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Mandeville’s Travels And Culture Essay

1784 words - 7 pages

Many regions of the world define what is outside of their normative and accepted practices to be taboo and therefore, these foreign practices face condemnation. However, through expanding ones view of the world and myriad divergent regional practices, one is better able to perceive different regions of the world as not superior or inferior to one another yet equal but different. In his Travels (1360CE), explorer John Mandeville details various practices of the foreign peoples he had encountered in his travels around the world; many of these rituals would be highly denounced by the European readers for whom Mandeville writes this book. Though Chapter 22 of Travels does not contain an explicit mention tolerance as a primary motivation for the work, the reader’s comprehension of perceivably heinous yet permissible acts in these foreign lands sketches alternate models of normative behavior. Sixteenth century European members of popular cultures, such as Ginzburg’s Menocchio, apply their interpretative filter the reading and synthesize notions that are more reflective of their popular lifestyle. Mandeville’s accounts of foreign cannibalism, disfigured peoples, idolatry and an emphasis on nature face popular interpretation in the sixteenth century that formulates a defiant and tolerant worldview in response to the imposing cultural center/defining of superior culture by the Council of Trent.
Mandeville’s account of foreign cannibals attributes a newfound significance to the act in that it intends on limiting the suffering of an inevitable victim of sickness. Whereas most in Europe perceive cannibalism as an abhorrent act of carnal violence, others such as the island of Dondia view it as a charitable act of preventing one from unnecessary suffering when death is imminent. To determine whether one must or must not die, the people of Dondia present the bodies in question to idols that have the power to dictate ones healing potential or that it is their proper time to die. If the idol declares that the individual can undergo healing, it instructs the visiting family members how to do so. However, if the idol concludes that it is the individual’s time to die, family and friends engage in a cannibalistic feast in which they dismantle and devour the victim’s body. Most Europeans saw cannibalism to be a horrific, inhumane act and that there are plenty of other forms of sustenance; inhabitants of the Dondia Island do not share this distasteful image of cannibalism. Cannibalism to those on the Dondia Island was not only a celebration of the life of the deceased family member, but also a humane attempt to spare the individual from unnecessary suffering before a forthcoming death. These cannibals believed that in this ritualistic killing, if that flesh was too lean that the individual had suffered too long and if the flesh was fat, the cannibals feel they have done right in expediting the victim’s path to paradise by avoiding superfluous anguish. In essence, if...

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