Cannibalism, or anthropophagy, is the ingestion of human flesh by humans. The idea of people eating parts of other people is something that has occurred wherever and whenever humans have formed societies. In traditional accounts cannibalism has emerged from peoples' history and cosmology, embedded in their myths and folklore. In all of these contexts, anthropophagy connotes moral turpitude.
The concept of cannibalism, its ethical encumbrances, and its cultural expression in history and myth are unquestionably universal. To be human is to think about the possibility of cannibalism. Anthropophagy is hard-wired into the architecture of human imagination. Cannibal giants, ogres, bogies, goblins, and other "frightening figures" populate the oral and literate traditions of most cultures, summoning images of grotesqueness, amorality, lawlessness, physical deformity, and exaggerated size. The Homeric tradition of the Greek Cyclops, the Scandinavian and Germanic folklore giants, or the Basque Tartaro find parallels in Asia, Africa, India, and Melanesia. In a fusion of the historical and the fabled, these pancultural incidences of cannibal indicate a remarkable similarity in the way meanings are assigned to cannibalism across the world.
Constructing History with Cannibals
Many cultural mythologies posit a prehistory that antedates the onset of acceptable mores, an epoch closed off from the beginnings of human settlement and social organization, when cannibalistic dynasties of giants prevailed. This common motif in cultural history indicates that cannibalism often symbolizes "others" that are less than fully human in some way. The imputation of anthropophagy draws a boundary between "us" and "them," the civilized and uncivilized, in a manner that depicts humans as emerging from a chaotic and bestial epoch dominated by a race of human-eating giants. These images of cannibal predecessors constitute a story that people tell themselves through myth to explain their past and present circumstances. So conventional are these patterns of thought across time and culture that we have come to understand cannibalism as the quintessential symbol of alterity, an entrenched metaphor of cultural xenophobia.
Constructing Fiction with Cannibals
These themes of primordial anthropophagy serve other functions as well. Most oral traditions contain such folktales and fables that are passed down through the generations. One thinks here of the Western stories such as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Hansel and Gretel," and early versions of "Little Red Riding Hood." These are not just dormant figures inhabiting the fairytale world, they convey for caretakers a vision of control and are frequently used—like the Western bogeyman or little green monster—to coerce, frighten, and cajole children into obedience. The threat of cannibalization provides an externalized and uncontrollable projection of parenthood capable of punishing misdeeds. In this sense, cannibal figures share certain characteristics with imaginary companions and fictions such as the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus, which, by contrast, project positive reward rather than negative punishment.
Cannibal representations are part of the universal stock of imaginative creations that foster obedience and conformity. Psychologists thus argue that anthropophagy is an archetype unaffected by cultural relativism and is, perhaps, a reflection of childhood psychodynamic processes. Flesh eating, from this perspective, may reflect child-engendered projections of parenthood and innate destruction fantasies.
Parallels between Western and non-Western fictional mediums illuminate the power cannibalism exerts on the human psyche. The commercial success of films such as Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter, and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, along with the extensive media coverage of cannibalistic criminals such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Gary Heidnik, and Albert Fish, speaks volumes about the public's fascination with cannibalism. Moviegoers' sympathetic cheering for Hannibal Lecter is a way of suspending disbelief, of inverting societal norms in the sanctuary of a movie theater. An alternative reality of moral turpitude is assumed as escapism, as if the audience is saying, "Do your best to scare me because I know it isn't really true." As a metaphor for abandonment, cannibalism scandalizes, titillates, and spellbinds.
In the context of folklore, cannibalism allows a rich re-imagining of the boundaries between the human and nonhuman, civilized and barbarian, male and female, the utopian and real. As such anthropophagy promotes not only social control but also teaches lessons about history, morality, and identity.
