Cannibalism: Wikis


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Cannibalism in 1557 as told by Hans Staden.
Cannibalism, by Leonhard Kern, 1650

Cannibalism (from Caníbalis, the Spanish name for the Carib people,[1] a West Indies tribe well known for their practice of cannibalism),[2] also called anthropophagy, is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings.

The term "cannibalism" is also used in zoology to mean the act of any species consuming members of its own type or kind and in sexual cannibalism. The expression "cannibalization" is in addition used metaphorically outside of biological fields to refer to the reuse of parts or ideas or to situations such as when a company's assets eat into its other assets.

Cannibalism has recently been both practiced and fiercely condemned in several wars, especially in Liberia[3] and Congo.[4] Today, the Korowai are one of very few tribes still believed to eat human flesh as a cultural practice.[5][6] It is also still known to be practised as a ritual and in war in various Melanesian tribes.[7] There are diary accounts that it was practised in Brazil in the the 16th century by the Tupinamba in south-east Brazil.[8] Historically, allegations of cannibalism were used by the colonial powers to justify the enslavement of what were seen as primitive peoples; cannibalism has been said to test the bounds of cultural relativism as it challenges anthropologists "to define what is or is not beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior".[9] Today, the trend is to reserve judgement on cannibalism.[10]

Cannibalism was widespread in the past among humans throughout the world, continuing into the 19th century in some isolated South Pacific cultures. Fiji was once known as the 'Cannibal Isles'.[11] Neanderthals are believed to have practised cannibalism,[12][13] and they may have been cannibalized by modern humans.[14]

Cannibalism has been occasionally practised as a last resort by people suffering from famine, as in colonial Jamestown, USA. Occasionally it has occurred in modern times. A famous example is the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, after which some survivors ate the bodies of deceased passengers. Also, some mentally ill individuals obsess about eating others and cannibalize, such as Jeffrey Dahmer and Albert Fish. There is a resistance to labelling cannibalism formally as a mental disorder.[15]

The theme of cannibalism has been featured in religion, mythology, faery stories and in works of art; for example, cannibalism has been depicted in The Raft of the Medusa by the French lithographer Théodore Géricault in 1819.


Reasons for cannibalism

"I believe that when man evolves a civilization higher than the mechanized but still primitive one he has now, the eating of human flesh will be sanctioned. For then man will have thrown off all of his superstitions and irrational taboos." —Diego Riviera[16]

The reasons for cannibalism include the following:

There are fundamentally two kinds of cannibalistic social behavior; endocannibalism (eating humans from the same community) and exocannibalism (eating humans from other communities).

A separate ethical distinction can be made to delineate between the practice of killing a human for food (homicidal cannibalism) versus eating the flesh of a person who was already dead (necro-cannibalism).


The social stigma against cannibalism has been used as an aspect of propaganda against an enemy by accusing them of acts of cannibalism to separate them from their humanity. The Carib tribe in the Lesser Antilles, from whom the word cannibalism derives, for example, acquired a long-standing reputation as cannibals following the recording of their legends in the 17th century.[9] Some controversy exists over the accuracy of these legends and the prevalence of actual cannibalism in the culture.

During their period of expansion in the 15th through 17th centuries, Europeans equated cannibalism with evil and savagery. In the 16th century, Pope Innocent IV declared cannibalism a sin deserving to be punished by Christians through force of arms and Queen Isabella of Spain decreed that Spanish colonists could only legally enslave natives who were cannibals, giving the colonists an economic interest in making such allegations. This was used as a justification for employing violent means to subjugate native people. This theme dates back to Columbus' accounts of a supposedly ferocious group of cannibals who lived in the Caribbean islands and parts of South America called the Caniba, which gave us the word cannibal.[9]

The Korowai tribe of south-eastern Papua could be one of the last surviving tribes in the world engaging in cannibalism, although there have been media reports of soldiers/rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia eating body parts[17] to intimidate child soldiers or captives.[18] Marvin Harris has analysed cannibalism and other food taboos. He argued that it was common when humans lived in small bands, but disappeared in the transition to states, the Aztecs being an exception.

A well known case of mortuary cannibalism is that of the Fore tribe in New Guinea which resulted in the spread of the prion disease Kuru. It is often believed to be well-documented, although no eyewitnesses have ever been at hand. Some scholars argue that although post-mortem dismemberment was the practice during funeral rites, cannibalism was not. Marvin Harris theorizes that it happened during a famine period coincident with the arrival of Europeans and was rationalized as a religious rite.

In pre-modern medicine, an explanation for cannibalism stated that it came about within a black acrimonious humour, which, being lodged in the linings of the ventricle, produced the voracity for human flesh.[19]

Some now-challenged research received a large amount of press attention when scientists suggested that early humans may have practised cannibalism. Later reanalysis of the data found serious problems with this hypothesis. According to the original research, genetic markers commonly found in modern humans all over the world suggest that today many people carry a gene that evolved as protection against brain diseases that can be spread by consuming human brains.[20] Later reanalysis of the data claims to have found a data collection bias, which led to an erroneous conclusion:[21] that in some cases blame for incidents claimed as evidence has been given to 'primitive' local cultures, where in fact the cannibalism was practiced by explorers, stranded seafarers or escaped convicts.[22]

As cultural libel

Unsubstantiated reports of cannibalism disproportionately relate cases of cannibalism among cultures that are already otherwise despised, feared, or are little known. In antiquity, Greek reports of cannibalism, (often called anthropophagy in this context) were related to distant non-Hellenic barbarians, or else relegated in Greek mythology to the 'primitive' chthonic world that preceded the coming of the Olympian gods: see the explicit rejection of human sacrifice in the cannibal feast prepared for the Olympians by Tantalus of his son Pelops. All South Sea Islanders were cannibals so far as their enemies were concerned. When the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by a whale in 1820, the captain opted to sail 3000 miles upwind to Chile rather than 1400 miles downwind to the Marquesas because he had heard the Marquesans were cannibals. Ironically many of the survivors of the shipwreck resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.

