by Jared Staller
In Converging on Cannibals, Jared Staller demonstrates that one of the most terrifying discourses used during the era of transatlantic slaving—cannibalism—was coproduced by Europeans and Africans. When these people from vastly different cultures first came into contact, they shared a fear of potential cannibals. Some Africans and European slavers allowed these rumors of themselves as man-eaters to stand unchallenged. Using the visual and verbal idioms of cannibalism, people like the Imbangala of Angola rose to power in a brutal world by embodying terror itself.
Beginning in the Kongo in the 1500s, Staller weaves a nuanced narrative of people who chose to live and behave as “jaga,” alleged cannibals and terrorists who lived by raiding and enslaving others, culminating in the violent political machinations of Queen Njinga as she took on the mantle of “Jaga” to establish her power. Ultimately, Staller tells the story of Africans who confronted worlds unknown as cannibals, how they used the concept to order the world around them, and how they were themselves brought to order by a world of commercial slaving that was equally cannibalistic in the human lives it consumed.