You are on page 1of 13


Hans Staden.

A Woman-Cannibal, by Leonardo Kern, 1650

Cannibalism (from Spanish caníbal, in connection with alleged cannibalism
among the Caribs), also called anthropophagy (from Greek: ἄνθρωπος,
anthropos, "human being"; and φαγειν, phagein, "to consume") is the act or
practice of humans consuming other humans. In zoology, the term cannibalism is
extended to refer to any species consuming members of its own kind (see
cannibalism (zoology)).

Neanderthals are believed to have practiced cannibalism.[1][2] Among modern

humans it has been practiced by various groups[3] in the past in Europe,[4][5]
Africa,[6] South America,[7] New Zealand,[8] North America,[9] Australia,[10] Solomon
Islands,[11] New Caledonia,[12] New Guinea,[13] Sumatra,[14] and Fiji,[15] usually in
rituals connected to tribal warfare. Fiji was once known as the 'Cannibal Isles'.
Evidence of cannibalism has been found in the Chaco Canyon ruins of the
Anasazi culture.[citation needed]

Cannibalism, as sanctioned by a cultural norm is often distinguished from

cannibalism by necessity occurring in extreme situations of famine or under a
plea of insanity. There are fundamentally two kinds of cannibalistic social
behavior; endocannibalism (eating humans from the same community) and
exocannibalism (eating humans from other communities).

There is little evidence that cannibalism was ever practiced as a routine source of
nutrition. It is generally agreed the practice usually carried a special meaning for
its practitioners.

Eating another person is a way to express a relationship of naked power over
them. 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, for
example, acquired a longstanding reputation as cannibals following the recording
of their legends by Fr. Breton in the 17th century. Some controversy exists over
the accuracy of these legends and the prevalence of actual cannibalism in the

According to a decree by Queen Isabella of Castile and also later under British
colonial rule, slavery was considered to be illegal unless the people involved
were so depraved that their conditions as slaves would be better than as free
men. This legal requirement may have led to conquerors exaggerating the extent
of cannibalistic practices, or inventing them altogether, as demonstrations of
cannibalistic tendencies were considered evidence of such depravity.[16]

The Korowai tribe of southeastern Papua could be one of the last surviving tribes
in the world engaging in cannibalism. Marvin Harris has analyzed 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

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 postmortem 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.[17]

Some now challenged research received a large amount of press attention when
scientists suggested that early man may have practiced 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.[18] Later reanalysis of the data claims to have found a data collection bias,
which led to an erroneous conclusion[19]: 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 sea-farers or escaped
convicts, see Cannibalism - Some Hidden Truths for an example documenting
escaped convicts in Australia who initially blamed natives, but later confessed to
conducting the practice themselves out of desperate hunger. In some cases, it
logically follows that local tribes may have been credited as cannibals, and the
historical record never truly established after the tribe has been eradicated or
culturally destroyed with no adequate discourse ever occurring in which the
members could have set the record straight.

Early history era

• Some anthropologists such as Tim White suggest that cannibalism was

common in human societies prior to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic
based on the large amount of “butchered human" bones found in
Neanderthal and other Lower/Middle Paleolithic sites.[20] Cannibalism in
the Lower and Middle Paleolithic may have occurred because of food
• In Germany some experts have observed 1,891 signs of cannibalism in
the caves at the Hönne (BC 1000 - 700).
• Cannibalism 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 70AD.
• Cannibalism was documented in Egypt during a famine caused by the
failure of the Nile to flood for eight years (BC 1073-1064).
• 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. He says that he has
heard that Atticoti eat human flesh; that Persians, Medes, Indians have
intercourse with their mothers and grandmothers; that Massagetae and
Derbices (a people on the borders of India) kill and eat old people; that
Tibareni crucify loved ones before they grow old; and that several other
peoples engage in similar customs. The tenor of St. Jerome's writing does
not imply that any of this should be taken literally.[22]
• In 2001, archaeologists at the University of Bristol found evidence of Iron
Age cannibalism in Gloucestershire.[23]

