Cannibalism (from Caníbales, the Spanish name for the Carib people,1 a West Indies tribe formerly well known for their practice of cannibalism)2 is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy. A person who practices cannibalism is called a cannibal. The expression "cannibalism" has been extended into zoology to mean one individual of a species consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food, including sexual cannibalism.
Cannibalism was widespread in the past among humans in many parts of the world, continuing into the 19th century in some isolated South Pacific cultures, and to the present day in parts of tropical Africa. In a few cases in insular Melanesia, indigenous flesh-markets existed.3 Fiji was once known as the 'Cannibal Isles'.4 Cannibalism has been well documented around the world, from Fiji to the Amazon Basin to the Congo to Māori New Zealand.5 Neanderthals are believed to have practiced cannibalism,67 and Neanderthals may have been eaten by anatomically modern humans.8
Cannibalism has recently been both practiced and fiercely condemned in several wars, especially in Liberia9 and Congo.10 Today, the Korowai are one of very few tribes still believed to eat human flesh as a cultural practice.1112 It is also still known to be practiced as a ritual and in war in various Melanesian tribes.13 Historically, allegations of cannibalism were used by the colonial powers to justify the subjugation 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".14 Cannibalism is rare and is not illegal in most countries.15 People who eat human flesh are usually charged with crimes other than cannibalism, such as murder or desecration of a body.15
Cannibalism has been occasionally practiced as a last resort by people suffering from famine, including in modern times. A famous example is the ill-fated Westward expedition of the Donner Party, and more recently the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, after which some survivors ate the bodies of dead passengers. Also, some mentally ill people obsess about eating others and actually do so, such as Jeffrey Dahmer and Albert Fish. There is resistance to formally labeling cannibalism as a mental disorder.16
The Carib tribe in the Lesser Antilles, from whom the word cannibalism derives, acquired a long-standing reputation as cannibals following the recording of their legends in the 17th century.14 Some controversy exists over the accuracy of these legends and the prevalence of actual cannibalism in the culture.
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.17 Although the Fore's mortuary cannibalism was well documented, the practice had ceased before the cause of the disease was recognized. However, 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.18
In 2003 a publication in Science received a large amount of press attention when it suggested that early humans may have practiced extensive cannibalism.1920 According to this research, genetic markers commonly found in modern humans worldwide suggest that today many people carry a gene that evolved as protection against the brain diseases that can be spread by consuming human brain tissue.21 A 2006 reanalysis of the data questioned this hypothesis,22 as it claimed to have found a data collection bias, which led to an erroneous conclusion.23 This claimed bias came from incidents of cannibalism used in the analysis not being due to local cultures, but having been carried out by explorers, stranded seafarers or escaped convicts.24 The original authors published a subsequent paper in 2008 defending their conclusions.25
In some societies, especially tribal societies, cannibalism is a cultural norm. Consumption of a person from within the same community is called endocannibalism; ritual cannibalism of the recently deceased can be part of the grieving process,26 or a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of living descendants.27 Exocannibalism is the consumption of a person from outside the community, usually as a celebration of victory against a rival tribe.27 Both types of cannibalism can also be fueled by the belief that eating a person's flesh or internal organs will endow the cannibal with some of the characteristics of the deceased.28
In most parts of the world, cannibalism is not a societal norm, but is sometimes resorted to in situations of extreme necessity. The survivors of the shipwrecks of the Essex and Méduse in the 19th century are said to have engaged in cannibalism, as are the members of Franklin's lost expedition and the Donner Party. Such cases generally involve necro-cannibalism (eating the corpse of someone who is already dead) as opposed to homicidal cannibalism (killing someone for food). In English law, the latter is always considered a crime, even in the most trying circumstances. The case of R v Dudley and Stephens, in which two men were found guilty of murder for killing and eating a cabin boy while adrift at sea in a lifeboat, set the precedent that necessity is no defence to a charge of murder.
There are numerous examples of murderers consuming their victims, often deriving some degree of sexual satisfaction from the act of cannibalism. Notable examples include Albert Fish, Issei Sagawa and Jeffrey Dahmer. These individuals are usually considered to be mentally ill, although the compulsion to eat human flesh is not formally listed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).16 Cases of autophagia, or self-cannibalism, have also been reported.