However, Herman Melville happily lived with the Marquesan Typees (Taipi), rumoured to have been the most vicious of the island group's cannibal tribes, but also may have witnessed evidence of cannibalism. In his autobiographical novel Typee, he reports seeing shrunken heads and having strong evidence that the tribal leaders ceremonially consumed the bodies of killed warriors of the neighboring tribe after a skirmish.

William Arens, author of The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy,[23] questions the credibility of reports of cannibalism and argues that the description by one group of people of another people as cannibals is a consistent and demonstrable ideological and rhetorical device to establish perceived cultural superiority. Arens bases his thesis on a detailed analysis of numerous "classic" cases of cultural cannibalism cited by explorers, missionaries, and anthropologists. His findings were that many were steeped in racism, unsubstantiated, or based on second-hand or hearsay evidence. In combing the literature he could not find a single credible eye-witness account. And, as he points out, the hallmark of ethnography is the observation of a practice prior to description. In the end he concluded that cannibalism was not the widespread prehistoric practice it was claimed to be; that anthropologists were too quick to pin the cannibal label on a group based not on responsible research but on our own culturally-determined pre-conceived notions, often motivated by a need to exoticize. He wrote:

Anthropologists have made no serious attempt to disabuse the public of the widespread notion of the ubiquity of anthropophagists. ... in the deft hands and fertile imaginations of anthropologists, former or contemporary anthropophagists have multiplied with the advance of civilization and fieldwork in formerly unstudied culture areas. ...The existence of man-eating peoples just beyond the pale of civilization is a common ethnographic suggestion.[24]

Arens' findings are controversial, and have been cited as an example of postcolonial revisionism.[25] His argument is often mischaracterized as "cannibals do not and never did exist",[citation needed] when in the end the book is actually a call for a more responsible and reflective approach to anthropological research. At any rate, the book ushered in an era of rigorous combing of the cannibalism literature. By Arens' later admission, some cannibalism claims came up short, others were reinforced.

Conversely, Michel de Montaigne's essay "Of cannibals" introduced a new multicultural note in European civilization. Montaigne wrote that "one calls 'barbarism' whatever he is not accustomed to." By using a title like that and describing a fair indigean society, Montaigne may have wished to provoke a surprise in the reader of his Essays.

During starvation

Cannibalism has been occasionally practiced as a last resort by people suffering from famine. In colonial Jamestown, colonists resorted to cannibalism during a period known as the Starving Time, from 1609-1610. After food supplies were diminished, some colonists began to dig up corpses for food. During this time period, one man was persuaded to confess to having killed, salted, and eaten his pregnant wife before he was burned alive as punishment.[26]

In the US, the group of settlers known as the Donner party resorted to cannibalism while snowbound in the mountains for the winter. The last survivors of Sir John Franklin's Expedition were found to have resorted to cannibalism in their final push across King William Island towards the Back River.[27] There are many claims that cannibalism was widespread during the famine of Ukraine in the 1930s, during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II,[28][29] and during the Chinese Civil War and the Great Leap Forward in the People's Republic of China.[30] There were also rumors of several cannibalism outbreaks during World War II in the Nazi concentration camps where the prisoners were malnourished.[31] Cannibalism was also practiced by Japanese troops as recently as World War II in the Pacific theater.[32] A more recent example is of leaked stories from North Korean refugees of cannibalism practiced during and after a famine that occurred sometime between 1995 and 1997.[33]

Lowell Thomas records the cannibalisation of some of the surviving crew members of the Dumaru after the ship exploded and sank during the First World War in his book, The Wreck of the Dumaru (1930). Another case of shipwrecked survivors forced to engage in cannibalism was that of the Medusa, a French vessel which in 1816 ran aground on the Banc d'Arguin (English: The Bank of Arguin) off the coast of Africa, about sixty miles distant from shore.

In 1972, the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, consisting of the rugby team from Stella Maris College in Montevideo and some of their family members, resorted to cannibalism during their entrapment at the crash site. They had been stranded since October 13 and rescue operations at the crash site did not commence until December 22. The story of the survivors was chronicled in Piers Paul Read's 1974 book, Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, in a 1993 film adaptation of the book, called simply Alive, and in a 2008 documentary: Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains.

Jared Diamond has suggested in his "Guns, Germs and Steel" that cannibalism took place on Easter Island after the construction of the Moai caused an ecosystem collapse starting with the inaccessibility of wood to build fishing boats.

Themes in mythology and religion

Hansel and Gretel German stamp

Cannibalism features in many mythologies, and is most often attributed to evil characters or as extreme retribution for some wrong. Examples include The witch in Hansel and Gretel and Baba Yaga of Slavic folklore.

A number of stories in Greek mythology involve cannibalism, in particular cannibalism of close family members, for example the stories of Thyestes, Tereus and especially Cronus, who was Saturn in the Roman pantheon. The story of Tantalus also parallels this. These mythologies inspired Shakespeare's cannibalism scene in Titus Andronicus.

In the Christian tradition, cannibalism is believed to be undertaken (in some cases symbolically) in the form of communion and the Eucharist. Many Protestants, in general, consider the Eucharist as symbolic, while Catholics and some Orthodox teach that the Eucharist is literal, through their belief of either transubstantiation[34] or the sacramental union[35].

Hindu mythology describes evil demons called "asura" or "rakshasa" that dwell in the forests and practice extreme violence including devouring their own kind, and possess many evil supernatural powers. These are however the Hindu equivalent of "demons" and do not relate to actual tribes of forest-dwelling people.

