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Encyclopedia > Cannibal

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 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, written after the conquest, reported that human flesh was considered by itself to be of no value, and usually 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 successful warriors, there was only two ceremonies a year where war captives were sacrificed. Although the aztec empire has been called "The Cannibal 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 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.

Cannibalism in war

Some people claim cannibalism took place during the WWII siege of Leningrad. [1] (http://observer.guardian.co.uk/life/story/0,6903,605454,00.html) [2] (http://condor.depaul.edu/~rrotenbe/aeer/aeer13_2/Dickenson.html) [3] (http://www.sovietarmy.com/books/leningrad.html)

Documentary and forensic evidence supports eyewitness accounts of cannibalism by Japanese troops during World War II. This practice was resorted to when food ran out, even with Japanese soldiers killing and eating each other when enemy civilians were not available. In other cases, enemy soldiers were executed and then dissected, the liver and other organs being consumed for psychopathological reasons.

'Cannibalism' as cultural libel

Unsubstantiated reports of cannibalism disproportionately relate cases of cannibalism among cultures that are already otherwise despised, feared, or are little known. The 'Blood libel' that accused Jews of eating Christian children is an example. In antiquity, Greek reports of anthropophagy were related to distant, non_Hellenic barbarians, or else relegated in myth to the 'primitive' chthonic world that preceded the coming of the Olympian gods. In 1994, printed booklets reported that in a Yugoslavian concentration camp of Manjaca the Bosnian refugees were forced to eat each other's bodies. The reports were false.

William Arens, author of The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy (New York : Oxford University Press, 1979; ISBN 0195027930), downplays the truth of reports of cannibalism and argues that the description by one group of people of another people as cannibals is an ideological and rhetorical device to establish moral superiority over them. Arens bases most of his thesis on ridiculing the accuracy of Hads Staden's pedo of being prisoner among the Tupi. How could Staden have understood the Tupi? The English translation available to Arens was incomplete. In "La Mia Prigionia tra i Cannibali, 1553-1555, (Longanesi & C, Milan, 1970) the text gives the Tupi phrase then the translation as does the original German text. Arens thesis is based on an incomplete text. Staden was a fluent speaker of Tupi and Tupimani. Arens says there is no single eyewitness account of cannibalism.

Arens also writes,

"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."

Conversely, 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."

Sexualized cannibalism (fantasies and real)

The wide use of the Internet has highlighted that thousands of people harbor sexualized cannibalistic fantasies. Discussion forums and user groups exist for the exchange of pictures and stories of such fantasies. Typically, people in such forums fantasize about eating or being eaten by members of their sexually preferred gender. As such, the cannibalism fetish or paraphilia is one of the most extreme sexual fetishes.

Rarely ever do such fetishes leave the realm of fantasies (aided by modern technology for photo modification or completely computer generated images). There have been extreme cases of real life sexualized cannibalism, such as those of the serial killers Albert Fish, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Sascha Spesiwtsew and Fritz Haarmann ("the Butcher of Hannover").

Another well-known case involved a Japanese student of English literature, Issei Sagawa, who grew fond of Renee Hartevelt, a 25 year old Dutch woman he met while studying at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris in 1981. He eventually murdered and ate her, writing a graphic yet poignant description of the act. Declared unfit to stand trial in France, his wealthy father had him extradited back to Japan where he eventually regained his freedom. The way he reveled in what he did made him a national celebrity, and he has written several bestselling novels and continues to write a nationally syndicated column.

In December 2002, a highly unusual case was uncovered in the town of Rotenburg in Germany. In 2001 Armin Meiwes, an 41_year_old computer administrator, had posted messages like his more recent ones (see messages (http://groups.google.de/groups?q=antrophagus&ie=UTF_8&oe=UTF_8&hl=de&btnG=Google_Suche)) in Internet newsgroups on the subject of cannibalism, repeatedly looking for "a young Boy, between 18 and 25 y/o" to butcher. At least one of his requests was successful: Jürgen B., another computer administrator, offered himself to be slaughtered. The two men agreed on a meeting. Jürgen B. was, with his consent, killed and eaten by Armin M. Meiwes, who, as a result, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail for manslaughter (Totschlag, less than murder but more than killing on demand). The band Rammstein took up this case in the song Mein Teil.

This was not the first consensual killing mediated through the Internet, but it is the first such known case of consensual cannibalism.

The existing cases of sexualized cannibalism involved homosexuals to a disproportionate extent. Some observers have linked this to the higher likelihood of homosexuals to suppress their sexual urges. Armin M., for example, came from a conservative family, and in spite of having homosexual fantasies, had several unsuccessful heterosexual relationships.

Cannibal themes in myth or religion

On a primitive level, ritually eating part of the slaughtered enemy is a way of assuming the life-spirit of the departed. In a funeral ritual this may also be done with a respected member of one's own clan, ensuring immortality. Cannibal ogresses appear in folklore around the world, the witch in 'Hansel and Gretel' being the most immediate example. On the mythological level the cannibal mother is magnified to a universal principal, such as the Hindu goddess Kali, the Black One. In one such tale, the Gods are up against the demons led by Raktabeeja found that each time he was killed, more demons arose from each blood that dropped to the ground. Durga cornered and killed Raktabeeja, while Kali drank his blood to ensure none of it falls to the ground. The story of Cronos in Greek mythology also demonstrates the theme of cannibalism. Some authorities have detected allusions to cannibalism in the earliest religious writings of the ancient Egyptians. The opening of Hell, the Zoroastrian contribution to Western mythology, is a mouth. According to Catholic dogma, bread and wine are transubstantiated into the real body and blood of Jesus, which is then distributed by the priest to the faithful.

Cannibalism as "sympathetic magic"

This is a subset of the general idea of eating a totem to absorb its distinctive power, much like tiger penis is eaten to promote virility. By eating our enemy, we take his power into ourselves. Some also consider this idea to be at the root of the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation: to acquire divinity (immortality, sinlessnes) by absorption, by eating the flesh of God. (However, the more likely Biblical theological and historical roots of this are pertaining to the sacrificial offering of Christ and its reference to the representations in the Jewish Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was being celebrated during the Last Supper.)

Cannibalism in fiction

Warning: in some cases, this information may spoil the story

Some examples of cannibalism in fiction are:

See also

  • Androphagi, an ancient nation of cannibals
  • Boyd Massacre, where indigenous Maori killed and ate almost 70 crew members of a ship that flogged the son of a chief
  • Cannibalization, a business term where one product takes sales from another product
  • Alexander "Sawney" Bean, the head of a mythical Scottish family of 48 who murdered and cannibalized over 1000 people.
  • Alferd Packer, a Colorado cannibal
  • Donner Party, a group of people who resorted to cannabilism when snowbound

External links

  Results from FactBites:
All about Cannibalism: The Ancient Taboo in Modern Times, by Rachael Bell - The Crime library (467 words)
The Latin form of the word cannibalism is anthropophagy and is a term used mostly in anthropology and archeology.
Cannibalism is a practice that reaches across centuries and cultures.
Cannibalism is an undeniable occurrence rooted in antiquity and branching forth to the present-day.
Cannibalism: Prevention and Treatment (917 words)
Cannibalism in fowl is a costly and vicious habit that poultry producers can not afford to ignore.
Cannibalism usually occurs when the birds are stressed by a poor management practice.
Since cannibalism can be caused by several conditions, you may not be able to determine the exact cause of the problem.
  More results at FactBites »



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