Cannibalism emerges in these discourses of imaginative literature and sacred history as an "otherworldly" phenomenon that is unfavorable to human survival and thus likely to command fear and respect—hence the prevalence of cannibalistic motifs in nursery rhymes. These profound pancultural similarities have led some analysts to argue that the term "cannibalism" should be reserved only for the fantasy, both European and native, of the flesh-eating "other" rather than the practice of flesh-eating.
Constructing the Practice of Cannibalism
As soon as one starts to consider questions about which peoples have eaten human flesh, one finds controversy. The main issues are the colonial history of attributions of flesh-eating as a political form of domination; the problem of what is acceptable evidence in the context of scientific knowledge of the day; and the problems of interpreting oral, archaeological, and written evidence.
Although there is no accepted consensus on the various types of cannibalism encountered by researchers, the literature differentiates generally among a few types.
Survival cannibalism. This well-documented variant involves consumption of human flesh in emergency situations such as starvation. Some of the most famous cases are the 1846 Donner Party in the Sierra Nevada and the South American athletes stranded in the Andes in 1972, whose plight later became the subject of the film Alive (1993).
Endocannibalism. Endocannibalism is the consumption of human flesh from a member of one's own social group. The rationale for such behavior is usually that in consuming parts of the body, the person ingests the characteristics of the deceased; or through consumption there is a regeneration of life after death.
Exocannibalism. Exocannibalism is the consumption of flesh outside one's close social group—for example, eating one's enemy. It is usually associated with the perpetration of ultimate violence or again as a means of imbibing valued qualities of the victim. Reports of this practice suggest a high incidence of exocannibalism with headhunting and the display of skulls as war trophies. The majority of the controversies about the practice of cannibalism refer to endocannibalism and/or exocannibalism.
Evidence in the Twenty-First Century
In the popular Western imagination, knowledge and understanding of cannibals were shaped by early explorers, missionaries, colonial officers, travelers, and others. The most commonly cited accounts are those about the South American Tupinamba Indians; the Caribbean Cariba (the word cannibal comes from, and is a corruption of, carrib and Caliban )of St. Vincent, St. Croix, and Martinique; and the South American Aztecs. These accounts were followed by numerous reported incidences of cannibalism in Africa, Polynesia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. These often dubious attributions of cannibalism were a form of "othering"—denigrating other people and marking a boundary between the good "us" and the bad "them." The "primitive savage" was thus constructed as beyond the pale of civilization. As Alan Rumsey has noted, "Cannibalism has been most fully explored in its Western manifestations, as an aspect of the legitimating ideology of colonialism, missionization, and other forms of cultural imperialism" (1999, p. 105). Books that charted the travels of early explorers during the 1800s and early 1900s invariably carry titles with the term cannibal.
How reliable are these early accounts, and what kinds of evidence for cannibal practices do they contain or rely upon? One of the most famous commentators and critics, has concluded, "I have been unable to uncover adequate documentation of cannibalism as a custom in any form for any society. . . . The idea of the 'other' as cannibals, rather than the act, is the universal phenomenon" (Arens 1979, p. 139).
Many historical texts are compromised by Western prejudices, so that cannibalism emerges more as colonial myth and cultural myopia than as scientifically attested truth. The accounts do not stand the test of modern scholarly scrutiny. Most anthropologists, however, tend to reject the argument that unless one has photographic or firsthand evidence for a practice, one cannot infer its existence at some period. Anthropologists and archaeologists rely on a host of contextual clues, regional patterns, and material-culture evidence when drawing conclusions about past social practices. What the anthropologist gains by way of notoriety may be lost by heated dispute with ethnic descendants who find the attribution of past cannibalism demeaning because of the connotations of barbarism.
The Main Disputes
Among the principal academic disputes about evidence for cannibalistic practices, two in particular stand out. First, archaeologist Tim White has conducted an analysis of 800-year-old skeletal bone fragments from an Anasazi site at Mancos in southwest Colorado. William Arens has responded that White was seduced by the Holy Grail of cannibalism and failed to consider other explanations for the kind of perimortal bone trauma he encountered.