The Wendigo (also Windigo, Weendigo, Windago, Windiga, Witiko, Wihtikow, and numerous other variants) is a mythical creature appearing in the mythology of the Algonquian people. It is a malevolent cannibalistic spirit into which humans could transform, or which could possess humans. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk[36], and the legend appears to have reinforced this practice as taboo. The name is Wiindigoo in the Ojibwe language (the source of the English word[37]), Wìdjigò in the Algonquin language, and Wīhtikōw in the Cree language; the Proto-Algonquian term was *wi·nteko·wa, which probably originally meant "owl".[38]


Among modern humans it has been practiced by various groups.[39] In the past, it has been practiced by humans in Europe,[40][41] South America,[42] India,[43] New Zealand,[44] the Solomon Islands,[45] parts of West Africa[6] and Central Africa,[6] some of the islands of Polynesia,[6] New Guinea,[46] Sumatra,[6] and Fiji,[47] Evidence of cannibalism has been found in the Chaco Canyon ruins of the Anasazi culture of North America as well.[48][49]


Some anthropologists, such as Tim White, suggest that cannibalism was common in human societies prior to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period. This theory is based on the large amount of "butchered human" bones found in Neanderthal and other Lower/Middle Paleolithic sites.[50] Cannibalism in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic may have occurred because of food shortages.[51] According to one historical account, aboriginal tribes of Australia were most certainly cannibals, never failing to eat persons killed in a fight and always eating men noted for their fighting ability who died natural deaths. "... out of pity and consideration for the body - they knew where he was then - 'he won't stink!' "[52]

Early history

Cannibalism is mentioned many times in early history and literature. It is reported in the Bible during the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:25–30). Two women made a pact to eat their children; after the first mother cooked her child the second mother ate it but refused to reciprocate by cooking her own child. A similar story is reported by Flavius Josephus during the siege of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 AD, and the population of Numantia during the Roman Siege of Numantia in the second century BC was reduced to cannibalism and suicide. Cannibalism was also well-documented in Egypt during a famine caused by the failure of the Nile to flood for eight years (1073-1064 BCE).

As in modern times, though, reports of cannibalism were often told as apocryphal second and third-hand stories, with widely varying levels of accuracy. St. Jerome, in his letter Against Jovinianus, discusses how people come to their present condition as a result of their heritage, and then lists several examples of peoples and their customs. In the list, he mentions that he has heard that Atticoti eat human flesh and that Massagetae and Derbices (a people on the borders of India) kill and eat old people.(---The Tibareni crucify those whom they have loved before when they have grown old---). ; this points to likelihood that St. Jerome's writing came from rumours and does not represent the situation accurately.[53]

Researchers have found physical evidence of cannibalism in ancient times. In 2001, archaeologists at the University of Bristol found evidence of Iron Age cannibalism in Gloucestershire.[54] Cannibalism was practiced as recently as 2000 years ago in the British Isles.[55] In Germany, Emil Carthaus and Dr. Bruno Bernhard have observed 1,891 signs of cannibalism in the caves at the Hönne (1000 - 700 BCE).[56]

Middle Ages

Ugolino and his sons in their cell, as painted by William Blake circa 1826. Ugolino della Gherardesca was an Italian nobleman that, together with his sons Gaddo and Uguccione and his grand-sons Nino and Anselmuccio were detained in the Muda, in March 1289. The keys were thrown into the Arno river and the prisoners left to starve. According to Dante, the prisoners were slowly starved to death and before dying Ugolino's children begged him to eat their bodies.

During the Muslim-Qurayš wars in the early 7th century, cases of cannibalism have been reported. Following at the Battle of Uhud in 625, it is said that after killing Hamzah ibn Abdu l-Muṭṭalib, his liver was consumed by Hind bint ‘Utbah, the wife of Abû Sufyan ibn Harb (one of the commanders of the Qurayš army).[57] Although she later converted to Islam, and was the mother of Muawiyah I, the founder of the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate, Muawiyah was later slandered to be an unacceptable leader and the son of a cannibal.

Reports of cannibalism were also recorded during the First Crusade, as Crusaders fed on the bodies of their dead opponents following the Siege of Ma'arrat al-Numan. It is also possible that the Crusaders staged such incidents as part of psychological warfare. Amin Maalouf also discusses further cannibalism incidents on the march to Jerusalem, and to the efforts made to delete mention of these from western history. The inhabitants of Hungary (which the Crusader marched through to reach the Holy Land ) were also reported to be cannibals, although this was probably false, as the Hungarians had only converted from paganism to Christianity in the 10th century. In fact, the french word for Hungarian, 'hongre, may be the source of the English word ogre.[58] During Europe's Great Famine of 1315–1317 there were many reports of cannibalism among the starving populations. In North Africa, as in Europe, there are references to cannibalism as a last resort in times of famine.[59]

The Muslim explorer Ibn Batutta reported that one African king advised him that nearby people were cannibals (this may have been a prank played on Ibn Batutta by the king in order to fluster his guest).

For a brief time in Europe, an unusual form of cannibalism occurred when thousands of Egyptian mummies preserved in bitumen were ground up and sold as medicine.[60] The practice developed into a wide-scale business which flourished until the late 16th century. This "fad" ended because the mummies were revealed to actually be recently killed slaves. Two centuries ago, mummies were still believed to have medicinal properties against bleeding, and were sold as pharmaceuticals in powdered form (see human mummy confection).[61]

References to cannibalizing the enemy has also been seen in poetry written when China was repressed in the Song Dynasty, though the cannibalizing is perhaps poetic symbolism, expressing hatred towards the enemy (see Man Jiang Hong).