Myths, legends and folklore
Cannibalism features in the folklore and legends of many cultures and is most often attributed to evil characters or as extreme retribution for some wrong. Examples include the witch in "Hansel and Gretel", Lamia of Greek mythology 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.
The wendigo is a creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian people. It is thought of variously as a malevolent cannibalistic spirit that could possess humans or a monster that humans could physically transform into. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk,29 and the legend appears to have reinforced this practice as taboo.
As used to demonize colonized or other groups
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 to survive.
However, Herman Melville happily lived with the Marquesan Typees for a time after the other two tribes on the island told him they were cannibals. In his semi-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,30 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. He asserted that many were steeped in racism, unsubstantiated, or based on second-hand or hearsay evidence.31
Among modern humans, cannibalism has been practiced by various groups.34 In the past, it was practiced by humans in Europe,3536 South America,37 among Iroquoian peoples in North America,38 Maori in New Zealand,39 the Solomon Islands,40 parts of West Africa12 and Central Africa,12 some of the islands of Polynesia,12 New Guinea,41 Sumatra,12 and Fiji.42 Evidence of cannibalism has been found in ruins associated with the Anasazi culture of the Southwestern United States as well.4344
Some anthropologists, such as Tim White, suggest that ritual 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.45 Cannibalism in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic may have occurred because of food shortages.46 It has been also suggested that removing dead bodies through ritual cannibalism might been a means of predator control, aiming to eliminate predators' and scavengers' access to hominid (and early human) bodies.47 Jim Corbett proposed that after major epidemics, when human corpses are easily accessible to predators, there are more cases of man-eating leopards,48 so removing dead bodies through ritual cannibalism (before the cultural traditions of burying and burning bodies appeared in human history) might have had practical reasons for hominids and early humans to control predation.
In Gough's Cave, England, remains of human bones and skulls, around 15,000 years old, suggest that cannibalism took place amongst the people living in or visiting the cave,49 and that they may have used human skulls as drinking vessels.5051
According to one historical account, aboriginal tribes of Australia were "most certainly cannibals", and would willingly eat anyone who was killed in a fight; they would also eat men famed for their fighting ability who had died natural deaths "... out of pity and consideration for the body".52
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 (see Mary of Bethezuba), and the population of Numantia during the Roman Siege of Numantia in the 2nd century BC was reduced to cannibalism and suicide.
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. 53 This points to the likelihood that St. Jerome's writing came from rumors and does not represent the situation accurately.citation needed
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 Great Britain.55 In Germany, Emil Carthaus and Dr. Bruno Bernhard have observed 1,891 signs of cannibalism in the caves at the Hönne (1000 – 700 BC).56
During the Muslim-Qurayš wars in the early 7th century, a case of cannibalism was 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 who later reportedly converted to Islam and became the mother of Muawiyah I founder of the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate.
Reports of cannibalism were also recorded during the First Crusade, as Crusaders were alleged to have fed on the bodies of their dead opponents following the Siege of Ma'arrat al-Numan. Amin Maalouf also alleges further cannibalism incidents on the march to Jerusalem, and to the efforts made to delete mention of these from western history.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 Moroccan Muslim explorer Ibn Batutta reported that one African king advised him that nearby people were cannibals (though this may have been a prank played on Ibn Batutta by the king to fluster his guest). However Batutta reported that Arabs and Christians were safe, as their flesh was "unripe" and would cause the eater to fall ill.citation needed
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 actually to 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 and mummia).61
In China during the Tang Dynasty, cannibalism was supposedly resorted to by rebel forces early in the period (who were said to raid neighboring areas for victims to eat), as well as both soldiers and civilians besieged during the rebellion of An Lushan. Eating an enemy's heart and liver was also claimed to be a feature of both official punishments and private vengeance.62 References to cannibalizing the enemy has also been seen in poetry written in the Song Dynasty, (for example, in Man Jiang Hong) although the cannibalizing is perhaps poetic symbolism, expressing hatred towards the enemy.