Middle Ages

• Reports of cannibalism were recorded during the First Crusade, as

Crusaders reportedly fed on the bodies of their dead opponents following
the Siege of Ma'arrat al-Numan. 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.[24]
• During Europe's Great Famine of 1315–1317 there were many reports of
cannibalism among the starving populations.
• The canto 33 of Dante's Inferno ambiguously refers to Ugolino della
Gherardesca eating his own sons while starving in prison.
• Among the Aztecs, cannibalism was a ritual activity and not one driven by
nutritional needs.[25] In the siege of Tenochtitlan, there was a severe
hunger in the city; the Aztecs reportedly ate lizards, grass, insects, and
mud from the lake, but there are no reports of cannibalism.
• 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), 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. (See E. Bowen, 1747:
• In the Middle Ages, in Europe, "thousands of Egyptian mummies
preserved in bitumen were ground up and sold as medicine".[26] 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).[27]

Early modern era

• The German adventurer Hans Staden describes his nine-month captivity

in 1550 among the Tupi Indians of Brazil, whom he accuses of
cannibalism. His True History is an important document for historians and
anthropologists debating the existence of cannibalism among South
American tribes.
• In the Dutch rampjaar (disaster year) of 1672, when France and England
attacked the republic during the Franco-Dutch War/Third Anglo-Dutch
War, Johan de Witt (a significant Dutch political figure) was killed by a shot
in the neck; his naked body was hung and mutilated and the heart was
carved out to be exhibited. His brother was shot, stabbed, eviscerated
alive, hanged naked, brained and partly eaten.
• Howard Zinn describes cannibalism by early Jamestown settlers in his
book A People's History of the United States.
• An event occurring in the western New York territory ("Seneca Country")
U.S.A., during 1687 was later described in this letter sent to France: “On
the 13th (of July) about four o’clock in the afternoon, having passed
through two dangerous defiles (narrow gorges), we arrived at the third
where we were vigorously attacked by 800 Senecas, 200 of whom fired,
wishing to attack our rear whilst the remainder of their force would attack
our front, but the resistance they met produced such a great consternation
that they soon resolved to fly. All our troops were so overpowered by the
extreme heat and the long journey we had made that we were obliged to
bivouac (camp) on the field until the morrow. We witnessed the painful
Sight of the usual cruelties of the savages who cut the dead into quarters,
as in slaughter houses, in order to put them into the pot (dinner); the
greater number were opened while still warm that their blood might be
drank. our rascally outaouais (Ottawa Indians) distinguished themselves
particularly by these barbarities and by their poltroonery (cowardice), for
they withdrew from the combat;..." -- Canadian Governor, the Marquis de
• In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the
Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents
or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, commonly
referred to as A Modest Proposal, a satirical pamphlet in which he
proposed that poor Irish families sell their children to be eaten, thereby
earning income for the family. It was written as an attack on the
indifference of landlords to the state of their tenants and on the political
economists with their calculations on the schemes to raise income.
• In New Zealand in 1809, 66 passengers and crew of the ship the Boyd