While there is universal agreement that some Mesoamerican people practiced human sacrifice, there is a lack of scholarly consensus as to whether cannibalism in pre-Columbian America was widespread. At one extreme, anthropologist Marvin Harris, author of Cannibals and Kings, has suggested that the flesh of the victims was a part of an aristocratic diet as a reward, since the Aztec diet was lacking in proteins. While most pre-Columbian historians believe that there was ritual cannibalism related to human sacrifices, they do not support Harris's thesis that human flesh was ever a significant portion of the Aztec diet.[62][63][64]

Early modern era

European explorers and colonizers brought home many stories of cannibalism practiced by the native peoples they encountered. The friar Diego de Landa reported about Yucatán instances, Yucatán before and after the Conquest, translated from Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, 1566 (New York: Dover Publications, 1978: 4), and there have been similar reports by Purchas from Popayán, Colombia, and from the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, where human flesh was called long pig (Alanna King, ed., Robert Louis Stevenson in the South Seas, London: Luzac Paragon House, 1987: 45–50). It is recorded about the natives of the captaincy of Sergipe in Brazil, "They eat human flesh when they can get it, and if a woman miscarries devour the abortive immediately. If she goes her time out, she herself cuts the navel-string with a shell, which she boils along with the secondine, and eats them both.'"[65]

Reports of cannibalism among the Texas tribes were often applied to the Karankawa and the Tonkawa.[66][67] Though cannibals, the fierce Tonkawas were great friends of the white Texas settlers, helping them against all their enemies.[68] Among the North American tribes which practiced cannibalism in some form may be mentioned the Montagnais, and some of the tribes of Maine; the Algonkin, Armouchiquois, Iroquois, and Micmac; farther west the Assiniboin, Cree, Foxes, Chippewa, Miami, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Illinois, Sioux, and Winnebago; in the South the people who built the mounds in Florida, and the Tonkawa, Attacapa, Karankawa, Kiowa, Caddo, and Comanche (?); in the Northwest and West, portions of the continent, the Thlingchadinneh and other Athapascan tribes, the Tlingit, Heiltsuk, Kwakiutl, Tsimshian, Nootka, Siksika, some of the Californian tribes, and the Ute. There is also a tradition of the practice among the Hopi, and mentions of the custom among other tribes of New Mexico and Arizona. The Mohawk, and the Attacapa, Tonkawa, and other Texas tribes were known to their neighbours as "man-eaters."[69]

As with most lurid tales of native cannibalism, these stories are treated with a great deal of scrutiny, as accusations of cannibalism were often used as justifications for the subjugation or destruction of "savages." However, there were several well-documented cultures that engaged in regular eating of the dead, such as New Zealand's Māori. In one infamous 1809 incident, 66 passengers and crew of the ship the Boyd were killed and eaten by Māori on the Whangaroa peninsula, Northland. (See also: Boyd massacre) Cannibalism was already a regular practice in Māori wars.[70] In another instance, on 11 July 1821 warriors from the Ngapuhi tribe killed 2,000 enemies and remained on the battlefield "eating the vanquished until they were driven off by the smell of decaying bodies".[71] Māori warriors fighting the New Zealand Government in Titokowaru's War in New Zealand's North Island in 1868–69 revived ancient rites of cannibalism as part of the radical Hauhau movement of the Pai Marire religion.[72]

Other islands in the Pacific were home to cultures that allowed cannibalism to some degree. The dense population of Marquesas Islands, Polynesia, was concentrated in the narrow valleys, and consisted of warring tribes, who sometimes cannibalized their enemies. In parts of Melanesia, cannibalism was still practiced in the early 20th century, for a variety of reasons — including retaliation, to insult an enemy people, or to absorb the dead person's qualities.[73] One tribal chief in Fiji is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.[74] The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles.

This period of time was also rife with instances of explorers and seafarers resorting to cannibalism for survival. The survivors of the sinking of the French ship Medusa in 1816 resorted to cannibalism after four days adrift on a raft and their plight was made famous by Théodore Géricault's painting Raft of the Medusa. The misfortunes of the Donner Party in the United States are also well-known. After the sinking of the Essex of Nantucket by a whale, on November 20, 1820, (an important source event for Herman Melville's Moby-Dick) the survivors, in three small boats, resorted, by common consent, to cannibalism in order for some to survive.[75] Sir John Franklin's lost polar expedition is another example of cannibalism out of desperation.[76]

The case of R v. Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273 (QB) is an English case which dealt with four crew members of an English yacht, the Mignonette, which were cast away in a storm some 1,600 miles (2,600 km) from the Cape of Good Hope. After several days one of the crew, a seventeen year old cabin boy, fell unconscious due to a combination of the famine and drinking seawater. The others (one possibly objecting) decided then to kill him and eat him. They were picked up four days later. Two of the three survivors were found guilty of murder. A significant outcome of this case was that necessity was determined to be no defence against a charge of murder.

Roger Casement writing to a consular colleague in Lisbon on 3 August 1903 from Lake Mantumba in the Congo Free State said: "The people round here are all cannibals. You never saw such a weird looking lot in your life. There are also dwarfs (called Batwas) in the forest who are even worse cannibals than the taller human environment. They eat man flesh raw! It's a fact." Casement then added how assailants would "bring down a dwarf on the way home, for the marital cooking pot...The Dwarfs, as I say, dispense with cooking pots and eat and drink their human prey fresh cut on the battlefield while the blood is still warm and running. These are not fairy tales my dear Cowper but actual gruesome reality in the heart of this poor, benighted savage land." (National Library of Ireland, MS 36,201/3)

Modern era

World War II

Many instances of cannibalism by necessity were recorded during World War II. For example, during the 872-day Siege of Leningrad, reports of cannibalism began to appear in the winter of 1941–1942, after all birds, rats and pets were eaten by survivors. Leningrad police even formed a special division to combat cannibalism.[77][78] Following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad it was found that some German soldiers in the besieged city, cut off from supplies, resorted to cannibalism.[79]

