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Cannibalism is the act or practice of eating members of the same species, e.g. humans eating humans (sometimes called anthropophagy), or dogs eating dogs. Among humans, this practice has been attributed to people in the past all over the world, including rituals connected to tribal warfare. The degree to which cannibalism has actually occurred and been socially sanctioned is an extremely controversial subject in anthropology with some anthropologists arguing that cannibalism is almost non-existent and viewing claims of cannibalism with extreme skepticism, while others argue the practice was common in pre-state societies.

Several archaeologists have claimed that some ruins in the American Southwest contain evidence of cannibalism. Individual cases in other countries have been seen with mentally unstable persons, criminals, and, in unconfirmed rumors, by religious zealots. In the US, the Donner party is a case of cannibalism due to hunger. There are claims, which are not without controversy, that cannibalism was widespread during the hungry years in the Ukraine in 1930s as well as during the Chinese Civil War and the Great Leap Forward in China.

Non-human cannibalism:
For some species, cannibalism under certain well-defined circumstances, such as the female red-back spider eating the male after mating, is believed to be a common, if not invariable, part of the life cycle. In vertebrates (except for many fish), cannibalism is not generally observed to be uniformly routine or widespread for any given species, but may develop in extremes such as captivity or a desperate food shortage. For instance, a domestic sow may eat her newborn young, though this behavior has not been observed in the wild. It is also known that rabbits, mice, rats, or hamsters will eat their young if their nest is repeatedly threatened by predators. In some species adults are known to destroy and sometimes eat young of their species to whom they are not closely related--famously, the chimpanzees observed by Dr. Jane Goodall. Some of these observations have been questioned (for example by Stephen Jay Gould) as possible products of sloppy research. For example, while there are many observations of female praying mantises eating their mates after copulation, there are no known observations of this occurring in the wild; it has only been observed in captivity.

Cannibalism among humans:
It's generally accepted that accusation of cannibalism has historically been much more common than the act itself. During the years of British colonial expansion slavery was actually considered to be illegal, unless the people involved were so depraved that their conditions as slaves would be better than as free men. Demonstration of cannibalistic tendencies were considered evidence for this, and hence reports of cannibalism became widespread.

The Korowai tribe of southeastern Papua are one of the last surviving tribes in the world to engage in cannibalism.

A few historians, mainly Japanese historians of China in the late 19th and early 20th century, such as Kuwabara Jitsuzo have claimed the Chinese civilization has a rich history of cannibalism as there are many literary references to cannibalism in Chinese literature and points out many references in classic Chinese literature to people killing and eating the flesh of others. More recently, Lu Xun uses cannibalism as a motif in some of his short stories. In addition there are widespread rumors that cannibalism was practiced during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. However, there is no strong evidence outside of literary references that cannibalism was socially sanctioned in ancient China, nor has there been any definitive studies that suggest that cannibalism was common during the 20th century in China.

Marvin Harris has analyzed cannibalism and other food taboos. He thinks that it was common among bands, but disappeared in the transition to states, the Aztecs being exception.

Other more contemporary reports have also been called into question. The well known case of mortuary cannibalism of the Fore tribe in New Guinea which resulted in the spread of the disease Kuru is well documented and not seriously questioned by modern anthropologists. This case, however, has also been questioned by those claiming 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 rationalized as a religious rite.

The cannibal name is a corruption of caribal, the Spanish word for Carib. There is verbal confluence here. Christopher Columbus originally assumed the natives of Cuba were subjects of the Great Khann of China or 'Kannibals'. Prepared to meet the Great Khann, he had aboard Arabic and Hebrew speakers to translate. Then thinking he heard Caniba or Canima, he thought that these were the dog-headed men (cane-bal) described in Mandeville. Others (Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, Volume XIV, 1905: 451) claim that "Cannibal" meant "valiant man" in the language of the Caribs. Richard Hakluyt's Voyages introduced the word to English. Shakespeare transposed it, anagram-fashion, to name his monster servant in The Tempest 'Caliban'. The Caribs called themselves Kallinago which may have meant 'valiant'. (Raymond Breton 1647, Relations on the Caribs of Dominica and Guadalupe)

Cannibalism was reported in Mexico, the flower wars of the Aztec Empire being being considered as the most massive manifestation of cannibalism, but the aztecs accounts, writen after the conquest, reported that human flesh was considered by itself of not value, and ussually thrown away and replaced with turkey. There are only two aztecs accounts on this subject, one comes from the Ramirez codex, and the most elaborated account on this subjects comes from Juan Bautista de Pomar the grandson of Netzahualcoyotl, tlatoani of Texcoco, he wrote that after the sacrifice, the aztec warriors received the body of the victim, then they boil it to separated the flesh from the bones, then they would cut the meat in very little pieces, and send them to important people, even from other towns, the recipient would rarely eat the meat, since they considered it and honour, but the meat had no value by itself, in exchange the warrior would get jewels, decorated blankets, precious feathers and slaves, the purpose was to encourage sucesfull warriors, there was only two ceremonies a year where war captives were sacrified. Although the aztec empire has been called "The canibal Kingdom", there is no evidence to suport there was widespead custom. Aztecs believe there was man eating tribes in the south of Mexico . The friar Diego de Landa reported about Yucatán instances, Yucatan before and after the Conquest, translated from Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, 1566 (New York: Dover Publications, 1978: 4). Similarly, by Purchas from Popayan, Colombia, and from the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, where man-eating 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. (See E. Bowen, 1747: 532.)

The autobiography of famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera claims that during a period in 1904, he and his companions ate "nothing but cadavers" purchased from the local morgue. Rivera was fully aware of the shock value of this tale. Rivera claims that he thought cannibalism a way of the future, remarking "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." Readers may be reminded of the savage satire of Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal.

Historical cannibalism incidents:
In Europe during the Great Famine of 1315-1317, at a time when Dante was writing one of the greatest pieces of literature in western history and the Renaissance was just beginning, there were widespread reports of cannabilism throughout Europe. Despite the documentary evidence from chroniclers of the time in every country from Russia to Ireland, many historians have since denied these reports as fanciful and ambiguous, perhaps saying more about the inability to attribute the acts usually associated with "the other" to our own history, than people doing whatever it took to survive.

In the 1800s, in the state of Colorado, a man named Alferd Packer was accused of killing and eating his travelling companions. He was later released due to a legal technicality, and maintained that he was innocent of the murders throughout his life. However, modern forensic evidence, unavailable during Packer's lifetime, indicates that he did indeed murder and/or eat several of his companions.

Sir John Franklin's lost polar expedition and the Donner Party are other examples of human cannibalism in 19th-century.

On October 13, 1972, an Uruguayan rugby team flew across the Andes to play a game in Chile. The plane crashed near the border between Chile and Argentina. After several weeks of starvation and struggle for survival, the numerous survivors decided to eat the bodies of the deceased in order to survive, and were rescued over two months later. For more details, see the article on the Andes Flight Disaster (1972).

American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer sometimes ate parts of his victims' bodies.