Posts Tagged ‘Disney


Garifunas Speaking Out Against Disney

Last week, Cherly Noralez of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation was interviewed on KPFK 90.7 FM Radio in Los Angeles. Luckily, the audio from that show has been archived (see the link below) and listeners/visitors may also post their feedback on that same page.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Commentary by Claire Yashar

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Claire Meurens-Yashar
, BA/BS Anthropology
Research in Taino/Arawak Iconography, Myths and Legends

July 17, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean, a 2006 Walt Disney Picture is, as are all movies, pure entertainment and not reality shows nor documentaries. As an entertainment medium, it has earned a two star rating[out of four] by the Tribune Movie Critic, Michael Phillips, and three star rating by Matt Pais, the Metromix Movies Producer.

Directed by Gore Verbinski, screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, this “fun” film has, however, a hideous side. It implies that the Caribbean Natives, the Arawaks, are and were cannibals; a slander they had to endure from generations to generations. The implication is as demeaning to today’s Caribbean populations as it was to the gentle people who greeted Christopher Columbus.

Five hundred years ago, this contemptuous portrayal of the inhabitants of the New World, was a convenient way to justifying enslaving them and treating them like cattle. It implied them to be sub-humans savages in the most derogatory sense of the word.

Today, perpetuating this myth is unjustifiable and in poor taste. It is a throwback to the racial antagonism of the indefensible ideology of the twentieth century when the blacks were the target of racial slurs, segregation, demeaning treatment, brutality, and considered racially inferior to their white counterparts.

If we allow these kinds of racial slurs to go without remark or rebuke, then I am sorry to say, we haven’t learned anything yet about humanity. If we have any capacity to be touched by the cries of pain and anguish from centuries past, we must leave the theater perturbed. Once again, the film industry has exploited the native people by slanderous implications of cannibalism. The original inhabitants of these islands are victims of cinematic self-sabotage since, as extras, they represented themselves and by extension, their ancestors. Mr. Walt Disney, who was one of the most honored film makers of his time, would not be proud to have one of his production be an embarrassment to the film industry.


Boycott Disney, Pirates of the Caribbean

Starting in February of 2005, we began to post a number of items regarding Walt Disney’s proposed plans for showing Island Caribs as blood thirsty man eaters. In Dominica, where parts of the film were shot, then Carib Chief Charles Williams loudly protested the movie and condemned select members of the Carib Territory for collaborating with Disney. The Government of Dominica warmly welcomed Disney, guided by the incredible notion that a media giant showing local natives as cannibals would promote tourism to the island. The movie was also shot in St. Vincent. Since then, Chief Williams was deposed by the Government of Dominica (although to what extent Williams embarrassing the government over this issue played any role in the government’s decision is unclear for now). Other indigenous communities, including Tainos, Garifuna, and the Caribs of Trinidad, also vigorously protested the movie in the news media. Indian Country Today in the United States ran an editorial that was very critical of Disney’s plans.
Now, the movie is about to hit theaters and, if anything, it appears to be worse than was first imagined. A trailer for the film clearly shows the Caribs roasting live people on spits and holding captives to be eaten…in a stark reminder of some of the most vile imperialistic imagery produced in the early colonial era. Such images are getting a new lease on life thanks to Disney, which with the resources that rival those of a colonial power, has now dedicated itself to popularizing and internationalizing images of the Caribs as “cannibals”. You can see the movie trailer:

Images that follow are stills from the trailer, accompanied by one colonial illustration that seems to have been part of the corpus of visual imperial denigrations that the movie so cheerfully enhances.

