1557 after being captive among them for more than nine months. Although Staden's book is the key reference in the debate on cannibalism, there has not been an English-language edition since 1929 and no translation into modern German since 1942. Therefore the author of the article is working on a new critical edition of Staden's book that will include a new translation from the sixteenth-century German, information about the text and its author, discussion of the circumstances of the text's production, its ethnological significance and intellectual importance, overview of other texts on cannibalism written at that time and comparisons of Staden's book with these texts, and a special and very important section on current debate concerning cannibalism. Thus, this article is an outline of the future critical edition. The article and future edition of Staden's text are aimed at the underlining importance of Hans Staden's history and making the reader appreciate this work as a vivid picture of the earliest cannibal encounter in Brazil.

See Also

Ascárate, Richard John. "Translating Cannibals, or the Possible Politics of Representation in Hans Staden's Warhaftig Historia (1557)." Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics and Semiotic Analysis 9. 2 (2004): 301-22.

Barker, Francis, et. al. Cannibalism and the Colonial World. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.

Bôas, Luciana. "Wild Stories of a Pious Traveler: The Unruly Example of Hans Staden's Warhaftig Historia." Daphnis: Zeitschrift für Mittlere Deutsche Literatur und Kultur der Frühen Neuzeit 33.1-2 (2004): 187-212.

Bethell, Leslie. Colonial Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.

Certeau, Michel de. " Montaigne's 'Of Cannibals': The Savage 'I.'" Heterologies: Discourse on the Other. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1985. 67-79.

Conklin, Beth A. Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society. Austin: U of Texas P, 2001.

Conley, Tom. "Thevet Revisits Guanabara." Hispanic American Historical Review 80.4 (2000): 753-81.

De Lery, Jean. History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, Otherwise called America. 1578. Trans. Janet Whatley. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990.

Gasior, Bonnie. "Stereotype and Religion as Rhetorical Strategies in Hans Staden's Verdadera historia de un país de salvajes: Desnudos, feroces, y caníbales." RLA: Romance Languages Annual 10.2 (1998): 595-99.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: More to Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980.

Hemming, John. Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.

Hulme, Peter. Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean 1492-1797. London: Methuen, 1986.

Martel, H. E. "Hans Staden's Captive Soul: Identity, Imperialism, and Rumors of Cannibalism in Sixteenth-Century Brazil." Journal of World History 17.1 (2006): 51-69.

Montaigne, Michel de. "Of Cannibals." The Essays of Montaigne. New York: Oxford UP, 1946.

Pagden, Anthony. The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. 80-87 on cannibals.

Ramsey, Colin. "Cannibalism and Infant Killing: A System of 'Demonizing' Motifs in Indian Captivity Narratives." CLIO 24.1 (1994): 55-68.

Retamar, Roberto Fernandez. Caliban and Other Essays. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989.

Schlechtweg-Jahn, Ralf. "The Power of Cannibalisation: Hans Staden's American Travels Account of 1557." The Propagation of Power in the Medieval West. Forsten: Groningen, 1997.

Schmölz-Häberlein, Michaela. "Hans Staden, Neil L. Whitehead, and the Cultural Politics of Scholarly Publishing." HAHR: The Hispanic American Historical Review 81-3-4 (2001): 745-51.

Shipman, Pat. "The Myths and Perturbing Realities of Cannibalism." Discover 8.3 (1987): 70-76.

TenHuisen, Dwight E. Raak. "Providence and Passio in Hans Staden's Warhaftig Historia." Daphnis: Zeitschrift für Mittlere Deutsche Literatur und Kultur der Frühen Neuzeit 33.1-2 (2004): 213-53.

Verberckmoes, Johan. "Amerindian Laughter and Visions of a Carnivalesque New World." Zeitsprünge: Forschungen zur Frühen Neuzeit 7.2-3 (2003): 265-84.

Villas Bôas, Luciana. "The Anatomy of Cannibalism: Religious Vocabulary and Ethnographic Writing in the Sixteenth Century." Studies in Travel Writing 12.1 (2008): 7-27.

Villas-Bôas, Luciana. "Wild Stories of a Pious Travel Writer: The Unruly Example of Hans Staden's Warhaftig Historia." Daphnis: Zeitschrift für Mittlere Deutsche Literatur und Kultur der Frühen Neuzeit 33. 1-2 (2004): 187-212.

Whitehead, Neil L. "The Ethnographic Lens in the New World: Staden, De Bry, and the Representation of the Tupi in Brazil." Early Modern Eyes. Ed. Walter S. Melion et al. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Online Resources

Andrade, Oswald de. "The Cannibal Manifesto."
"The Cannibalist Manifesto, written by Oswald de Andrade (1890 - 1954), was published in May 1928, in the first edition of the recently founded Revista de Antropofagia, the vehicle for the Brazilian Cannibalist movement. Through its metaphoric language loaded with poetic aphorisms full of humour, the Manifesto became the theoretical kernel of this movement which aimed to rethink the question of Brazil's cultural dependency."
Hans Staden, The True Story of his Captivity (the Malcolm Letts edition, 1929)
Full text of the historical narrative that is the source of the film. Scroll to near the bottom of the page.
"Hans Staden and the Tupinamba in Southeast Brazil." Athena Review 1.3 (1997).
Brief description of the nature and significance of Staden's work, the source of the film.
Manifesto Antropófago [Cannibalist Manifesto]
"The Cannibalist Manifesto, written by Oswald de Andrade (1890 - 1954), was published in May 1928, in the first edition of the recently founded Revista de Antropofagia, the vehicle for the Brazilian Cannibalist movement. Through its metaphoric language loaded with poetic aphorisms full of humour, the Manifesto became the theoretical kernel of this movement which aimed to rethink the question of Brazil's cultural dependency."
Montaigne, Michel de. "Of Cannibals."
Full text of the reflection on the savage and the civilized by this famous essayist after meeting Tupinamba who traveled to France.