Later, in February 1943, roughly 100,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner of war (POW). Almost all of them were sent to POW camps in Siberia or Central Asia where, due to being chronically underfed by their Soviet captors, many resorted to cannibalism. Fewer than 5,000 of the prisoners taken at Stalingrad survived captivity. The majority, however, died early in their imprisonment due to exposure or sickness brought on by conditions in the surrounded army before the surrender.[80]

In parts of Eastern Europe during World War II, there are anecdotal accounts of people finding human fingernails in sausage suggesting the foodstuffs were composed of human flesh.[citation needed]

The Australian War Crimes Section of the Tokyo tribunal, led by prosecutor William Webb (the future Judge-in-Chief), collected numerous written reports and testimonies that documented Japanese soldiers' acts of cannibalism among their own troops, on enemy dead, and on Allied prisoners of war in many parts of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.[notes 1][81]:80 According to historian Yuki Tanaka, "cannibalism was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads and under the command of officers".[82]

In some cases, flesh was cut from living people. An Indian POW, Lance Naik Hatam Ali (later a citizen of Pakistan), testified that in New Guinea: "the Japanese started selecting prisoners and every day one prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the soldiers. I personally saw this happen and about 100 prisoners were eaten at this place by the Japanese. The remainder of us were taken to another spot 50 miles [80 km] away where 10 prisoners died of sickness. At this place, the Japanese again started selecting prisoners to eat. Those selected were taken to a hut where their flesh was cut from their bodies while they were alive and they were thrown into a ditch where they later died."[83]

Another well-documented case occurred in Chichijima in February 1945, when Japanese soldiers killed and consumed five American airmen. This case was investigated in 1947 in a war crimes trial, and of 30 Japanese soldiers prosecuted, five (Maj. Matoba, Gen. Tachibana, Adm. Mori, Capt. Yoshii, and Dr. Teraki) were found guilty and hanged.[84] In his book Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, James Bradley details several instances of cannibalism of World War II Allied prisoners by their Japanese captors.[85] The author claims that this included not only ritual cannibalization of the livers of freshly-killed prisoners, but also the cannibalization-for-sustenance of living prisoners over the course of several days, amputating limbs only as needed to keep the meat fresh.[86]