Let us keep in mind that such depictions were used to enslave and murder the ancestors of today’s Caribs, there was never anything innocent or “fun” about these portrayals. In addition, generations of Carib descended school children in the Caribbean have been taught that their ancestors were savage cannibals. Shame over ancestry was inculcated as a matter of routine. In my own field research experience, I have encountered individuals in their forties and fifties who told me very directly that the main reason they did not wish to self-identify as Caribs is that people in the wider world see Caribs as cannibals, as inhuman man eaters, and they found the stigma unbearable. Disney is playing its part in centuries of ethnocide.
This action on the part of Disney, flying in the face of countless protests, is not accidental, nor just uninformed carelessness. Let’s place these images in their current context as well. This is a time of renewed generalizing about the “non-West” as the “uncivilized” world of inhumane acts of savage atrocities. Anti-immigrant attitudes are on the rise in many Western countries. Anyone “brown-skinned” is deemed a potential terrorist. This is not inflammatory exaggeration on my part: for a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg, look at reports produced within the Canadian media itself:
Many white citizens adjoining Native reserves seem to feel empowered now to express openly derogatory views about Natives, even joining in the occasional riot where they can bash some in the face. A peaceful gathering of Natives in Canada is widely depicted as “terrorism”. You don’t believe me? Please have a look at pages from the Caledonia Citizens Alliance where members of the public submit their feedback on the issue of the Native reoccupation of their territory.
Images specifically of charred bodies, hung like roasted offerings, have also been popularized in the international press, especially when showing the “horrid” acts of Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah who captured and killed four American mercenaries in March of 2004.
All of the raw material, daily news, centuries of inherited stereotypes, revived bigotry, fear, hatred and paranoia are all out there ready to be fused in people’s minds who are thus predisposed to making a series of associations. One line of association is that linking Al Qaida with all Muslims, then immigrants, “brown skin,” Natives, and finally Caribs. The other line of associations to complement the first: terrorism, insurgence, resistance and cannibalism.
This is the world we are inheriting, folks! Either we deal with these issues head on, or sit back and let the tide of a new nazism wash over us with the help of our own quiescence.
Disney’s concept of family “fun” is about as light hearted as showing groups of Jews as rats. Disney won’t do exactly that, since that is anti-semitism, and numerous holocaust memorials tell us “never again.” But really, never again? That seems to be either unduly hopeful or just terribly naive.
You are encouraged to actively protest and boycott Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and any and all Disney products. Such cultural imperialism cannot be allowed to pass without consequence.


Disney and Carib "Cannibals" Continued

The following is from an article in The Los Angeles Times reproduced on

‘Pirates’ sequel raises ire of indigenous leader

Movie to portray Caribs as cannibals
Los Angeles Times
April 29. 2005

BATAKA, Dominica – Sabers rattled and epithets rang across this lush tropical island long before the first crew arrived this month to film the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, natives are supposed to capture Johnny Depp’s character, Captain Jack Sparrow, and spit-roast the swashbuckling pirate with fruits and vegetables “like a shish kebab,” said Bruce Hendricks, the Walt Disney Pictures executive in charge of production.

“It’s a funny, almost campy sequence,” he said of a film also populated by ghost pirates and zombies.

But some of Dominica’s Carib inhabitants are offended by what they consider an insinuation that their forebears were cannibals. They have called on the 3,500-strong population that is the last surviving indigenous group in the Caribbean to choose between fleeting fame and tribal honor. Chief Charles Williams asked his community to boycott the project, but most have welcomed the financial infusion.

The group is a minority on Dominica, whose 70,000 people are mostly of African descent. Disney argues that the film is fiction, but Williams says it draws on history. “Pirates did come to the Caribbean in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries,” he said. “Our ancestors were labeled cannibals. This is being filmed in the Caribbean.”

History books still cast the Caribs as cannibals during the time of the European settlement of the Caribbean that began in the 15th century but didn’t reach Dominica, a tiny island in the eastern Caribbean, until 200 years later. But the indigenous people, the chief argues, were defending themselves. “Today, that myth, that stigma is still alive,” Williams said, denying that the Caribs ever ate those they vanquished.

As newly elected chief of the Carib Territorial Council, Williams was approached by a delegation of Disney executives in October to discuss Carib collaboration on the film, for which about 400 locals have been hired as grips, caterers, drivers and extras. When the chief learned of the scene depicting Depp’s character on the barbecue spit, he said the Caribs would boycott the production.

Other Caribs say the chief is taking offense where none was intended. “He didn’t have the right to make that decision for the entire community,” said Christabelle Auguiste, the only woman on the seven-member tribal council. She regards the filming of a potential blockbuster in her homeland as an opportunity to show off the island’s stunning natural attractions and to raise international consciousness about the Caribs and their traditions.

“Throughout the years, there’s been this picture painted of us as cannibals. The fact that some people might have had an arm or a leg in their homes didn’t mean they ate people. They were kept as tokens of war,” Auguiste said of her ancestors and their clashes with European invaders.


