diumenge, 30 d’agost de 2009

The Flesh of the Children (I)

Traslation of Manuel Delgado, "La carn dels infants. La usurpació de menors en la imaginació persecutòria", Arxiu d'etnografia de Catalunya, Nº. 9, 1992‑1993, pags. 171-181.

THE FLESH OF THE CHILDREN (I)
The usurpation of minors in persecutory imagination.

By MANUEL DELGADO
University of Barcelona


"There are fresh perfumes like the flesh of children." (Baudelaire, "Les Fleurs du Mal")

"For orphism...the regime of the city generalizes cannibalism, the same that the Titans, ancestors of humanity, founded by devouring the child Dyonisios." (Marcel Detienne, "The kitchen of Sacrifice of a Greek Country")


1. The accusations of child-cannibalism in the European persecutory tradition.

Recovering the old organicist tradition, we could well say that society as a whole is a body that feeds on children. They are its primary nourishment without which it would weaken & die without remedy, it's the basic fuel that allows it to exist. It's the conscience that we have of this that justifies the vigilance exerted on the families, units that have the strategic task of manufacturing children, so they won't deviate from the digestive mechanisms that will guarantee their transformation into social energy. Two are the cultural imperatives through which this process reaches its goals. On one hand, instructing the children in the mesh of collective myths & public rituals -the modern version [of this] would be the educational system-, that insures that the socialization training will never be completely in the care of the domestic units. On the other hand, the obligation that the families have to dispose of their children, once reached a certain point of their cultural process, so they can wholly integrate in the circuit of interchanges & alliances that makes society possible.
To ignore these normative principles, this is to distract the children from this destiny, selfishly snatching them from the communal kitchen to be consumed privately or by an exclusive minority, implies to take the sustenance away from the community, a crime that makes of its perpetrators enemies of society &, thus, enemies of humanity. It is very possible that this reason explains why in the European history, the extreme transgression that is most often registered imputed to individuals or groups that, from inside or outside, threaten the survival of society or flatly contradict its order, have been, together with incest, that of sacrificing children, either their own or kidnapped ones, the body of which will serve to celebrate a cannibal meal. This cultural persistence to associate ritual infanticide & child cannibalism to the forms that are considered as the most dangerous against society makes the perpetrators to be portrayed as aliens to the world of humans, protagonists of an abomination that relates them to those personalities extra-, pre- or sub-human that devour their, or other's, children. To eat their own offspring is something done by beasts, the barbarians or the gods -themselves, such as Cronos-Saturn, or in a vicarious way, such as Melkart of the Punes or Mercury of the Gauls-, as well as the imaginary ancestors -the Titans of Greek mythology- or the guilty & evil mythics -Tereus or Tiestes, whose children are served at their table-. Without forgetting a very vast repertoire of monsters detestable beyond measure, that history has provided -Gilles de Rais, alias Blue Beard-, through fables -be it remote ones, such as the Greek harpies, the Roman striges, or nearer in time, such as the Ogre, the Wolf, The Man of the Sack, El Coco or El Papu [NOTE: Spanish characters defined in English as "The Boogie Man"], with whom, till recent times, we frightened our youngsters , or through the daily news; such as these assassins of minors that ravage the highest degree of mediatic speculation in the person of Antonio Angles, the rapist-torturer-killer of the Alcasser teenagers. Let's not forget how a vast literary tradition of recent times has softly approached this subject. An example of this could be the version of "Pied Piper" by Robert Browning with such successful sequels in the movies such as "Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang" or "Indiana Jones in the Cursed Temple"-, where the final swallowing of the children by Mt. Koppelberg functions as an evident case of children cannibalism. A recent expression in the field of literature of the image of the robber especialised in children is brought to us in "Le Voleur d'Enfants" ("Robber of Children"), by Jules Supervielle, novel which gave place to a sensible movie starring Marcello Mastroianni, directed by Christian de Chalonge in 1991.
One last remark about the vigor of this sort of cultural concern, furnished around the world according to the media: the theft of children from the Third World, to feed this contemporary trend of instrumental cannibalism -this is, not a ritual one- which is the transplant of organs.
