Humanities. “Of Cannibals” by Michel de Montaigne

In the essay, “Of Cannibals” Michel de Montaigne proposes a unique perception and understanding of barbarians and their lifestyle, development of civilization, and relations with other cultures. Montaigne does not see natives as barbarians stating that European culture occupies an inferior position in contrast to native people. Montaigne depicts that the attachment to the land characteristic is a tenuous one. Only the native people could be said to maintain an almost exclusive relationship to the land in the sense that most of them still live off it. While the struggle of those groups is often rooted in land-based issues, the reality is one of changing cultural and ethnic values. The world consists of those people who have a conscious recognition of a common identity in struggle, of common values, and of common opposition to forces that oppress them not as workers but as ethnic inferiors. “The estimate and value of a man consist in the heart and in the will: there his true honor lies” (Montaigne). Native people are natural as they interact with the natural environment and the land.

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The barbarians’ primary environment was the quarters where he or she interacted with fellow people. In that setting, slaves created their own religion, songs, dances, and superstitions. Out of this culture came a unique form of language, customs, beliefs, and ceremonies that serve as the basis of a distinct cultural system. This cultural form is a blend of traits, elements formed out of the experience, and native cultural patterns. Within an aboriginal culture, customs and rituals are an expected mode of behavior that meets with group disapproval if not performed in the appropriate context. They value the power of wind and the land and see these symbols as the main manifestations of religion. The uniqueness of aboriginal religion can be described as the ascent of man to the gods and possession of the reverse. The main elements of aboriginal religion are unique rituals and cult of gods, polytheism, and scarifies. Knowledge of the necessary rituals is often passed on from father to son or, in matrilineal societies, from maternal uncle to nephew. Also, there is a class of hereditary priests who officiate at ancestor cult ceremonies and become possessed. In this state, they speak with the voice of the spirit and are consulted as oracles.

Native people are involved n war and see it as a part of their life. “They have continual war with the nations that live further within the mainland, beyond their mountains, to which they go naked, and without other arms than their bows and wooden swords, fashioned at one end like the heads of our javelins” (Montaigne). Despite their war-like nature, people are hospitable people. It is usually a grassed area and community buildings, of which the meeting house is the most important in a settlement. In contrast to many European countries and the European civilization, barbarians treat people “very well, and given them all the regales they can think of,” (Montaigne). While the battle is fought over which special interest groups will achieve ascendancy in the struggle for societal goals, the ideology of equal opportunity dictates that the war of interest groups be articulated as a question of who is the most competent one. The native country depicted by Montaigne cannot be a lost country because these people interact with other nations and land, so they would be discovered by other nations.

In sum, Montaigne proposes to readers an idealized description of native people and their lifestyle contrasted with the moral and ethical values of modern civilizations. He treats native people as superiors who acquire unique skills and knowledge from the natural environment.


Montaigne, M. (2008). Of Cannibals. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Humanities. “Of Cannibals” by Michel de Montaigne'. 10 October.

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