|Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism||Source|
Celebrated American Indian thinker Jack D. Forbes’s Columbus and Other Cannibals was one of the founding texts of the anticivilization movement when it was first published in 1978. His history of terrorism, genocide, and ecocide told from a Native American point of view has inspired America’s most influential activists for decades. Frighteningly, his radical critique of the modern “civilized” lifestyle is more relevant now than ever before.
Identifying the Western compulsion to consume the earth as a sickness, Forbes writes:
Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. …These characteristics all push towards an extreme, always moving forward once the initial infection sets in. … This is the disease of the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions. I call it cannibalism.
This updated edition includes a new chapter by the author.
“Cannibals is a work of philosophy and ideas … A welcome addition to the library of a new generation of scholars and activists who are seeking a philosophical framework for their work in indigenous studies.” — American Indian Quarterly
“An early text that inspired the start of the anti-civilization movement … Writing from a Native American perspective, Forbes maintains a steady and humble tone throughout the text … It is the kind of history one doesn’t need to read twice to absorb it … I think it’s crucial that people read books like this.” — Razorcake
| About this book
Forward by Derrick Jensen
About the Author
Chapter 1 ♦ The Genesis of the Universe and the Creation of Love
Chapter 2 ♦ Consuming Another’s Life The Wétiko Cannibal Psychosis
Chapter 3 ♦ Columbus Cannibal and Hero of Genocide
Chapter 4 ♦ Deception, Brutality, and Greed The Spread of the Disease
Chapter 5 ♦ The Structure of the Cannibal’s Insanity Arrogance, Lust, and Materialism
Chapter 6 ♦ Becoming a Predator The Process of Corruption
Chapter 7 ♦ The Mátchi Syndrome Fascination with Evil
Chapter 8 ♦ Colonialism, Europeanization, and the Destruction of Native (Authentic) Cultures
Chapter 9 ♦ Savages, Free People, and the Loss of Freedom
Chapter 10 ♦ Terrorism A Frequent Aspect of Wétiko Behavior
Chapter 11 ♦ Male Violence, Female Subordination, and the Perpetuation of Aggressive Violence
Chapter 12 ♦ Organized Crime Planned Aggression, Planned Predation
Chapter 13 ♦ If Jesus Were to Return
Chapter 14 ♦ Seeking Sanity Reversing the Process of Brutalization
Chapter 15 ♦ Finding a Good Path, a Path with Heart
The Universe is Our Holy Book
Credits and Permissions
Otomi . . .
COLUMBUS AND OTHER CANNIBALS is, I think, the most important book ever written on one of the most important topics ever faced by human beings: why is the dominant culture so excruciatingly, relentlessly, insanely, genocidally, ecocidally, suicidally destructive?
I’ve written many books about precisely this subject, and I have to admit that this question still baffles me. How could any group of people, no matter how insane, no matter how stupid, actually destroy the planet on which (or rather, whom) they live?
I often shake my head sharply, or pinch myself, hoping I will wake up and find that this culture and its destructiveness have all been a very bad and incomprehensible dream. But each time I wake up, it’s the same nightmare of murdered oceans, of salmon being driven extinct, of slavery and wage slavery, of dioxin in every mother’s breast milk, of indigenous cultures being driven to the brink.
In my books, I’ve suggested psychological reasons for the ubiquitous destructiveness, and I’ve suggested sociological reasons. I’ve suggested economic reasons, and I’ve suggested philosophical reasons. I’ve suggested reasons having to do with how we are trained to perceive (or rather, to not perceive). But as convincing as any and all of these may sometimes seem to me, there are still other times when these explanations are just words, and in no way suffice.
Of course no explanation can suffice in describing the motivations for the murder of this planet.
But Jack Forbes’s explanation – exploration would be a better word – comes as close to sufficient as anything I’ve seen. He makes more sense in this small book than others do in books ten times this size.
I’m not going to tell you his conclusions, or even his starting point. The book is short. You can read it in an afternoon.
Do that. And then let the implications make their way into your bloodstream, and into your cells – fingertip, thigh, elbow, brain, heart, stomach, lung, toe, tongue, eye, ear. If the book opens you up even one-tenth as much as it did me, you will never again be the same.
That’s a very good thing.
Buy this book. Read it. And then, armed with your newfound understanding, go out and stop this insane cannibal culture from killing the beautiful planet that is our home.