Cannibal Stories

The following statement was originally produced by CAC editor Pedro Ferbel-Azcarate:
The misidentification of cannibalism for ancestor worship, reported in Columbus’ 1493 log, can be seen today as a classic case of cultural misunderstanding.
Using multidisciplinary lines of evidence we can see that Columbus misunderstood the cultural practice of Native people in storing the bones of their ancestors in calabash gourdes in their homes. He mistakenly believed this was a practice of cannibalism. There is scant archaeological evidence of cannibalism in the Caribbean. We would expect to find butchering marks on long bones of human remains if there was a significant practice of cannibalism. The lack of such evidence makes archaeologists reject cannabalism as a common practice in the Caribbean.
It appears that the mythology of cannibalism was promoted by such early European explorers as Columbus as a means to portray the Indigenous people of the Caribbean as savages. This denigration of Native peoples led to the European justification to enslave them, take their lands, and create a racist system whereby people who were not of European origin were given alower social status.
The portrayal of Native Caribbean Americans as cannibals and savages in a new Disney movie aimed at children perpetuates negative stereotypes and a false understanding of colonial history. Disney Corp. should be ashamed by their intentions to put profit above the dignity of human communities. Disney should retract their portrayal of Indigenous Caribbeans as cannibals and savages and should offer a formal apology to Chief Charles Williams and the Carib people of Dominica, as well as to all Indigenous people of the Caribbean.
The real adventure story is about the survival of Indigenous Caribbean people to the present day, a story rarely told. After 500 years years of resistance, the Native Carib (Kalinago) and Taino have survived to the present day.

Cannibalism as Cultural Libel

Claire Meurens Yashar, originally from Belgium, is an Anthropology graduate from the University of Illinois in Chicago, where Claire still lives. For the past two years, Claire has been intensely researching Taino iconography and its connection with the many mythological stories and legends. Claire can be reached at


Claire Meurens Yashar
Unsubstantiated reports of cannibalism disproportionately relate cases of cannibalism among cultures that are already otherwise despised, feared, or are little known.
The ‘blood libel’ that accused the Jews of eating Christian children is an example. In antiquity, Greek reports of anthropophagy were related to distant, non-Hellenic barbarians, or else relegated in myth to the ‘primitive’ chthonic world that preceded the coming of the Olympian gods. In 1994, printed booklets reported that in a Yugoslavian concentration camp of Manjaca, the Bosnian refugees were forced to eat each other’s bodies. The reports were false.
William Arens, author of The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979) downplays the truth of reports of cannibalism and argues that the description by one group of people of another people as cannibals is an ideological and rhetorical device to establish moral superiority over them” (p. 3- 4).
Cannibal themes in myth or religion
Cannibal ogresses appear in folklore around the world, the witch in Hansel and Gretel being the most immediate example. On the mythological level, the cannibal mother is magnified to a universal principal, such as the Hindu goddess Kali, the Black One. In one such tale, the gods are up against the demons led by Raktabeeja found that each time he was killed more demons arose from each blood that dropped to the floor.
The story of Kronos in Greek mythology also demonstrates the theme of cannibalism. Some authorities have detected allusions to cannibalism in the earliest religious writings of the ancient Egyptians.
The opening of Hell, the Zoroastrian contribution to Western mythology, is a mouth. According to Catholic dogma, bread and wine are transubstantiated into the real flesh and blood of Jesus, which is then distributed by the priest to the faithful. For this reason, Catholics in pagan times were sometimes accused of cannibalism by suspicious non-Christians (p. 5, from, 6 pages).

Uses and Abuses of Images of New World Cannibalism

From the earliest years of European invasion of the New World, reports that native people ate human flesh provided the conquerors with easy justification for their brutal takeover of native lands and lives. European colonizers saw New World cannibalism as the quintessential expression of savagery and evil. Clearly, any way of putting an end to such depravity could be considered legitimate. The imperative to stamp out cannibalism could counter any criticism about the morality of colonial projects and the brutalities of death, disease, misery, violence, and slavery that Europeans inflicted on the natives.
People with reputation of being cannibals were fair game for exploitation. In 1503, Queen Isabella of Spain decreed that Spaniards could legally enslave only those American Indians who were cannibals (Whitehead, 1984: 70). Spanish colonists thus had a vested economic interest in representing many New World natives as people eaters. Political expediency clearly motivated a number of early chroniclers who wrote about cannibalism, particularly among the Caribs (Caniba) Indians who lived in the parts of Venezuela, the Guianas, and the Caribbean islands. (Columbus’s accounts of the supposedly ferocious man-eating Caniba gave us the word cannibal which has come to be used more widely than the older term anthropophagy.)
The Portuguese who invaded Brazil likewise found that representing the natives as cannibals provided powerful rhetoric to assert European superiority and justify their violent conquest of the New World. The Catholic Church buttressed this position in 1510, when Pope Innocent IV declared cannibalism to be a sin deserving to be punished by Christians through force of arms.
Where people-eating savages did not exist, they could be fabricated. There is little doubt that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, some Spanish writers spread unsubstantiated reports of cannibalism in certain native populations (especially those that resisted European domination) as a pretext to justify slave-raiding and as a device to head off interference from Catholic clergy or government officials in Madrid. . Many other colonial-era writings also are of dubious veracity, being secondhand accounts based on rumor and innuendo, not the writer’s own observations. Even when there was no supporting evidence, historical documents tended to treat such allegations as facts. (Conklin, p. 4)

(See: Conklin, Beth A. 2001. Consuming Grief: compassionate cannibalism in an Amazonian society. Austin: University of Texas Press, Austin.)