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.636465 Others have hypothesized that cannibalism was part of a blood revenge in war.66
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,67 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.68 According to Hans Egede, the Inuits, when they killed a woman accused of witchcraft, ate a portion of her heart.69 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."70
The 1913 Handbook of Indians of Canada (reprinting 1907 material from the Bureau of American Ethnology), claims that North American natives practicing cannibalism included "... the Montagnais, and some of the tribes of Maine; the Algonkin, Armouchiquois, Iroquois, and Micmac; farther west the Assiniboine, 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, 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.'"71 The forms of cannibalism described included both resorting to human flesh during famines and ritual cannibalism, the latter usually consisting of eating a small portion of an enemy warrior.
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 an 1809 incident known as the Boyd massacre, about 66 passengers and crew of the Boyd were killed and eaten by Māori on the Whangaroa peninsula, Northland. Cannibalism was already a regular practice in Māori wars.72 In another instance, on July 11, 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".73 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.74
Other islands in the Pacific were home to cultures that allowed cannibalism to some degree. 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.75 One tribal chief, Ratu Udre Udre in Rakiraki, Fiji, is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.7677 The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name "Cannibal Isles". The dense population of Marquesas Islands, Polynesia, was concentrated in the narrow valleys, and consisted of warring tribes, who sometimes practiced cannibalism on their enemies. W. D. Rubinstein wrote:
It was considered a great triumph among the Marquesans to eat the body of a dead man. They treated their captives with great cruelty. They broke their legs to prevent them from attempting to escape before being eaten, but kept them alive so that they could brood over their impending fate. ... With this tribe, as with many others, the bodies of women were in great demand.5
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 Méduse 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. 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.78 Sir John Franklin's lost polar expedition is another example of cannibalism out of desperation.79 On land, the Donner Party found itself stranded by snow in a high mountain pass in California without adequate supplies during the Mexican-American War, leading to several instances of cannibalism.80 Another notorious cannibal was mountain man Boone Helm, who was known as "The Kentucky Cannibal" for eating several of his fellow travelers, from 1850 until his eventual hanging in 1864.
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, who 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 August 3, 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."82
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.8384 Following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad it was found that some German soldiers in the besieged city, cut off from supplies, resorted to cannibalism.85
Later, following the German surrender in January 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.86
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. In September 1942, Japanese daily rations on New Guinea consisted of 800 grams of rice and tinned meat. However, by December, this had fallen to 50 grams.87:78–80 According to historian Yuki Tanaka, "cannibalism was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads and under the command of officers".88
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 kilometres) 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."89
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.90 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.91 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.92
During the 1892–1894 war between the Congo Free State and the Swahili-Arab city-states of Nyangwe and Kasongo in Eastern Congo, there were reports of widespread cannibalization of the bodies of defeated Arab combatants by the Batetela allies of Belgian commander Francis Dhanis.93 The Batetela, "like most of their neighbors were inveterate cannibals."94 According to Dhanis' medical officer, Captain Hinde, their town of Ngandu had "at least 2,000 polished human skulls" as a "solid white pavement in front" of its gates, with human skulls crowning every post of the stockade.94
In April 1892, 10,000 of the Batetela, under the command of Gongo Lutete, joined forces with Dhanis in a campaign against the Swahili-Arab leaders Sefu and Mohara.94 After one early skirmish in the campaign, Hinde "noticed that the bodies of both the killed and wounded had vanished." When fighting broke out again, Hinde saw his Batetela allies drop human arms, legs and heads on the road.95 One young Belgian officer wrote home: "Happily Gongo's men ate them up [in a few hours]. It's horrible but exceedingly useful and hygenic ... I should have been horrified at the idea in Europe! But it seems quite natural to me here. Don't show this letter to anyone indiscreet."96 After the massacre at Nyangwe, Lutete "hid himself in his quarters, appalled by the sight of thousands of men smoking human hands and human chops on their camp fires, enough to feed his army for many days."94
In the 1980s, 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 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.97
The self-declared Emperor of the Central African Republic, Jean-Bédel Bokassa (Emperor Bokassa I), was tried on October 24, 1986 for several cases of cannibalism although he was never convicted.9899 Between April 17, and April 19, 1979 a number of elementary school students were arrested after they had protested against wearing the expensive, government-required school uniforms. Around 100 were killed.100 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.101
Cannibalism has been reported in several recent African conflicts, including the Second Congo War, and the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A UN 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.102 This may be done in desperation, as during peacetime cannibalism is much less frequent;103 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.104 It is also reported by some that witch doctors sometimes use the body parts of children in their medicine.105 In the 1970s the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was reputed to practice cannibalism.106107
Reports of widespread cannibalism began to emerge from North Korea during the famine of the 1990s109110 and subsequent ongoing starvation. Kim Jong-il was reported to have ordered a crackdown in cannibalism in 1996.111 Chinese travellers reported in 1998 that cannibalism had occurred.112113 Three people in North Korea were reported to have been executed for selling or eating human flesh in 2006.114 Further reports of cannibalism emerged in early 2013, including reports of a man executed for killing his two children for food.115116117
There are competing claims about how widespread cannibalism was in North Korea. Refugees reported that it was widespread118 however Barbara Demick wrote in her 2010 book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea that it did not seem to be.119
Further instances include cannibalism as ritual practice, and in times of drought, famine and other destitutions, as well as those being criminal acts and war crimes throughout the 20th century.