– Derrick Jensen
An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation; he would be put to death, and … [be eaten] up by the wolves. The white men are bad schoolmasters; they carry false looks, and deal in false actions; they smile in the face of the poor Indian to cheat him; they shake them by the hand to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to deceive them, and ruin our wives. We told them to let us alone; but they followed on and beset our paths, and they coiled themselves among us like the snake. They poisoned us by their touch. We were not safe. We lived in danger. We were becoming like them, hypocrites and liars, adulterers, lazy drones, all talkers, and no workers.1
As for baptizing Indians and Negroes, several of the [white] people disapprove of it, because they say it often makes them proud, and not so good servants: but these, and such objections, are easily refuted … for Christianity encourages and orders them to become more humble and better servants, and not worse, than when they were heathens.2
FOR SEVERAL thousands of years human beings have suffered from a plague, a disease worse than leprosy, a sickness worse than malaria, a malady much more terrible than smallpox.
A woman is attacked by men who brutally rape her and leave her for dead.
Indians are murdered in order to force impoverished mixed-Indians to gather rubber in the forest under conditions that doom the rubber-hunters themselves to miserable deaths.
Small countries are invaded so that an entire people and their resources can be exploited.
Human beings of all colors are seized or ensnared in debts, and are forced to live out their brief lives as slaves or serfs.
Boys are raised to obey orders and serve as cannon-fodder, while girls are raised to give their children over to armies, factories or plantations.
People and other living creatures are tortured in the most fiendish ways imaginable.
The “cult of aggression and violence” reigns supreme, and the prisons and insane asylums are full to bursting.
Imperialism, colonialism, torture, enslavement, conquest, brutality, lying, cheating, secret police, greed, rape, terrorism – they are only words until we are touched by them. Then they are no longer words, but become a vicious reality that overwhelms, consumes and changes our lives forever.
This is the disease, then, with which I hope to deal – the disease of aggression against other living things and, more precisely, the disease of the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions.
I call it cannibalism, and I shall try to explain why. But whatever we call it, this disease, this wétiko (cannibal) psychosis, is the greatest epidemic sickness known to man. The rape of a woman, the rape of a land, and the rape of a people, they are all the same. And they are the same as the rape of the earth, the rape of the rivers, the rape of the forest, the rape of the air, the rape of the animals. Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. Arrogance knows no frontiers. Deceit knows no edges. These characteristics all tend to push towards an extreme, always moving forward once the initial infection sets in. From the raping of a woman, to the raping of a country, to the raping of the world. Acts of aggression, of hate, of conquest, of empire-building. Harems of women and harems of people; houses of prostitution and houses of pimps.
Many centuries ago a Mexican (Aztec) father said to his son:
Son of mine, jewel of mine, my rich quetzal plumage:
You have arrived at life, you are born, the Creator and
Owner has made you come to the world.
The Creator conceived you, he formed you, he made you born, the One for whom all live …
Very well: for a brief time you have come to contemplate things, you have come to go evolving, you have come to make a way in your person, you have come to grow …
What will be the plan of the One for whom all live? Will you perhaps attain a goal? Are you going to live on the earth? If only that you will grow peacefully and in sweet calm …
Be very careful of lies and falseness: Such a way is not straight, upright, they are not good …
Are you, perhaps, as an ear of corn, as a spike of grain, therefore releasing that which is in your inner being? Can you see that which you have inside yourself? Well harnessed, well guided, very recondite you are in your inner being, as in a chest or in a strong-box …
If you live well, if you work as has been indicated, you will be very well respected and your life will serve as an example to others3 …
Many people have examined the subjects of aggression, violence, imperialism, rape, and so on. I propose to do something a little different: first, I propose to examine these things from a Native American perspective; and, second, from a perspective as free as possible from assumptions created by the very disease being studied. Finally, I will look at these evils, not simply as “bad” choices that men make, but as a genuine, very real epidemic sickness. Imperialists, rapists and exploiters are not just people who have strayed down a wrong path. They are insane (unclean) in the true sense of that word. They are mentally ill and, tragically, the form of soul-sickness that they carry is catching.
In many respects, the twentieth century has been the most disappointing period in modern human history. We have witnessed the failure of the so-called “western democracies” to solve their most pressing internal problems, the failure of Marxist-Leninism to come to grips with the issues of bureaucracy, authoritarianism, and the self-interest of newly-empowered elites, the failure of so-called mass education, the failure of technology, the failure of organized religion, and the failure of the most highly-trained and “educated” generations of human beings in all of history to do more than paper over the great problems facing the world.