were killed and eaten by Maori on the Whangaroa peninsula, Northland.
This was utu (revenge) for the whipping of a Maori who refused to work
while traveling on the ship from Australia. This remains the bloodiest
mass-murder in New Zealand history, and perhaps the largest death-toll
from a cannibalistic act in modern times. See the Boyd massacre.
• The survivors of the sinking of the French ship Medusa in 1816 resorted to
cannibalism after four days adrift on a raft.
• After the sinking of the Whaleship 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.[28] See The Custom of
the Sea.
• David Whippey, an English sailor, deserted his ship in 1820 and lived
among the cannibal Fijis for the rest of his life. The Fijis would sometimes
capture the crew of a stranded ship for ransom, and eat them if they
resisted or violated a tribal taboo. Whippey would try to rescue them but
sometimes found only roasted bones. Ultimately he became British Consul
to Fiji, and left many descendants among the islands.[29]
• In 1822 eight convicts escaped from Macquarie Harbour in South-West
Tasmania, Australia and set out overland toward Hobart. Lack of supplies
led to the group killing one of their number within days of the initial
escape, and over the following week all but one of the group died or were
killed, leaving one survivor, Alexander Pearce. Pearce was recaptured
near Table Mountain. His account of the fates of his fellow escapees was
not believed (it being assumed that the others were alive and in hiding in
the bush). Pearce was returned to Macquarie Harbor. He escaped again,
this time with one companion, however was recaptured shortly afterwards
with remnants of his companion's body in his pockets. He was then sent to
Hobart and hanged.[30]. The band Weddings, Parties, Anything included a
song 'A tale they won't believe' on their 1989 album The Big Don't Argue
about the incident.
• The Acadian Recorder (a newspaper published out of Halifax, Nova Scotia
in the early 1800s) published an article in its May 27, 1826, issue telling of
the wreck of the ship 'Francis Mary', en route from New Brunswick to
Liverpool, England, with a load of timber. The article describes how the
survivors sustained themselves by eating those who perished.[31]
• Sir John Franklin's lost polar expedition[32] is another examples of human
cannibalism from the 1840s. There is some dispute whether the Donner
Party experienced cannibalism on their ill fated and incomplete trek to
• The case of R v. Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273 (QB) is an
English case which is said to be one of the origins of the defense of
necessity in modern common law. The case 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 fell unconscious due to a combination of the famine
and drinking sea-water. The others (one possibly objecting) decided then
to kill him and eat him. They were picked up four days later. Lack of
unanimous consent to draw lots contravened The Custom of the Sea and
was held to be murder.
• In the 1870s, a man named Alferd Packer was accused of killing and
eating his traveling companions while crossing the Rocky Mountains (in
what is now the state of Colorado.) He served fourteen years in prison
before being paroled on the basis of the Grandfather clause, as the
alleged cannibalism happened 6 years before Colorado became a state
on Ute tribal land. Throughout his life he maintained that he was innocent
of the murders. The story of Alferd Packer was satirically told in the Trey
Parker comedy/horror/musical student film, Cannibal! The Musical. The
main food court at the University of Colorado at Boulder is named the
Alferd Packer Grill.
• 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[33].