Other cases

  • The Leopard Society were a West African society active into mid-1900s that practiced cannibalism. They were centred in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire. The Leopard men would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards' claws and teeth.[87] The victims' flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the society.[88]
  • The Aghoris of northern India consume the flesh of the dead floated in the Ganges in pursuit of immortality and supernatural powers. Members of the Aghori drink from human skulls and practice cannibalism in the belief that eating human flesh confers spiritual and physical benefits, such as prevention of aging.[89][90][91]
  • During the 1930s, multiple acts of cannibalism were reported from Ukraine and Russia's Volga, South Siberian and Kuban regions during the Holodomor.[92]
  • Cannibalism was proven to have occurred in China during the Great Leap Forward, when rural China was hit hard by drought and famine.[93][94][95][96][97] Allegations of cannibalism during the Cultural Revolution in China have also emerged. These allegations claim that cannibalism was practiced for ideological purposes.[98][99]
  • Prior to 1931, New York Times reporter William Buehler Seabrook, allegedly in the interests of research, obtained from a hospital intern at the Sorbonne a chunk of human meat from the body of a healthy human killed by accident, and cooked and ate it. He reported that, "It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible. The roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable."[100][101]
  • The Soviet writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his novel The Gulag Archipelago, describes cases of cannibalism in the twentieth-century USSR. Of the famine in Povolzhie (1921–1922) he writes: "That horrible famine was up to cannibalism, up to consuming children by their own parents — the famine, which Russia had never known even in Time of Troubles [in 1601–1603]...".[102] He says of the Siege of Leningrad (1941–1944): "Those who consumed human flesh, or dealt with the human liver trading from dissecting rooms... were accounted as the political criminals...".[103] And of the building of Northern Railway Prisoners Camp ("SevZhelDorLag") Solzhenitsyn writes: "An ordinary hard working political prisoner almost could not survive at that penal camp. In the camp SevZhelDorLag (chief: colonel Klyuchkin) in 1946–47 there were many cases of cannibalism: they cut human bodies, cooked and ate."[104]
  • The Soviet journalist Yevgenia Ginzburg, former long-term political prisoner, who spent time in the Soviet prisons, Gulag camps and settlements from 1938 to 1955, describes in her memoir book "Harsh Route" (or "Steep Route") the case, which she was directly involved in late 1940s, after she had been moved to the prisoners' hospital.[105] "...The chief warder shows me the black smoked pot, filled with some food: 'I need your medical expertize regarding this meat.' I look into the pot, and hardly hold vomiting. The fibers of that meat are very small, and don't resemble me anything I have seen before. The skin on some pieces bristles with black hair (...) A former smith from Poltava, Kulesh worked together with Centurashvili. At this time, Centurashvili was only one month away from being discharged from the camp (...) And suddenly he surprisingly disappeared. The wardens looked around the hills, stated Kulesh's evidence, that last time Kulesh had seen his workmate near the fireplace, Kulesh went out to work and Centurashvili left to warm himself more; but when Kulesh returned to the fireplace, Centurashvili had vanished; who knows, maybe he got frozen somewhere in snow, he was a weak guy (...) The wardens searched for two more days, and then assumed that it was an escape case, though they wondered why, since his imprisonment period was almost over (...) The crime was there. Approaching the fireplace, Kulesh killed Centurashvili with an axe, burned his clothes, then dismembered him and hid the pieces in snow, in different places, putting specific marks on each burial place. (...) Just yesterday, one body part was found under two crossed logs."
  • When Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes on October 13, 1972, the survivors resorted to eating the deceased during their 72 days in the mountains. Their story was later recounted in the books Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors and Miracle in the Andes as well as the film Alive, by Frank Marshall, and the documentaries Alive: 20 Years Later (1993) and Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains (2008).
  • Cannibalism was reported by the journalist Neil Davis during the South East Asian wars of the 1960s and 1970s. Davis reported that Cambodian troops ritually ate portions of the slain enemy, typically the liver. However he, and many refugees, also report that cannibalism was practiced non-ritually when there was no food to be found. This usually occurred when towns and villages were under Khmer Rouge control, and food was strictly rationed, leading to widespread starvation. Any civilian caught participating in cannibalism would have been immediately executed.[106]
  • Cannibalism has been reported in several recent African conflicts, including the Second Congo War, and the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A U.N. human rights expert reported in July 2007 that sexual atrocities against Congolese women go 'far beyond rape' and include sexual slavery, forced incest, and cannibalism.[107] This may be done in desperation, as during peacetime cannibalism is much less frequent;[108] at other times, it is consciously directed at certain groups believed to be relatively helpless, such as Congo Pygmies, even considered subhuman by some other Congolese.[109] It is also reported by some that witch doctors sometimes use the body parts of children in their medicine.[citation needed] In the 1970s the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was reputed to practice cannibalism.[110][111]
  • The self declared Emperor of the Central African Republic, Jean-Bédel Bokassa (Emperor Bokassa I), was tried on 24 October 1986 for several cases of cannibalism although he was never convicted.[112][113] Between 17 April and 19 April 1979 a number of elementary school students were arrested after they had protested against wearing the expensive, government-required school uniforms. Around one-hundred were killed. Bokassa is said to have participated in the massacre, beating some of the children to death with his cane and allegedly ate some of his victims.[114]
  • It has been reported by defectors and refugees that, at the height of the famine in 1996, cannibalism was sometimes practiced in North Korea.[115]
  • Médecins Sans Frontières, the international medical charity, supplied photographic and other documentary evidence of ritualized cannibal feasts among the participants in Liberia's internecine strife in the 1980s to representatives of Amnesty International who were on a fact-finding mission to the neighboring state of Guinea. However, Amnesty International declined to publicize this material; the Secretary-General of the organization, Pierre Sane, said at the time in an internal communication that "what they do with the bodies after human rights violations are committed is not part of our mandate or concern". The existence of cannibalism on a wide scale in Liberia was subsequently verified in video documentaries by Journeyman Pictures of London.[116]
  • Dorangel Vargas known as "El comegente", Spanish for "maneater", was a serial killer and cannibal in Venezuela. Vargas killed and ate at least 10 men in a period of two years preceding his arrest in 1999.
  • Another serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer of the United States, became notorious for murdering his victims and then eating their body parts before his arrest and imprisonment in 1991. Traces of human flesh and bones were found on pots and pans inside his home.
  • In March 2001 in Germany, Armin Meiwes posted an Internet ad asking for "a well built 18 to 30 year old to be slaughtered and consumed". The ad was answered by Bernd Jürgen Brandes. After killing Brandes and eating parts of his body, Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and later, murder. The song "Mein Teil" by Rammstein and the song "Eaten" by Bloodbath is based on this case.
  • In February 2004, a 39 year old Briton named Peter Bryan from East London was caught after he killed and ate his friend. He has been arrested for murder before, but was released shortly before this act was committed.[117]
  • In September 2006, Australian television crews from 60 Minutes and Today Tonight attempted to rescue a six-year-old boy whom they believed would be ritually cannibalized by his tribe, the Korowai, from West Papua, Indonesia.[118]
  • On August 14, 2007, a member of the far-left Maoist Naxalite group engaged in cannibalism. In the Indian state of Orissa, the leftist killed a police informant and consumed his flesh in order to terrorize the local villagers against reporting on Naxalite criminal activities[119].
  • On September 14, 2007, a man named Özgür Dengiz was captured in Ankara, the Turkish capital, after killing and eating a man. Dengiz in his initial testimony said he "enjoyed" eating human flesh. He frequently burst into long laughing sessions during the testimony, police officers said. In 1997, he was jailed for murder of a friend, when he was 17, but he got out of jail on parole after serving three years. Dengiz said he did not know Cafer Er, his 55 year old victim, who worked as a garbage collector. Dengiz shot Er in the head with a firearm, because he felt Er was making the area "too crowded." After cutting slices of flesh from his victim's body, Dengiz distributed the rest to stray dogs on the street, according to his own testimony. He ate some of Er's flesh raw on his way home. Dengiz, who lived with his parents arrived at the family house and placed the remaining parts of Er's body in the fridge without saying a word to his parents. Also in his testimony he said, "I have no regrets, my conscience is free. I constantly thought of killing. I had dreams where I was being sacrificed. I decided to kill, to sacrifice others in place of me."[120][121]
  • In January 2008, Milton Blahyi, 37, confessed being part of human sacrifices which "included the killing of an innocent child and plucking out the heart, which was divided into pieces for us to eat." He fought versus Liberian president Charles Taylor's militia.[122]
  • During Charles Taylor's war crimes trial on March 13, 2008, Joseph Marzah, Taylor's chief of operations and head of Taylor's alleged "death squad", accused Taylor of ordering his soldiers to commit acts of cannibalism against enemies, including peacekeepers and United Nations personnel.[123]
  • In Tanzania in 2008, President Kikwete publicly condemned witch doctors for killing people with albinism for their body parts which are thought to bring good luck. Twenty-five albinic Tanzanians have been murdered since March 2007.[124][125]
  • In a documentary by Colombian Journalist Hollman Morris, a demobilized paramilitary confessed that during the mass killings that take place in Colombia's rural areas, many of them performed cannibalism. He also confesses that they were told to drink the blood of their victims on the belief that it would make them want to kill more.[126]
  • In November 2008, a group of 33 illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic who were en route to Puerto Rico were forced to resort to cannibalism after they were lost at sea for over 15 days before being rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat.[127]
  • As of February 9, 2009, five members of the Kulina tribe in Brazil were wanted by Brazilian authorities on the charge of murdering, butchering and eating a farmer in a ritual act of cannibalism.[128]
  • The rap artist Big Lurch was convicted of the murder and partial consumption of an acquaintance while both were under the influence of PCP.[129]
  • November 14, 2009, three homeless men in Moscow, Russia were arrested for killing and eating the parts of a twenty-five year old man. The remaining parts were then sold to a local pie/kebab house.[citation needed]