We have witnessed devastating wars, the deaths of millions upon millions, the squandering of the earth’s resources, and the continuing exploitation of the smaller nationalities (especially of folk peoples) and of the politically weak in general.
The brutality and hypocrisy of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries would not be so frightening if, indeed, the leadership of the world were in the hands of uneducated soldiers (of the Idi Amin type) or of openly criminal elements. But by and large such is not the case. People like Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein could not stay in power without “technocrats” and trained civil servants who collect necessary revenues and maintain a structure of governance. Neither Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Huey Long, Ferdinand Marcos, nor Augusto Pinochet could govern without the active support or cooperation of many thousands of “educated ” experts, technicians and bureaucrats. All of the modern secret police of the world depend upon well-trained personnel, scientific equipment, advanced social science studies of human behavior, and bureaucratic management systems (either pre-computer or post-computer). Even organized crime depends upon college-trained lawyers, administrators and executives, and upon the technology of modern society.
The people who rule the world today are, on the whole, highly educated (or at least highly trained). They are graduates of the “great” military schools or the elite universities of their respective countries. They have (by and large) “refined” tastes and cultivate the “finer” things of life (at least for public consumption). In spite of this, they have given us the most brutal epoch in history and, currently, a collection of military dictatorships, totalitarian societies, racist-exploitative “representative” republics and resource-gobbling states of such a nature as to lead one to predict that there may soon be very few places in the world where a nonaggressive person can survive except as a lackey or a slave.
The truth of the matter is that Harvard or Yale graduates, for example, are quite capable of lobbying for a “concession” of territory in Brazil, or Colombia, or Bolivia, the development of which causes the utter annihilation of thousands of Native Americans. Of course, the refined gentlemen will not personally order the liquidation of the First Americans, but they will set in motion a chain of events leading inevitably (under conditions current in South America) to the enslavement, removal and death of the indigenous tribes.
“Education” of the kind we know in the modern world usually has little to do with ethics or with bringing forth the individual potential of the learner. On the contrary, it is largely technical in nature (whether in natural science, social science, or whatever) and seldom (in and of itself) serves to alter the class and ethnic “interests” of the graduates.
In any case, the wétiko disease, the sickness of exploitation, has been spreading as a contagion for the past several thousand years. And as a contagion unchecked by most vaccines it tends to become worse rather than better with time. More and more people catch it, in more and more places, and they become the true teachers of the young.
Thus the youth in twentieth century societies are taught not primarily by underpaid public school teachers or “ivory-tower” professors, but by their parents, by movies, by television and the Internet, and in fact, by what they observe in the society. And this type of learning is often reinforced by the structure and content of school disciplines, such as history, that exalt the aggressive and the exploitative (Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Cecil Rhodes, James K. Polk, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, who was both a dedicated slave owner and an insatiable imperialist against Native Americans) and tend to categorize as “backward” or “uninteresting” persons who do not conquer others or acquire vast amounts of stolen property.
In any case, the great human problems of imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and greed have not been brought under control. Ask the Kurds, or the Tibetans, or the Bretons, or the Chechens, or the Ainu, or the Sioux, or the Inuit, or the Aché, or the Colla; or ask the migrant farm workers of the United States, or the rural Afro-Americans of the South, or the near slave-laborers of South Africa; or ask the often terrorized populations of Guatemala, Palestine, or El Salvador.
And in the United States and other so-called “advanced” societies, billions upon billions of dollars are being spent on prisons and mental institutions, and still crime rates climb upward and more and more people go “crazy.” On top of that, the pornography industry thrives and the fundamentalist Christian revival seems to go hand in hand with rape, child abuse, child pornography, sadism, and a hatred for women.
Exploitation, in other words, is thriving. The exploitation of children, of love, of women, of old people, of the weak, of the poor and, of course, the intentional commercial exploitation of every conceivable thing, from the hair around women’s vaginal areas (as in Playboy, for example) to worry over natural body odors, to adolescent insecurity, to the fear of growing old, to thirst (for example, persuading people to drink liquid chemicals and sugar in place of water or natural beverages).
This is a no holds-barred modern society in which college graduates are expected to be willing to “give their all” to developing or selling a product, even if the product is harmful or worthless, where technicians are expected to kill and torture captive animals because they are ordered to do so by some government experimenter or paper-producing professor, and where the opportunities for being “one’s own boss” in a non-exploitative, non-crooked, or non-demeaning role are precious few indeed.