Modern era

Finnish soldiers displaying the skins of the Soviet soldiers who were eaten by their fellow soldiers
at Maaselkä in 1942.

• During the 1930s, multiple acts of cannibalism were reported from Ukraine
during the Holodomor.[34]
• A 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.[35]
• During the 872-day Siege of Leningrad during World War II, reports of
cannibalism began to appear in the winter of 1941-1942, after all birds,
rats and pets were eaten by survivors. People were murdered for their
flesh and Leningrad police had to form a special division to combat
• Cannibalism is proved to have occurred in China during the Great Leap
Forward, when rural China was hit hard by drought and famine [38]. Reports
of cannibalism during the Cultural Revolution in China have also emerged.
These reports show that cannibalism was practiced for ideological
• During his service in World War II, John F. Kennedy believed that a boy
from the Solomon Islands bragged of eating a Japanese soldier. Native
islanders in their historical culture also practiced headhunting.[40]
• 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."[41]
• References to cannibalizing the enemy has also been seen in poetry
written when China was repressed in the Song Dynasty, though the
cannibalizing sounds more like poetic symbolism to express the hatred
towards the enemy. (See Man Jiang Hong) The Chinese hate-cannibalism
was reported during World War II also. (Key Ray Chong:Cannibalism in
China, 1990)
• 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. 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.[42]
• 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]..."[43]. 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…".[44] 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."[45]
• 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.[46] "...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."
• 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.[47]
• 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.[48] Typically, this is
apparently done in desperation, as during peacetime cannibalism is much
less frequent. Even so, it is sometimes directed at certain groups believed
to be relatively helpless, such as Congo Pygmies.[49] It is also reported by
some that witch doctors sometimes use the body parts of children in their
medicine. In the 1970s the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was reputed to
practice cannibalism.[50][51]
• It has been reported by defectors and refugees that, at the height of the
famine in 1996, cannibalism was sometimes practiced in North Korea.[52]
• 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.[53]
• 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 and eating Brandes,
Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and later, murder. The song "Mein
Teil" by Rammstein is based on this.
• In September 2006, Australian television crews from 60 Minutes and
Today Tonight attempted to rescue a six-year-old boy who they believed
would be ritually cannibalized by his tribe, the Korowai, from West Papua,
• On January 13, 2007, Danish artist Marco Evaristti hosted a dinner party
for his most intimate friends. The main meal was agnolotti pasta, which
was topped with a meatball made with the artist's own fat, removed earlier
in the year in a liposuction operation.[55]
• On September 4, 2007 Police stated that they had identified 26-year-old
Danijel Jakupek Zak. He killed a 5 year old boy and his uncle (26), who
was Jakupek's schoolmate and also the son of Jakupek's school teacher.
Police reported that Jakupek rehearsed several cannibalistic acts on
approximately 20 cats which were buried in his backyard and that 10 live
cats were also found in his apartment, probably awaiting future
experiments. He stated that he had to try the practice on a human being.
As stated, he obviously enjoyed the massacre of his alleged victims, drank
their blood and even tried their meat. In his apartment police found a stack
of cannibalistic and satanic literature. He also claimed that in the
prosecution of his two victims "He entered his body". Jakupek was
questioned regarding the aforementioned unnamed person who only goes
by the name "He" and he replied that "He" is a "superior mighty lord" but
not pointing out any specific icon. Neighbors described him as being very
strange, having a "sparkly look" and he obviously indicated that he is
mentally distorted.[56]
• 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."[57][58]
• 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.[59]
• 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

During starvation
Cannibalism has been occasionally practiced as a last resort by people suffering
from famine. 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.[61] There are disputed claims that cannibalism was widespread during the
famine of Ukraine in the 1930s, during the Siege of Leningrad in World War
II,[62][63] and during the Chinese Civil War and the Great Leap Forward in the
People's Republic of China. There were also rumors of several cannibalism
outbreaks during World War II in the concentration camps where the Jews were
malnourished. Cannibalism was also practiced by Japanese troops as recently
as World War II in the Pacific theater.[64] 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.[65]

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).

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, with Japanese soldiers killing and eating each other when
enemy civilians were not available. A well-documented case occurred in Chichi
Jima in 1945, when Japanese soldiers killed and ate eight downed 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.

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 documentary Alive: 20 Years Later.

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 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: see the explicit rejection of
human sacrifice in the cannibal feast prepared for the Olympians by Tantalus of
his son Pelops.

According to ABC Whipple in Yankee Whalers in the South Seas (Doubleday,

New York, 1954), 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 feared the Marquesans were
cannibals. In Typee Herman Melville happily lived with the Marquesan Typees
after the other two tribes on the island told him they were cannibale.

William Arens, author of The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy

(New York : Oxford University Press, 1979; ISBN 0-19-502793-0), 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."

Aren's findings are controversial, and have been cited as an example of

postcolonial revisionism [66]. His argument is often mischaracterized as "cannibals
do not and never did exist," when in the end the book is actually a call for a more
responsible and reflexive approach to anthropological research. At any rate, the
book ushered in an era of rigorous combing of the cannibalism literature. By
Aren's later admission, some cannibalism claims came up short, others were

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.

Themes in mythology and religion

Cannibalism features in many mythologies. Examples are 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.

Hindu mythology describes evil beings called "asura" or "rakshasa" that dwell in
the forests and practice extreme violence including of 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

Related Interests