See also


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External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CANNIBALISM, the eating of human flesh by men (from a Latinized form of Carib, the name of a tribe of South America, formerly found also in the West Indies), also called "anthropophagy"(Gr. th'Opwiros, man, and 4ayeiv, to eat). Evidence has been adduced from some of the palaeolithic cave-dwellings in France to show that the inhabitants practised cannibalism, at least occasionally. From Herodotus, Strabo and others we hear of peoples like the Scythian Massagetae, a nomad race north-east of the Caspian Sea, who killed old people and ate them. In the middle ages reports, some of them probably untrustworthy, by Marco Polo and others, attributed cannibalism to the wild tribes of China, the Tibetans, &c. In our own days cannibalism prevails, or prevailed until recently, over a great part of West and Central Africa, New Guinea, Melanesia (especially Fiji) and Australia. New Zealand and the Polynesian Islands were great centres of the practice. It is extensively practised by the Battas of Sumatra and in other East Indian islands and in South America; in earlier days it was a common feature of Indian wars in North America. Sporadic cannibalism occurs among more civilized peoples as a result of necessity or as a manifestation of disease (see Lycanthropy).


Cannibalistic practices may be classified from two points of view: (I) the motives of the act; (2) the ceremonial regulations. A third division of subordinate importance is also possible, if we consider whether the victims are actually killed for food or whether only such are eaten as have met their death in battle or other ways.

1. From a psychological point of view the term cannibalism groups together a number of customs, whose only bond of union is that they all involve eating of human flesh. (a) Food cannibalism, where the object is the satisfaction of hunger, may occur sporadically as a result of real necessity or may be kept up for the simple gratification of a taste for human flesh in the absence of any lack of food in general or even of animal food. (i.) Cannibalism from necessity is found not only among the lower races, such as the Fuegians or Red Indian tribes, but also among civilized races, as the records of sieges and shipwrecks show. (ii.) Simple food cannibalism is common in Africa; the NiamNiam and Monbuttu carry on wars for the sake of obtaining human flesh; in West Africa human flesh could formerly be seen exposed for sale in the market like any other article of commerce; and among some tribes it is the practice to sell the corpses of dead relatives for consumption as food. (b) In curious contrast to this latter custom is the practice of devouring dead kinsfolk as the most respectful method of disposing of their remains. In a small number of cases this practice is combined with the custom of killing the old and sick, but in the great majority of peoples it is simply a form of burial; it seems to prevail in most parts of Australia, many parts of Melanesia, Africa and South America, and less frequently in other parts of the world. To this group belong the customs described by Herodotus; we may perhaps regard as a variant form the custom of using the skull of a dead man as a drinking-cup. This practice is widely found, and the statement of Herodotus that the skull was set in gold and preserved by the Issedones may point in this direction; from the account given of the Tibetans some seven hundred years ago by William of Ruysbruck (Rubruquis) it appears that they had given up cannibalism but still preserved the use of the skull as a drinking vessel. Another modification of an original ritual cannibalism is the custom of drinking the ashes of the dead, which is practised by some African and South American tribes. The custom of holding burial feasts has also been traced to the same origin. More incomprehensible to the European than any other form of cannibalism is the custom of partaking of the products of putrefaction as they run down from the body. The Australians smoke-dry the bodies of tribesmen; here, too, it is the custom to consume the portions of the body which are rendered liquid by the heat. (c) The ritual cannibalism just mentioned shades over into and may have been originally derived from magical cannibalism, of which three sub-species may be distinguished. (i.) Savages are accustomed, on the one hand, to abstain from certain foods in order that they may not acquire certain qualities; on the other hand other foods are eagerly desired in order that they may by partaking of the flesh also come to partake of the mental or bodily peculiarities of the man or animal from which the meat is derived; thus, after the birth of a child, especially the first-born, the parents are frequently forbidden the flesh of slow-moving animals, because that would prevent the child from learning to walk; conversely, eating the heart of a lion is recommended for a warrior to make him brave; from this point of view therefore we readily understand the motives which lead to the eating of those slain in battle, both friends and foes. (ii.) We may term protective an entirely different kind of magical cannibalism, which consists in the consumption of a small portion of the body of a murdered man, in order that his ghost may not trouble the murderer; according to Hans Egede, the Eskimo, when they kill a witch, eat a portion of her heart, that she may not haunt them. (iii.) The practice is also said to have the effect of causing the relatives of the murdered man to lose heart or to prevent them from exercising the right of revenge; in this case it may be brought into relation with the ceremony of the blood covenant in one of the forms of which the parties drink each other's blood; or, it may point to a reminiscence of a ritual eating of the dead kinsman. The late survival of this idea in Europe is attested by its mention by Dante in the Purgatorio. (d) The custom of eating food offered to the gods is widespread, and we may trace to this origin Mexican cannibalism, perhaps, too, that of Fiji. The Aztec worship of the god of war, Huitzilopochtli, led to the sacrifice of prisoners, and the custom of sacrifice to their frequent wars. The priest took out the heart, offered it to the sun, and then went through the ceremonies of feeding the idol with the heart and blood; finally the bodies of the victims were consumed by the worshippers. (e) We reach an entirely different set of motives in penal and revenge cannibalism. For the origin of these ideas we may perhaps look to that of protective magic, dealt with above; but it seems possible that there is also some idea of influencing the lot of the criminal in a future life; it may be noted that the whole of the body is seldom eaten in protective cannibalism; among the Battas, however, the criminal, and in parts of Africa the debtor, are entirely consumed. Other cases, especially where the victim is an enemy, may be due to mere fury and bravado. (f) In the west of North America a peculiar kind of cannibalism is found, which is confined to a certain body of magicians termed "Hametzen" and a necessary condition of admission to their order. Another kind of initiatory cannibalism prevailed in the south of Australia, where a magician had to eat a portion of a child's body before he was admitted. The meaning of these ceremonials is not clear.

