Interrogating Western Civilization as a Disease in Jack Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism


Columbus and Other Cannibals

Columbus and Other Cannibals

On Indigenous People’s Day, the Wall Street funded Latino “Rebels” posted its usual fuckery, this time defending the genocidal and maniacal acts of Cristobal Colón.

You can find the piece-of-shit article as well as their sophomoric and ahistorical responses to the criticism that was unleashed against them with a simple internet search.

Ironically, when the inexcusable article defending Colón was published, I had just finished reading Jack D. Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism for a Critical Race Theory course. This is an important book to read as it details a history of genocide, terrorism and ecocide against Indigenous peoples. How anyone can defend a mass murderer is beyond me, but that’s what some people do and get paid to do. The narrative is told from the point of view of Indigenous peoples.

Columbus and Other Cannibals is divided into fifteen (15) chapters with an introduction and a closing (The Universe is Our Holy Book):

  • Introduction: The Central Problem of Human Life Today
  • The Genesis of the Universe and the Creation of Love
  • Consuming Another’s Life: The Wétiko Cannibal Psychosis
  • Columbus: Cannibal and Hero of Genocide
  • Deception, Brutality, and Greed: The Spread of the Disease
  • The Structure of the Cannibal’s Insanity: Arrogance, Lust, and Materialism
  • Becoming a Predator: The Process of Corruption
  • The Mátchi Syndrome: Fascination with Evil
  • Colonialism, Europeanization, and the Destruction of Native (Authentic) Cultures
  • Savages, Free People, and the Loss of Freedom
  • Terrorism: A Frequent Aspect of Wétiko Behavior
  • Male Violence, Female Subordination, and the Perpetuation of Aggressive Violence
  • Organized Crime: Planned Aggression, Planned Predation
  • If Jesus Were to Return
  • Seeking Sanity: Reversing the Process of Brutalization
  • Finding a Good Path. A Path with Heart
  • The Universe is Our Holy Book

In Faust, the classic German literary title, Goethe writes, “A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.” Herein lies the central idea of Jack D. Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism, which confronts wétiko (cannibal) psychosis of Eurocentric empire-building from the perspective of Indigenous peoples. The fundamental question Forbes proposes to answer is, “how is it that today we see so much hate?” (6). Do European colonists and their descendants see the world and shape it through violence because they carry a disease of hatred for humanity in their hearts?

As I read Columbus and Other Cannibals, I was reminded of a conversation I had earlier this year with a self-identified anarchist at an (im)migrant rights demonstration. Our conversation meandered its way to the history of European violence against Indigenous peoples. I stated that there was no other group of people in the history of the world who had shown a complete disregard for humanity. I provoked the question, “is violent behavior and greed part and parcel of European lifeway?” I didn’t get an honest reply, rather all I got were philosophical musings of an anarchist. Perhaps it is difficult to even imagine such a question as we’ve never been empowered to “talk back” to power. Yet, Forbes does question and leaves room for a hopeful promise that wétiko can be cured.

Forbes begins his treatise by charting Indigenous philosophies, practices and ways of life by exploring the genesis and creation of the Universe as found in Mbyá tradition. For the Mbyá, the Universe is a creation of mental nature rooted in three elements: human speech, love of humankind, and sacred hymn (2). According to Indigenous peoples, the Universe was born in love and is an essential element of human existence, yet many have fallen from the path of goodness and become captive to a cult of violence that breeds hatred and inequality as well as contempt for the “Other.”

Forbes interrogates the notion of “civilization” as defined by Western powers. As Forbes sees it, European “civilization” has meant rape, brutality, avarice, perversion, arrogance, and deceit for Indigenous peoples who have suffered the catastrophic consequences of empire-building. But wétiko is not solely a European-only contagion, as it can be harnessed and maintained by non-Europeans wishing to join the ranks of the profit-makers and the socially acceptable even if they’re still seen as “savage” and “inferior” by those European wétiko carrying card members.

Forbes offers The Universe is Our Holy Book as a solution and act of resistance to wétiko disease where collectively we “return” to our native traditions to (re)balance the Universe and humanity. Gloria Anzaldúa would term this a path of conocimiento on our part in which we begin to question and resist this sickness. Indigenous knowledge and practices are not abstractions but based on love of earth. The history of European pillage and rape of the land would all but make the challenge of (re)teaching wétiko disease carriers to love the earth difficult.

If it is true as Goethe says that a “man sees in the world what he carries in his heart” it should be apparent by now that wétiko society must be dismantled from within. It is in this vein that Chicana/o Studies, Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, Decolonial Studies and other counter-hegemonic fields might be successful in ridding the world of wétiko disease since it is through these disciplines that the belly of the monster would regurgitate its violent entrails.

Columbus and other Cannibals challenges the discourse of American exceptionalism. At a time when Chicana/o Studies is under increased assault by white supremacist structures, the relevance of Forbes is more important than ever. Forbes provides us with the language needed to articulate a counter-hegemonic position that is unapologetic and based within an Indigenous framework.

Although Columbus and Other Cannibals does not generally fall into the traditional literature of Chicana/o Studies, this book is highly recommended, especially as Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os (re)connect with their Indigeneity.


Cultural Sovereignty


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