Second, Daniel Gajdusek found a fatal nervous disease known as kuru among a small population of the Fore people in Papua New Guinea. The disease is related to Creutzfeldt-Jacob, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and Gertmann-Stausler-Scheinker syndrome. Working with anthropologists, Gajdusek claimed the disease was caught through the mortuary practice of eating the brains from dead people in Fore. Arens questioned the photographic evidence provided by Gadjusek and others. He suggested other forms of transmission by which the disease may have been contracted. The result is clashing scholarly perspectives on the historical occurrence of cannibalism.
Social Explanations and Conditions for Cannibalism
The cross-cultural evidence for cannibalism among societies in Papua New Guinea, such as the Gimi, Hua, Daribi, and Bimin-Kuskusmin, suggests it is linked to the expression of cultural values about life, reproduction, and regeneration. Flesh is consumed as a form of life-generating food and as a symbolic means of reaffirming the meaning of existence. In other areas of Papua New Guinea, the same cultural themes are expressed through pig kills and exchanges. Cannibalism was a means of providing enduring continuity to group identity and of establishing the boundaries of the moral community. But it was equally a form of violence meted out to victims deemed amoral or evil, such as witches who brought death to other people.
A second line of research has suggested that this latter exocannibalism is an expression of hostility, violence, or domination toward a victim. In this interpretation, the perpetrator eats to inflict an ultimate indignity and thus an ultimate form of humiliation and domination. The archaeologist John Kantner, reviewing the evidence for reputed Anasazi cannibalism in the American Southwest, has concluded that with the gradual reduction in available resources and intensified competition, exocannibalism became a sociopolitical measure aimed at enforcing tribal inequities. However the evidence remains hotly disputed. Skeletal trauma is indexed by bone markings made by tools or scrapers, disarticulations, breakage patterns, and "pot polish," blackened bone fragments suggesting abrasions caused by the boiling of bones. Such data indicate intentional and targeted defleshing of bones for the extraction of marrow. Such bone markings are quite different from mortuary bones found elsewhere in the region. Controversy surrounds these findings because other causes for the same bone markings have been proffered, including, second reburial of remains and external interference with bones by animals and natural hazards. Other scholars are therefore reluctant to impute cannibalism in the absence of any direct observation of it.
Other analysts, looking at the famous Aztec materials, have suggested that such large-scale cannibalism is related both to hunger and the appreciation of the nutritional value of flesh. In other words, cannibalism is a response to material conditions of existence such as protein depreciation and dwindling livestock. In Mesoamerica these predisposing conditions ensure that cannibalism is given a ritual rationale so that themes of renewal are manifested through flesh-eating. The evidence of perimortem mutilation is overwhelming; the inference from these data to cannibalism and its rationales remains, however, contestable and less compelling.
From the available evidence, scholars have gleaned a seemingly reliable historical account of how cultures have constructed and used their concepts of cannibalism to provide a stereotype of the "other." Whatever technological advancements might yield in the way of more refined analysis of skeletal materials, proving that culture "X" or "Y" conducted cannibalism may not be quite the defining moment in human self-definition that some have thought it to be. The key insight is that in pancultural discourse and imaginative commerce, the human consumption of human flesh has served as a social narrative to enforce social control. Moreover, attributions of cannibalism remain a potent political tool wielded by those who pursue agendas of racial and ethnic domination.
The French philosopher Michel Montaigne long ago disabused society of the Western-centered notion that eating human flesh is somehow barbaric and exotic: "I consider it more barbarous to eat a man alive than eat him dead" (1958, p. 108). How one interprets cannibalism is thus always circumscribed and inflected by a culturally shaped morality.
For many researchers, then, the issue of whether cannibalism was ever a socially sanctioned practice is of secondary importance. Developments in experts' understanding of archaeological remains include the etiology and transmission of diseases like BSE, and interpretation of oral accounts and regional patterns that will likely point to some forms of cannibalism in some past cultures, even if such findings are tempered by contemporary cultural imperatives to avoid the appearance of stigmatization of the "other."