To place this expression full of perfidy which is the retaining or kidnapping of children to be eaten -which in the case of being their own children is the most extreme kind of incestuous rela¬tionship- to the internal enemies of society it is an attitude frequently detected in the ethnographic reports related to the mechanisms of delation & punishment of witchcraft or to the complaints formulated against abuses performed by political powers. If Bokassa's case could be a recent example of the latter, the African press nowadays offers, quite regularly, chilling accounts of witchcraft activities that include the anthropophagy (eating humans) of young ones, especially the perpetrators' own. The paper "Fraternite Matin", from Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, published on march 30th, 1993 -& this with very normal informative terms, inside their habitual section called "Sur le Vif"- a news with the following tittle: "A mother witch admits: 'I only had the leg'". It had been discovered that three individuals from Gahatouo, in the sub-prefecture of Bin-Houye, formed a violent trio of witches: "They ate without remorse their fellow-countrymen. Toun Manou Helene is quite hot. She has not hesitated to give her own child." Nevertheless, as it is known, it is in the European societies where, fruit of a long tradition that went from Greeks to Jews & then to Christians, that there is an accusation that repeats itself throughout the centuries concerning the charges of evil associations or evil people, imagined to be working in a secret conspiracy against the good & against humanity: Their insuperable affection for infant's flesh, whether it be self-supplied or the fruits of robbery. Norman Cohn (1987) &, more recently, Alberto Cardin (1994: chapter 4), have made references to the historical recurrence of this incrimination that Atenagoras called "Tiestan Feasts". This affected, because of their politic &/or religious enemies, the followers of Dionicism & Bacchism, the hellenized jews, as well as the first christians; right after, the Carpocratians, Paulitians, Montanists, Phibionites -which were accused of eating fetuses- &, in general, the Gnostics & all the first heretics of christendom; later on, closing eight centuries of tolerance, the Catars & Bogomils, the Valdesians, & after that the Templarians. It was along these lines, during three hundred years in which the ones accused of witchcraft knew the most brutal persecution, that were issued the worst & most regular complaints of the things that presumably happened in the sabbaths. On the other hand, the Hebrews have continuously been accused of infanticide. Even in 1834, the jews of Dusseldorf & in 1891 the ones in Xanten, Prussia, were inculpated of killing children to get their blood. In 1903, one of the latest Russian anti-semitic pogroms started as a consequence of the media manipulation of the death of a youth in Dubossary (Cohn, 1983: 117-118). At the end of the XIXth century, the "revelations" of Leo Taxil against the satanic condition of the Masonic cults, one of the most repeated arguments used by the Catholic church until very recently, included among their ingredients child sacrifice.
In a softened way -nobody would believe nowadays an explicit imputation of child-cannibalism among us-, the persecutory imagination has continued to cultivate the assumption that the minorities considered harmful to society usurp the social ownership of the children & youth arrogating & designating them to satisfy their un-confessable objectives or, simply, to destroy them. This illegal appropriation is carried out by robbing someone else's children, by means of ignoble & sophisticated proselytizing techniques that vampirize the weak will of vulnerable & immature beings, making of them hypnotized automatons or slaves at the service of the authority & the leader's malevolence. The carnivore anthropophagy is then transformed into some kind of pneumophagy, as it is the soul of the minor the one that has been alienated, devoured by someone/s else. Expressions so habitually applied to describe the victimization of the followers belonging to religious minorities such as "[someone] eats their head/brain"(*), to emphasize the presumed nullifying of the personality that suffer the gullible victims, demonstrate the veiled acknowledgement that they are subtle forms of anthropophagy, preferably of underage folks, the ones that configure the nucleus of the dangerous activities of certain associations that have been labelled as sects. [NOTE:(*) Expression used in Spain to mean that someone is convincing you (implying that is something that's not good for you), or gaining control over your will through the things they tell you.]
This shifting of the accusation of anthropophagy towards the subject of perverted consumption of the victim's soul -so much a sequel of the anti-communist & reactionary monomania of the "brain washing" McCarthyst paranoia in the USA-, not only it does not take us away from the possibilities of practicing the inter cultural comparison, but rather facilitates it greatly. So it is that the ethnographic monographs regarding the deeds of the witches in extra European societies, insist in this invisible dimension of the cannibalism that these evil beings practice. Lluis Mallart tells it to us clearly in relation to the Evuzok: "The anthropophagy of the 'witches' only exists at the level of the thought." (1993:127). It is sufficient to remember the model of this which would be the way that the anthropophagy of the witches Zande, described by Evans-Pritchard (1991:58,59), worked with the basis that the 'mbisimo mangu', or "the soul of witchcraft", would eat the 'mbisimo pasio', "the soul of the flesh" or the psychic part of the organs of the prey. We will mention of two ethnographic cases extracted from very distant cultural contexts, that provide a couple of wonderful illustrations of 'soul eaters': the Tyarkaw, whom the Nigerian Shongays, studied by Jean Rouch (1989:343-346), fear so much, & the Caak, of whom George Condominas talks about in his books about the Mnong Gaar of the Vietnam's interior (1991:368-391).