People who are concerned about violence, about the environment, about decency, and about human authenticity must have the means for analyzing the objective conditions which today surround us all. It is my hope that by enlarging upon the concept of the wétiko disease and by discussing its origin, epidemiology, and characteristics that I can be of some help to such people. I will also try to present some ideas relating to antidotes for the disease, but I cannot pretend to have all of the answers for the most fundamental problem of human life.
How to live in this life? is the real question we all face. All other subjects are insignificant when compared with this one.
1 Speech by Black Hawk, 1832, in Forbes, The Indian in America’s Past, 64.
2 Rev. Hugh Jones, Church of England, The Present State of Virginia, 1724, 99
3 Angel M. Garibay K., La Literatura de los Aztecas, 107-108, 110.
Jack Douglas Forbes (January 7, 1934 – February 23, 2011) was an American writer, scholar and political activist, who specialized in Native American issues. He is best known for his role in establishing one of the first Native American Studies programs (at University of California Davis). In addition, he was one of the co-founders of D-Q University, the first Native American college located outside a reservation.
Jack D. Forbes was born in 1934 in Long Beach, California, to parents of Powhatan-Renapé and Lenape descent from New Jersey. These were both historically Algonquian-speaking peoples of the Atlantic coastal areas. Forbes was raised in neighboring El Monte and Eagle Rock, where he began his writing career at the high school newspaper. He received his bachelor's degree in Philosophy from University of Southern California in 1953, going on to a Master's in 1955 and a Ph.D. in History and Anthropology (1959).
In the early 1960s, Forbes became active as an organizer in the Native American movement, which asserted the rights to sovereignty and resisting assimilation into the majority culture. Native Americans on the West Coast were active, gaining national attention with such demonstrations as the occupation of Alcatraz Island. They pushed for better education, and departments of Native American studies to be established at major universities, as well as civil rights. In this same era, various tribes filed land claim suits against the federal government or states over long-contested issues.
Forbes first taught at San Fernando Valley State College and the University of Nevada, Reno. He joined the University of California, Davis in 1969, where he helped found a program in Native American studies, one of the first at a major university. Later he developed this subject as a full department and served as its chairman. With an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, he explored the confluence of African American and Native American histories, as well as multicultural people of Indian and European ancestry. He extended his work into African American and Latin American history. After gaining professor emeritus status in 1994, Forbes continued to teach at the university until 2009.
In 1971 Forbes was among the founders of the Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University (commonly referred to as D-Q University), a two-year college located near Davis, California. It was the first tribal college in California and closed for classes in 2005. Forbes taught there for 25 years and served on the board. In 2015 it is continuing to work to re-open.
He was a visiting Fulbright Professor at the University of Warwick in England, where he also spent time at Oxford and the University of Essex. Additionally, he held the Tinbergen Chair at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam.
In the early 1990s, Forbes was involved with David Risling and others in the making of A Free People, Free To Choose, a film by Jan Crull, Jr. It was conceived as a feature-length documentary based on D-Q University's history and an alleged campaign by the federal government to suppress it. Crull was forced to abandon the project when Morrison & Foerster, a law firm closely linked to D-Q U's legal battles, withdrew from the project after the film's subjects filed lawsuits against each other. The hundred-plus hours of footage assembled includes a lengthy interview with Forbes.
Near his retirement, he published Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red- Black Peoples (1993), considered by many to be "his signature work", the product of two decades of study. He studied the fluidity of race in the United States as people came together in colonial times and after the Revolution, remarking on the fact that Native Americans who were part black often lost their culture and were classified arbitrarily as black, while identifying as Indian.
He married and had two children, Kenneth Forbes and Nancy (Forbes) O'Hearn. After he and his wife divorced, he later married again. His second wife Carolyn Forbes, children and grandson survived him.
Original version copyright ©1979 by Jack D. Forbes
Published by D-Q University Press as a pre-print with the title
A World Ruled by Cannibals.
Revised editions copyright ©1992 and © 2008 by Jack D. Forbes.
A SEVEN STORIES PRESS FIRST EDITION
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Forbes, Jack D.
Columbus and other cannibals : the wétiko disease of exploitation, imperialism and terrorism / Jack D.
Forbes. -- Rev. ed.
Rev. ed. of: A world ruled by cannibals.
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-583-22982-8
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