Indigenous Protest Against Disney

This editorial appeared in Indian Country Today on April 14, 2005, and is reproduced here with the written permission of the editorial department of the newspaper. The original version can be found at The CAC Review’s Creative Commons license does not apply to this article.

Disney’s Carib Indian cannibals deserve boycott

Posted: April 14, 2005
Editors Report / Indian Country Today

Walt Disney Pictures is premising its sequel to its film ”Pirates of the Caribbean” on the supposed cannibalism of Carib Indians. This is disgusting. It is a bit beyond the time when the present-day children of the Carib people of the Antilles need to be hit in the face, one more time, with the wanton and highly-disputed idea that they descend from cannibals.

Leaders from at least three communities of Caribs – Salybia in Dominica, Santa Rosa in Trinidad and a community in St. Vincent – have registered their strong objections to Disney executives, who have not responded in any positive way to the critique. Scholars and others are adding their voices to the challenge.

While the controversy over the Caribs’ alleged cannibalism is as old as the conquest of the Americas, most observers agree that the Disney movie, slated for worldwide audiences, is beyond the pale as a vehicle to inculcate the historical stereotype upon even more generations of Carib and Caribbean children.

Filming of the sequel is scheduled to begin this month in Dominica. Its predecessor, the first production in the ”Pirates of the Caribbean” series, was a 2003 blockbuster that grossed $653 million worldwide. Some 3,000 Caribs live in the Carib territory on the island of Dominica, which has a population of 70,000. Tens of thousands of Carib descendants, now known as Garifuna, live on the coasts of Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as in the North American diaspora.

Chief Charles Williams of the Carib community in Dominica has denounced the concept of his people being depicted as cannibals. This stereotype has ”stigmatized” Caribs for 500 years and is still used both as a form of personal insult and as justification for mistreating his people, Williams said; the movie will further ”popularize” the historical insult against his people.

Among other Native leaders, the chief of the Carib community at Arima in Trinidad, Ricardo Bharath, also strongly condemned the planned movie. He was joined by Adonis Christo, the community’s shaman or medicine man. The oral tradition among their people doesn’t support cannibalism as a historical fact, they asserted.

”Do you want to know who the real cannibals are?” Bharath asked the Inter Press Service. ”They are the ones in modern-day society who are eating down our mountains, raping the environment, polluting the waters,” he said. Stated Christo: ”Our people defended their families and friends. They defended their homes. They defended their lands.”

There are early references by Europeans to ritual cannibalism among the first encounters with the Caribs. But Brinsley Samaroo, head of the History department of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, is among those who believe the claim is largely a European invention of ”manufactured history.”

In the historical record, one finds a letter from a Dr. Chanca, who accompanied Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the Caribbean. Chanca speculated that some young men held prisoners by a Carib group were being fattened to the slaughter for feasting.

Neither the wanton killing and rape by Spanish colonists of the first group of Caribs encountered – recorded during the same trip by others on the ship – nor the Caribs’ fierce, valiant defense of their territories and people are apparently proper subjects for a Disney movie.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Historical and Archaeological Society has called for a boycott of the sequel by moviegoers if Disney does not modify the script. Paul Lewis, the society secretary, charged that perpetuating the image of Caribs as cannibals sets back a serious effort in the region to provide a more ”honest share of [Caribbean] history” to the indigenous people.

The governments of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, who will benefit somewhat from the production activities in their countries, have not objected. In fact, the tourism minister of Dominica has defended the proposed film, which would bring some economic benefits to people on the island and which is, as he put it, only a ”work of fiction.”

Some Caribs, as can be expected, have applied for work as extras in the movie, a fact that has made some crow that this somehow exonerates Disney for its production. But that is all just public relations. Reality is that a huge company like Disney should know better in 2005 than to besmirch a living people with its most negative historical stereotype.

Clearly, Disney moviemakers need to consider the negative impacts of the dramatic storylines they choose to project to such a huge audience. It is not acceptable to create and recreate villains out of Native people while exulting and romanticizing the lives of pirates who in real life were murderers and thieves without regard for anyone. Call it what you may, ”fiction” or dramatic or poetic license, it smacks of racism to us.



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