In West Africa, the Leopard Society was a secret society active into the mid-1900s and one that practiced cannibalism. Centred in Sierra Leone, 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.120 The victims' flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the society.121
As in some other Papuan societies, the Urapmin people engaged in cannibalism in war. Notably, the Urapmin also had a system of food taboo wherein dogs could not be eaten and had to be kept from breathing on food, unlike humans who could be eaten and with whom food could be shared.122
The Aghoris of northern India are a splinter sect of Hinduism who practice cannibalism in which they 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.123124125
Survival was a moral as well as a physical struggle. A woman doctor wrote to a friend in June 1933 that she had not yet become a cannibal, but was "not sure that I shall not be one by the time my letter reaches you." The good people died first. Those who refused to steal or to prostitute themselves died. Those who gave food to others died. Those who refused to eat corpses died. Those who refused to kill their fellow man died. ... At least 2,505 people were sentenced for cannibalism in the years 1932 and 1933 in Ukraine, though the actual number of cases was certainly much greater.127
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 in an accident, then cooked and ate it. He reported, "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."135136
In his book, The Gulag Archipelago, Soviet writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described cases of cannibalism in 20th-century USSR. Of the famine in Povolzhie (1921–1922) he wrote: "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] ..."137
He said 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 ..."138 And of the building of Northern Railway Prisoners Camp ("SevZhelDorLag") Solzhenitsyn reports, "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."139
The Soviet journalist Yevgenia Ginzburg was a former long-term political prisoner who spent time in the Soviet prisons, Gulag camps and settlements from 1938 to 1955. She described in her memoir, Harsh Route (or Steep Route), of a case which she was directly involved in during the late 1940s, after she had been moved to the prisoners' hospital.140
...The chief warder shows me the black smoked pot, filled with some food: 'I need your medical expertise regarding this meat.' I look into the pot, and hardly hold vomiting. The fibres 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.
On July 23, 1988, Rick Gibson ate the flesh of another person in public. Because England does not have a specific law against cannibalism, he legally ate a canapé of donated human tonsils in Walthamstow High Street, London.141142 A year later, on April 15, 1989, he publicly ate a slice of human testicle in Lewisham High Street, London.143144 When he tried to eat another slice of human testicle at the Pitt International Galleries in Vancouver on July 14, 1989, the Vancouver police confiscated the testicle hors d'œuvre.145 However, the charge of publicly exhibiting a disgusting object was dropped and he finally ate the piece of human testicle on the steps of the Vancouver court house on September 22, 1989.146
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Cannibalism|
- Alferd Packer, an American prospector, accused but not convicted of cannibalism
- Androphagi, an ancient nation of cannibals
- Asmat people, a Papua group with a reputation of cannibalism
- Cannibalism in popular culture
- Cannibalism (poultry)
- Chijon family, a Korean gang that killed and ate rich people
- Homo antecessor, an extinct human species, suspected of practicing cannibalism
- Issei Sagawa, a popular Japanese celebrity who killed and ate a fellow student
- Manifesto Antropófago, (Cannibal Manifesto in English), a Brazilian poem
- Noida serial murders, a widely publicized instance of cannibalism in India
- Placentophagy, the act of mammals eating the placenta of their young after childbirth
- R v Dudley and Stephens, an important trial of two men accused of shipwreck cannibalism
- Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a progressive condition that affect the brain and nervous system of many animals, including humans
- Vorarephilia, a sexual fetish and paraphilia where arousal occurs from the idea of cannibalism
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