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  1. Plural of savage

Extensive Definition

For the 1972 film, see Savages (film)
Savages is a play written by British playwright Christopher Hampton. It premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 1973, and was published the following year by Faber and Faber.
Hampton was inspired to write this play by a newspaper article titled "Genocide" by Norman Lewis in the Sunday Times Colour Magazine, published on 23 February 1969. This article dealt with the systematic extermination of Brazil's Indians ranging from the 16th century to the present day.


The play is based on an incident in the early 1960s which involved the slaughter of the Cintas Tribe on one of their traditional feast days, the Quarup. In one single attack, virtually all members of the tribe were killed by sticks of dynamite dropped from a plane. Hampton based his research about the Quarup and the legends he used in the play on "Mythology of all Ages" and on Claude Lévi-Strauss's "Le Cru et le Cuit" and "Du Miel aux Cendres".
The political background of the play is the military dictatorship in Brazil from 1964 to 1985. The regime, backed by the U.S. and particularly the CIA, suppressed all political and civil opposition by widespread use of torture and intense police pressure. Four years after the coup, a guerrilla movement was established under the leadership of Carlos Marighella of the A.L.N (Ação Libertadora Nacional). In 1969 and 1970 various ambassadors and embassy officials from the USA, Japan, West Germany and Switzerland were kidnapped to be exchanged for political prisoners. Marighela was killed by the police in November 1969. By 1972, the guerilla movement was said to be crushed.

Plot summary

Alan West, British government official in Brazil, is kidnapped by the M.R.B. (Movimento Revolucionario Brasileiro) in order to be exchanged for political prisoners. His guard, Carlos Esquerdo, is no brutal slug, but a philosopher more talented to write poetry, recite quotes by Fanon or Camus, or play chess. He tries to make his hostage understand the ideas behind the revolutionary movement, reads the manifesto to him, and explains that the corrupt government must be punished for "selling our country to the interests of US capitalism, which it has allowed to exploit our resources and steal our land, while our people starve and suffer all the miseries of poverty and unemployment."
While Carlos focuses on the plight of the 90 million Brazilian workers and landless farmers, West's mind is occupied with the extinction of the native Indians. In flashbacks, the audience learns that West has long been interested in Indian culture, rituals, and legends, and that he is aware of the genocide under way in the country. He knows that if no measures are taken, there will not be many Indians left to tell their tales and perform their rites of the Quarup as they are being murdered by gifts of sugar mixed with arsenic, by wilfully spread disease (distributing blankets from smallpox wards was a common practice), or barbaric slaughter financed by greedy land owners and speculators, foreign and Brazilian companies. One of these henchmen, Ataide Pereira, is questioned by an American Investigator and tells a gruesome tale of murder and mercilessness. However, also the missionaries are criticised in the play: Reverend Elmer Penn treats "his flock" of converted Indians like domesticated animals not fit to think for themselves. Only an anthroplogist sees the situation as clearly as West but has no power or means to change it for the better.
Finally, West is shot by Carlos. The play ends with the bombing of the Quarup celebrations which extinguished the Cintas Tribe.

Further info

Hampton, Christopher: Introduction. In: "Savages", London: Faber and Faber, 1974.
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