2. Most kinds of cannibalism are hedged round with ceremonial regulations. Certain tribes, as we have seen above, go to war to provide human flesh; in other cases it is only the nearest relatives who may not partake of a body; in other cases again it is precisely the nearest relatives on whom the duty falls. A curious regulation in south-east New Guinea prescribes that the killer of the victim shall not partake in the feast; in some cases the whole of the clan to which belonged the man for whom revenge is taken abstains also; in other cases this clan, together with any others of the same intermarrying group, takes part in the feast to the exclusion of (a) the clan or group with which they intermarry and (b) all outside clans. Some peoples forbid women to eat human flesh; in others certain classes, as the Muri of the Bambala, a tribe in the Kassai, may be forbidden to eat it. In Mindanao the only person who might eat of a slain enemy was the priest who led the warriors, and he was not permitted to escape this duty. In Grand Bassam all who had taken part in a festival at the foundation of a new village were compelled to eat of the human victim. But the variations are too numerous for any general account to be given of ceremonial limitations. S. R. Steinmetz has proposed a division into endoand exo-cannibalism; but these divisions are frequently of minor importance, and he has failed to define satisfactorily the limits of the groups on which his classification is based.


It will probably never be possible to say how cannibalism originated; in fact the multiplicity of forms and the diversity of ceremonial rules - some prescribing that tribesmen shall on no account be eaten, others that the bodies of none but tribesmen shall provide the meal of human flesh - point to a multiple origin. It has been maintained that the various forms of endo-cannibalism (eating of tribesmen) spring from an original practice of food cannibalism which the human race has in common with many animals; but this leaves unexplained inter alia the limitation of the right of participation in the funeral meal to the relatives of the dead man; at the same time it is possible to argue that the magical ideas now associated with cannibalism are of later growth. Against the view put forward by Steinmetz it may be urged that we have other instances of magical foods, such as the eating of a lion's heart, which do not point to an original custom of eating the animal as food. We shall probably be justified in referring all forms of endo-cannibalism to a ritual origin; otherwise the limitation is inexplicable; on the other hand exo-cannibalism, in some of its forms, and much of the extension of endo-cannibalism must be referred to a desire for human flesh, grown into a passion.


Steinmetz, in Mitt. Anthrop. Ges. Wien, N.F. xvi.; Andree, Die Anthropophagie; Bergmann, Die Verbreitung der Anthropophagie; Schneider, Die Naturvolker, 1.121-200; Schaffhausen, Anthropologische Studien, Internat. Archiv iii. 69-73 xii. 78; E. S. Hartland, Legend of Perseus, vol. ii.; Dictionnaire des sci. med., s.v. " Anthropophagie"; Dr Seligmann in Reports of the Cook-Daniels Expedition to New Guinea. (N. W. T.)

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Cannibalism is the consumption of members (or specific parts) of one's own species. Cannibalism is also practiced by humans, referred as anthropophagy, and is practiced even in the present days in human society, for survival or even by choice.

Cannibalism of human beings is nearly universally seen as taboo, however there are societies that condone cannibalizing deceased people and cultures that incorporate it into rituals where family members consume the flesh of their departed relatives. The practice of eating dead members of one's own culture, tribe or social group is called Endocannibalism. Cannibalism of healthy individuals is generally frowned upon due to the seemingly universal ethical belief in the sanctity of life, and is considered a punishable offense by most modern societies. Only in extreme cases do most modern societies condone taking the life of another human being.

Placentophagia, eating the placenta, is practiced in some parts of the world.

Exocannibalism is the practice of eating human corpses from people outside one's own community, tribe or social group.

In this book you will learn how cannibalism is practiced, what the potential risks and dangers of practicing cannibalism are, the moral and ethical issues involved in practicing cannibalism, and why people practice cannibalism.

Table of Contents

  • Moral and ethical issues
  • Legalities
  • Risks and dangers
  • Zoology
  • Anthropophagy
    • Endocannibalism
    • Exocannibalism
    • History
    • Mythology
    • Religious practices
    • Art
  • FAQs

Simple English

Cannibalism is the practice of eating your own species. If it refers to humans, some people call it anthrophagy.

People eating other people

in the 17th Century]]

If it occurs in humans, scientists are unclear if it is widespread or not. There are certain diseases, like the sleeping disease, that are passed on by eating human nerve tissue, especially the brain. Sometimes, cannibalism was observed with people that have mental problems or some diseases of the mind.

An example of cannibalism by humans was the Donner Party in 1846 and 1847.

Cannibalism in non-human species

In non-human species, cannibalism is quite common, for example with spiders and scorpions. There, the male gets eaten by the female, after having sex.

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