The other form of illicit subduing of children & teenagers is the one carried out by the same "sectarian" families that refuse to give their children to the homologated educational system, giving place to a form of endogamy where incest can be implied. The most divulged case of this sort of problem is the one that has as its protagonist The Family, a religious movement heir to the non less harassed COG, the members of which have been judged in several countries under the charges of retaining their children to educate them in a way that is considered excessively singular. Nevertheless they are not the only example of this. As a matter of fact, periodically the professional persecutors of sects present the "grave" problem of what to do with the minors from families that belong to dissident religions. Not so long ago, in France, the young Yoann affair, retained by his parents, members of Sahaja Yoga, brought out tittles such as: "Sects: Do the parents have all the rights?" (VDS, 30th May 1991). On the other hand, the attitude of the Jehova's Witnesses, that would rather have their children dead, due to not having a transfusion, than to see them eternally damned, is often mentioned as an example of how the children have to be protected from their parents when these are possessed by religious ideas strange to the commonly accepted ones.
We see, therefore, that the anti-sectarian discourse does not do anything else than to insist on a line of imputations that transform the persecuted as to be deserving of their persecution. Again, as so many times before, their condition of being situated at the periphery or beyond civilization, near the territory where the beasts, the barbarians, the monsters, the devils & other abnormal figures dwell, is emphasized by the fact that they are considered responsible of the highest degree of criminal horror: the robbery of alien children or the retaining of their own for private consumption. In regards to the aforementioned forms of child-cannibalism associated to the anti-social dangers, that operated, so to speak, literally, the advantage of the one used nowadays to accuse the contemporary heretic is that, in a way, the results are reversible. Like it happens in the fable of the seven little goats, society wields the possibility, like the Mother goat has, to cut open the Wolf's stomach & to recover the little ones that were stolen & eaten. The community can, this way, not only be prevented against the malevolent actions of the robbers devourers of children, but also to intervene to rescue the victims, oblige the kidnappers to regurgitate the eaten children, which can then be recaptured & re-digested, or, to use adequate notions of our times, de-programmed & programmed again.
The way in which the media considers the subject of the "sects" & its dangers, doesn't do anything else than to keep on cultivating this manner of old fabulations, aimed at warning, them & their parents, of the great risk that the well meaning youth are undertaking, where it ends with the request of the immediate intervention of the authorities to rescue the children that are hostages of the dangerous groups or, often, from their own families dissident of the mainstream ideological regime. Probably, the new inquisitors are not aware of how much these argumentations reproduce a punitive & accusatory technique that continues throughout the centuries in Europe, & that it also appears abundantly recorded in the treatment to which a lot of other societies subject the enemies that they invent themselves.
It is precisely the latter that we'll try to illustrate from now on. We have highlighted how the persistence of the imputations of children's mind eating, literal or displaced, addressed to the people or groups that are considered anti-social serves to deny them the statute of human beings, inasmuch as they are made guilty of the most abject conceivable crime: that of stealing from society its main nourishment: the children. But what this insistence in protecting the young ones from being hunted by the pedophagian robber seeks, above the changing conjuncture of circumstances, is most of all to guarantee & re-enforce the efficacy of a particular strategy of stigmatization. In other words, the accusation of child-cannibalism belongs to a mechanism of make-believe & punishment of enemies that operates by constantly changing the object, without ever changing the objective. It is time to confirm all this by assigning a victim habitually unawares of the social apparatus of production, reproduction & annihilation of evil folks: the Catholic church & its clergy.

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