Read The Cannibal Spirit Online

Authors: Harry Whitehead

Tags: #Fiction, #General

The Cannibal Spirit

THE CANNIBAL SPIRIT

HARRY WHITEHEAD

HAMISH HAMILTON CANADA

Published by the Penguin Group

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Copyright © Harry Whitehead, 2011

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book

Publisher's note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Manufactured in the U.S.A.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Whitehead, Harry, 1967-
The cannibal spirit / Harry Whitehead.

ISBN 978-0-670-06580-6

1. Hunt, George, 1854-1933—Fiction. I. Title.

PR6123.H578C36 2011      823'.92      C2011-903927-3

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FOR ANITA SIVAKUMARAN

CONTENTS

Part I
– Gravebox 

Part II
– The Wilderness 

Part III
– White Men 

Part IV
– New York

Acknowledgments

NEW YORK CITY

AND

BRITISH COLUMBIA

SPRING OF THE YEAR 1900

PART I
GRAVEBOX

AND I AM GUILTY
. Disgusting Orgies? I am guilty of it all. Blood dripping off my godless fangs, black in the flame-light roaring in the centre of the greathouse. Cavorting heathens. Me: legs kicking up, naked member swinging, masks of bear and wolf and raven turning all about, carved wood mouths clack-clacking. My fingers clutching at some poor waif, his blue eyes wideopen-terrified, fed on blood and liver till he was fattened up sufficient for the pot. A blow from a blade, and the fair-haired little wretch's organs spill out on the ground for my appreciation. Me—with all them naked savages about me, screeching and hollering—here's me scrabbling in the dirt to raise up a steaming kidney, a liver, a heart.

My name is George Hunt: Indian Man-Eater, Mutilator of Corpses, Cannibal—and Man of Reason. There's the rub.

Ten days have passed now, since the trial finished back in Vancouver, and I am come here to the city of New York. A whole continent traversed in a week! And after all those days on the train, I arrived late last night, creeping in like some errant husband what's been out rousting longer than he ought. The wind slapped rain at the window of my hotel room as if it were the middle of winter instead of April. I saw long avenues of stone, lights winking on and off in windows, the odd lone soul rushing between the street lamps to be somewhere, the passing of a carriage, hood drawn up tight against the weather. I thought it strange to see this city near to sleeping, as if such a place—the very heart of the world!—could ever sleep.

Now I am here in the American Museum of Natural History, amidst the dusty beams of sunlight what break the shadows to sharp angles. A long gallery stretches off to either side of me, filled up with rows of glass cases. I stand before this mannequin, with its eyes glassy balls of black, a fat mop of what looks a horse's mane perched up on its crown as hair, a moustache to match, and its face painted in the deepest brown—a face what might seem a demon's, if the sheen of its skin was not so matte, so completely barren of all life.

It has been dressed in an antique suit of body armour, arduously carven out of cedarwood and painted black. This suit of armour what is the cause of all my troubles these past weeks. It has come on ahead across this land. And now it is here.

I reach out and run my fingers along the body of the Sisiutl, the double-headed snake carved on its chest, the two mouths joining tongues at the sternum. The Sisiutl, what's coils lie twined beneath the earth. The world, and all there is in it, rests upon those coils and is subject to their movements. I see again the chieftain, Big Mountain, standing proud above the carcass of the deer, saluting the initiation of his son into the society of the cannibal dancers, and wearing this suit his ancestors had also worn for all the long generations before him.

I have been brung here to the museum as an expert—an authority on the Indians, no less. I have the book I wrote with Professor Boas in my hand (with the rumpled newspaper clippings tucked away inside). And all the past days of travelling, I have been studying its detail.
The Social Organization and Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians
, by Franz Boas. My name is there, in the acknowledgments.
I am indebted to … without whose assistance …
Truth is, I know the book as a priest knows his cursèd bible. I have been reading it over and over like some schoolboy learning his dates in history, till I am so filled up with clans and family relations, with stories—myths, as Boas calls them—manners, ways of cooking, hunting, the powers of chieftains, men of medicine, and the rest, that I am ripe enough to be rotten with facts. I am to aid in cataloguing the Indian artefacts here—most of which I have collected for them myself, these past fifteen years or more, and many of which do fill up the glass cases, the walls and columns of this place.

How did this black armour come to be at the centre of my troubles? It is what Professor Boas will want to hear about. He will demand every detail. His own assistant, tried as a cannibal, no less!
Disgusting Orgies!
as it was written in the newspapers.
George Hunt accused of assisting at savage hamatsa cannibal dances where human bodies were consumed!
I imagine Boas crowing with glee when first he did hear of it. He'll poke me, like a boy with a stick at a clam, till he has drawn all nourishment from its
telling. He'll glory in it, so he will. He will dissect me, measure me up like one of his skulls.

Yet the events what led up to the trial are still so scrambled in my head. David's death coming at the same time as the charges laid against me. The ritual they did accuse me of and the rituals of David's funeral all tangled together. David's death the beginning of it all. Big Mountain's suit of armour at the heart of those charges what was laid against me. A mess. A tangle indeed.

When I think on that, and on all my failings, and as I look to find some gleam of something—life? mercy? spirit?—in those black glass eyes, I realize it all does begin with yet an older tale.

It was full forty years ago and more, back when I was still a young man. At eighteen, I had come into my own by getting married. My wife was an Indian of high Kwagiulth stock—Kwakiutl, as Boas always writes the word—from one of the noble families back then in my village of Fort Rupert, at the north end of Vancouver Island, and I became a noble Indian myself by marrying her. My mother was of a tribe from further north, but my father was a white man. He was factor for the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Rupert when I was growing up, before the company pulled out, bringing poverty on the people thereabouts. All of which is to say I am a half of each race, white and brown and maybe neither for being both. Growing up with such a mash of languages, I hardly know at times what dialect I am speaking in.

I had a friend whose name was Making-Alive. Some time after I was married, Making-Alive says to me, “Get up here to my village and we will teach you the ways of being a man of medicine, now that you is become a chieftain among the people, though you still be but a breed.”

I did not believe in the ways of the men of medicine. Shamans, as Boas calls them. The word's from out of Siberia or some such, and the Indians on our coast the same as the peoples of that far continent. It is all too strange.

Anyhow, I thought here is the perfect chance for me to learn their tricks and fraudery, and, after, to expose them for the liars and the cheats they are—me being half-bred to reason, as I might put it. So up I goes to
Making-Alive's village and learned all these tricks and words and games of making medicine.

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