Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe deals briefly with the main character’s clashes with the cannibals that live on a nearby island.
The word cannibalism goes back to Columbus who wrote that the inhabitants of an island were afraid of the “Caniba” (or “Canima”), the supposedly man-eating inhabitants of the neighboring island. The word Caniba changed in Spanish on the one hand to “Caribe”, referring to the inhabitants of the Caribbean coast, andto “Canibal” meaning a person who eats human flesh. In his report, however, Columbus describes the indigenous people he saw as simple and rather fearful, a hospitable and peaceful people who did not wear any clothes.
There are countless of other accounts from travelers of populations who practiced cannibalism. Many of them described horrifying rituals and practices that scandalized European listeners.
These images and confused descriptions are either the product of the authors' imagination or the result of interpretations of original reports by colonists and conquerors. Travelers to South America, such as the Frenchmen André Thevet and Jean de Léry, exaggerated around 450 years ago the cruel descriptions of adorned captives who were later beaten to death with a club.
Daniel Defoe's novel also follows this tradition. He publishes his novel Robinson Crusoe anonymously and on the title page lets the reader believe that Robinson experienced the story himself and was the one who wrote it down. Since his arrival on the island, Robinson has been afraid that cannibals might catch him: “how I might fall into the hands of savages, and perhaps such as I might have reason to think far worse th...