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“Savages are but shades of ourselves.” Central African ‘cannibals’ in Herbert Ward’s narratives (1890-1910).

Abstract : “Savages are but shades of ourselves.” This intriguing verse from Ovid was chosen by Herbert Ward as an opening quote in the book he published in 1910, in which he recounted the five years he had spent in the Congo valley in the 1880s. The book, entitled A Voice from the Congo, echoed a previous one published twenty years earlier under the attractive title Five years with the Congo Cannibals. This chapter will examine these two publications and their author — an explorer, administrator, soldier, painter and sculptor who offered a first-hand account of the early years of the Free State of Congo, a huge colonial territory newly founded by Leopold II, king of the Belgians, in central Africa. Ward belonged to a second wave of ‘cannibal descriptions’, in the context of the development of imperial histories in Africa. His books fitted in a literary sub-genre culminating in the late nineteenth century — the description of ‘savage’ populations —, intended for audiences eager for thrills and frightening cannibal stories. But Herbert Ward also took a look, if not completely sympathetic on cannibalism in general, but at least empathetic at the so-called cannibals in Central Africa, always keeping in mind their humanity. Through the study of the two narratives left by Ward on the “five most impressionable years of [his] life”, this chapter aims to show how his testimony fits into a rather classic discourse on cannibalism in Central Africa at the end of the 19th century, but also how it brings up rather original and sometimes confusing touches, including forms of empathy towards the Africans. The ambition is also to show how the discursive processes employed by Ward must be analysed in the light of the historical context in central Africa at the end of the 19th century, keeping in mind the heated debate led by anthropologists on the ‘reality’ of cannibalism, a few decades ago and the limits of these types of first-hand testimonies.
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Contributor : Sophie Dulucq <>
Submitted on : Monday, April 1, 2019 - 5:46:15 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, April 18, 2019 - 2:53:34 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-02064937, version 1



Sophie Dulucq. “Savages are but shades of ourselves.” Central African ‘cannibals’ in Herbert Ward’s narratives (1890-1910).. Bites here and there. Literal and Metaphorical Cannibalism accross Discipline, Nov 2018, Warwick, United Kingdom. ⟨halshs-02064937⟩



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