Anthropologists, however, have challenged many of these claims. It is important to understand that following Columbus’ reports, the Spanish monarchy adopted a policy prohibiting the enslavement of natives in the colonies, with one exception –cannibals. Therefore, if an indigenous group was cannibalistic, they could still be enslaved. Many of the claims of cannibalism in the colonial literature, therefore, were used as a means to circumvent the law. Most of these claims, when thoroughly researched, turn out to be completely erroneous.
21 Throughout history, false charges of cannibalism have continued to be made as a means to dehumanize a group of people so as to justify violence or enslavement. Moreover, where cannibalism truly has existed, it has often been portrayed in an ethnocentricfashion. That is, without trying to understand the cultural logic of the practice using the anthropological concept of cultural relativism.
22 One example of documented cannibalism was among the ancient Aztecs of Central America. The Aztecs believed that sacrificing humans, either from their own culture or from an outside culture, would appease the gods. If they failed to do so, it would mark the destruction of all humanity. According to the anthropologist Peggy Sanday, cannibalism among the Aztecs was a holy act, allowing humans to obtain divine powers through communion with their gods. Although we might consider such a practice repulsive, we have to be careful not to dismiss it out of hand as inhuman. The goal of anthropology, indeed, is to understand how and why such practices occur.
23 The Beginnings of Anthropology It was in the context described above that anthropology emerged as a discipline. Anthropology became the academic study of these “other” cultures. In the beginning, anthropology was still enmeshed in racist beliefs about European superiority, but anthropologists attempted to break from the view of “primitives” (although anthropologists continued to use this biased language until the mid-20thcentury) as either “noble savages” or “barbarians” by seeing them in an actors who crafted their own cultures and notions of civilization.
24 Indigenous People Today When we use the term indigenous peopleswe are referring to the “first” people to have lived in an area and therefore claim rights of prior occupancy to their lands. They are also groups that have been conquered by peoples who are racially, ethnically, or culturally different from themselves.They have also been subordinated by or incorporated into alien states that treat them as outsiders and, usually, inferiors. Today, because of both genocide and ethnocide, indigenous peoples now make up only about 5% of the world’s population.They have been victims of what we in the west often call “progress.”
25 The Impact of Contact on Indigenous Cultures of Today –The Story of the Kalahari San One culture that has suffered greatly over the past 50 years because of contact and colonization is the San people or Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.