Oswald de Andrade’s Cannibalist Manifesto


(English translation starts on page five)

Oswald de Andrade published the Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibalist Manifesto) in 1928 – in doing so he inaugurated the “Brazilian Modernist” movement and forever changed the way the Brazilian intelligentsia viewed syncretic cultural production. Brazil had long struggled to reconcile the decidedly heterogeneous makeup of its population. Containing Portuguese colonizers, Native Americans, and African slaves, early 20th century Brazil was very much a transnational nation. This heterogeneity did not necessarily create a society that valued plurality and miscegenation, however. In 1908, Brazilian sociologist Euclides de Cunha argued in Os Sertões that cultural miscegenation creates children imbued with the negative qualities of each respective race. It is in this context that the Manfiesto Antropófago stands as startling challenge to prevailing attitudes of the day.

The Manifesto itself champions cultural “cannibalism” – a process that consumes select foreign influences in order to further the ends of a heterogeneous Brazilian culture. Make no mistake; the work is vehemently anti-imperialist. Andrade decries colonizers as “importers of canned consciousness” and repeatedly urges the downfall of European figures such as Goethe, Lévy-Bruhl, and Father Vieira (the Portuguese Jesuit responsible for the colonization of Brazil). Instead of an outright rejection of all things European, Andrade champions “absorption of the sacred enemy . . . to transform him into a totem.” The process of cannibalizing western culture thus gives Brazilians a powerful sense of agency that had hitherto not existed – they will accept foreign influence and contort it into something uniquely Brazilian.

Andrade reifies this process in by writing “Tupi or not Tupi, that is the question.” Being the only English section in the Portuguese text, the line overtly calls to minds Prince Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy. In this context, “to be” (i.e. life) corresponds to “Tupi.” Likewise, “not to be” (i.e. suicide) corresponds to “not Tupi.” Considering that “tupi” is a Brazilian phrase for Native American, Andrade thus appropriates one of the most famous phrases in all of western literature to assert that rejection of indigenous culture is tantamount to suicide. The phrase pithily summarizes the goal of his manifesto – namely to assert the value of indigenous culture by contorting the very European influence that threatens to destroy it. The appropriation is more antagonistic than passive, founded more so in a desire to belittle the European “masters” than to revere them.

Aside from its rhetoric of cannibalism, the work is also notable for its rejection of reason and logic. There is very little sense of continuity in each section, with each paragraph incorporating disparate themes and references. In spite of its structure, the work is utterly devoid of a sequential and logical argument. Indeed, the sense of chaos that this disjuncture produces is very much in line with the theories of Appadurai, who argues that such sentiments typify the transnational world. Andrade cherishes this chaos, however. In one instance, he writes, “ I asked a man what the Law was. He answered that it was the guarantee of the exercise of possibility. That man was named Galli Mathias [Portuguese for galimatias, or nonsense]. I ate him.” Taken in conjunction with his assentation that Brazilians have “never permitted the birth of logic,” Andrade’s consumption of Galli Mathias reads as a criticism of the old world’s rigid belief in logic and reason. The interjection of “I ate him” in an ostensibly essayistic manifesto serves as a humorous rejection the norms of this form – an interjection that further undermines the rational pretense of this “manifesto” style. Taken as a whole, these quotes thus posit irrationality as the ideal feature of Brazilian cultural production. Given the concurrent rise of surrealism in Europe, the assertion that Brazilians “already had surrealist language” prior to the European invasion once again recalls the notion of cannibalism. As much as Europe may try to dominate Brazil, they and their surrealists have ultimately become devoured by the distinctly Brazilian rejection of logic.


One thought on “Oswald de Andrade’s Cannibalist Manifesto”

  1. I think it would be interesting to view this text as a reappropriation or reclaiming of the image of cannibalism. In the early days of exploration and empire, stories of cannibalism fascinated individuals in European metropoles, and were used to suggest that the native populations of colonized nations were “savage” in contrast to “civilized” Europeans. By using the rhetoric cannibalism to describe an attempt to take from European culture, and to assert the value of Brazilian culture is an powerful act. -Tanya


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