Headhunting as Reflexive Violence

  • Arne Røkkum University of Oslo
Keywords: Bugkalot, Ilongot, headhunting, sacrifice, empathy, masculinity, violence aestheticization, Mikkelsen


This is a commentary article on existing anthropological views on headhunting practices. Its focus is an article by Mikkelsen (2017) in this journal, ‘Facehunting: Empathy, Masculinity and Violence among the Bugkalot.’ The commentary article sees value in Mikkelsen’s critical stance on the issue of extreme violence, such as headhunting not entailing a prior dehumanization of the victim. ‘Headhunting as Reflexive Violence’ addresses an issue of ‘selective empathy,’ and concludes that in light of the Bugkalot ethnography and impulsive headhunting, the discussion point could be one, following Persson and Savulescu (2017), of ‘reflexive empathy.’ The article argues that attention should be given to the material, plastic, and tonal practices celebrating and possibly even eliciting the kill. These might provide us with a rare window into the way cultural techniques can embellish violence.