8.744-7: Dignam’s potted meat. Cannibals would with lemon and rice. White
missionary too salty. Like pickled pork. Expect the chief consumes the parts of
honour. Ought to be tough from exercise. His wives in a row to watch the effect.
Gifford’s comment “Legendary
(and quasi-cynical) explanation for the survival of missionaries”, misses the
historico-factual component of Bloom’s unappetising musings.
The story that white man’s flesh tasted of
salt (and tobacco) is recounted as early as 1859, in the Diary of a Working Clergyman in Australia and Tasmania (p.
170). The following episode occurred in Australia, and was picked up widely by
. 15  […] This is the first
time I could ever get a confession of cannibalism out of a native. I have been
told that the
blacks cannot endure a white
man's flesh. They say that it tastes very salty, and is highly
flavoured with tobacco.
Before that, accounts not involving whites
suggest that lemon juice and salt were added to human flesh to make it more
mortally wounded, they run up to him as if in a transport of passion, cut
pieces from the body with their knives, - dip them in a dish of salt, lemon-juice,
and red pepper, - slightly broil them over a fire prepared for the purpose, -
and swallow the morsels with a degree of savage enthusiasm.
Evangelism Magazine and Missionary
(1814), vol. 22 p. 433, citing William Marsden’s
History of Sumatra
(1783, p. 302)
At least from the 1870s – when Bloom was a
little boy – newspapers had regularly focused on the lives of cannibal tribes
in various exotic locations and provided delightful shivers for their
deliciously appalled readership. The tribes reported by the papers typically
came from Fiji:
religion of the natives is mainly controlled by public policy. Their present Chief
was formerly a cannibal. When converted he had 11,000 followers. The
human-flesh-eating chiefs are known as "Butchers". Cannibalism still exists to
an alarming extent throughout the interior of Vitelene, an island 90 by 60
miles in extent. Annual feasts are given to such Chiefs as have slain foes in
battle and performed deeds of daring. At these disgusting carnivals the bodies
of native boys of twelve to fourteen years of age only are eaten. From earliest
childhood these subjects are fattened for the horrid feast. […] The native boy
flesh is for the palates of the Chiefs only. That of the white man is
considered too salty and smoky, and is not regarded as toothsome. Captain
Fuller informs us that there are over 100,000 cannibals on the island, and only
last August two Scotchmen were captured and eaten by the natives.
San Francisco Alta
in "The Fiji Island Cannibals", in
(1871) 24 November
The salty missionary turns up in this
report of 1887-8:2
Snow called a congress of these ex-cannibals, and they told him of their former
ways of living, killing their enemies and afterwards eating them; all of which
we will omit, except this: That white men and sliced missionary were too salty
for their taste.
Savage "The Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand"
Transactions of the
Annual Meetings of the Kansas Academy of Science
(1887-8), vol.11, p. 28
An article of 1889 with the headline “Among
the Man-Eaters of North Queensland” describes at great length the saltiness of
the white man:
of the men are physically fine fellows, and some of the women have pleasing
features. Then, when you call them cannibals you must remember that human flesh
is a very rare luxury, for they only eat foreign tribes. Native tribes, I mean,
for the flesh of the white man is nasty to their palate. He has a salty flavour,
which is very disagreeable to them. […]
CHOICEST PARTS OF MAN.
never saw a cannibal feast, but every night in their huts the talk was of women
and human flesh. Those were the stock subjects of conversation […] I was able
to understand them,[…] and I gathered that white man was no good – too salty.
Chinaman was not half bad. He fed on rice and had a tender vegetable flavour
about him, like a mealy cauliflower. But of all varieties there was nothing so
sweet as a native baby – so sweet, so juicy, so fat so tender.
Except for Bloom’s insinuation about what
the “parts of honour” were we have come across all the elements of his musings
The part of honour for the cannibals was
usually the kidney and the surrounding fat,3 but Bloom may have picked
up and fantasised about information like this:
The boy used to hunt people just as we
are hunting for deer. He took the bodies home to the old man, who
of all the men the boy killed.
Memoirs of the American Folklore Society
vol. 11, p. 173
By 1921 the Chicago Journal was prepared to face down these myths:
country boy might tell the near-savant that the yarn of Fijians refusing to
devour salty missionary [
] is on
all fours with the Western story that coyotes will not eat a Mexican, because
he uses so much chili sauce.
(1921), 21 May, p. M2
is cited, for example, in the Irish Times
(1859), 30 June, p. 4.
The popular joke about the cold missionary on the sideboard was a
decade older than that:
Aborigines”, in Daily Evening Bulletin
(San Francisco, California) (1890), 13 June, p. 4.
A Pleasant Valediction.
Before the Bishop of New Zealand departed, Sidney Smith, in taking
leave, affected to impress upon his friend the dangers of his mission.
"You will find," he said, "in preaching to cannibals, that their
attention, instead of being occupied by the spirit, will lie concentrated on
the flesh; for I am told that they never breakfast without a cold missionary on
the sideboard." In shaking hands with the new prelate as he was leaving
the house, the reverend wit added, "Good-bye. We shall never meet again; but
let us hope that you may thoroughly disagree with the savage who eats
The family Jo: Miller; a
drawing-room jest book
(1848), p. 119