See also: Aztec Religion; Sacrifice
Anglo M. Man Eats Man. London: Jupiter Books, 1979.
Arens, William. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Askenasy, Hans. Cannibalism: From Sacrifice to Survival. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1994.
Cortés, Hernando. Five Letters 1519–1526, translated by J. Bayard Morris. New York: W. W. Norton, 1962.
Davies, Nigel. Human Sacrifice. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1981.
Goldman, Laurence R. Child's Play: Myth, Mimesis and Make-believe. Oxford: Berg, 1998b.
Goldman, Laurence R., ed. The Anthropology of Cannibalism. Wesport, CT: Bergin & Garvey 1999.
Harris, Marvin. Cannibals and Kings. New York: Random House, 1977.
Hogg, G. Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice. London: Pan, 1962.
Montaigne, Michel de. Essays, translated by J. M. Cohen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.
Obeyesekere, G. "Review of the Anthropology of Cannibalism: (L. R. Goldman)." American Ethnologist 28, no. 1 (2001):238–240.
Pickering, M. "Cannibalism Quarrel." New Scientist 15 August 1992:11.
Rumsey, Alan. "The White Man As Cannibal in the New Guinea Highlands." In Laurence R. Goldman ed., The Anthropology of Cannibalism. Wesport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1999.
Sagan, Eli. Cannibalism: Human Aggression and Cultural Form. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Sahagón, Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, 13 vols., translated by Charles E. Dibble and Arthur O. Anderson. Santa Fe, NM: The School of American Research, 1950–1982.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Divine Hunger: Cannibalism As a Cultural System. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Turner, Christy G., II, and Jacqueline A. Turner. Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
Tuzin, D., and Paula Brown, eds. The Ethnography of Cannibalism. Washington, DC: Society for Psychological Anthropology, 1983.
LAURENCE R. GOLDMAN
"Cannibalism." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
"Cannibalism." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
CANNIBALISM. There is certainly no shortage of information on cannibalism. A search at any good library will net twenty to thirty books on the topic, and, at the time this encyclopedia went to press, the World Wide Web contained no fewer than 850 sites. Books on the topic range from popular surveys by Askenasy (1994) to anthropological treatments by Brown and Tuzin (1983), Goldman (1999), and Petrinovich (2000) to anthropological critique by Arens (1979) to postcolonial and literary critique by Barker and others (1998). A superficial examination of post–World War II films lists a variety of both serious and humorous treatments of cannibalism, many of them first-rate (Fires on the Plain [Japan, 1959], Soylent Green [U.S., 1973], Survive! [Mexico, 1976], Eating Raoul [U.S., 1982], Silence of the Lambs [U.S., 1991], Delicatessen [France, 1991], The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover [1993/1989, France/Netherlands.], Alive [U.S., 1993]). The fact that cannibalism is a powerful taboo in most human societies undeniably contributes to our fascination with tales about organisms eating conspecifics (others of the same species), especially humans.
The practice of human cannibalism is highly variable and can be defined in a number of ways: (1) Endocannibalism is the consumption of deceased individuals who live within the group, such as kin and friends. (This pattern was common in New Guinea as an act of veneration.) (2) Exocannibalism is the consumption of outsiders as an act to gain strength or demonstrate power over the vanquished, who had usually been murdered. (3) Starvation or survival cannibalism is the consumption during actual or perceived starvation. (This is well documented in numerous historical sources.) (4) Gastronomic cannibalism is nonfunerary, nonstarvation cannibalism, that is, routine cannibalism for food. (This is not well documented.) (5) Medicinal cannibalism is the consumption of human tissues such as blood, powdered bone, or dried tissue for medicinal purposes. (6) Sadistic cannibalism is the killing and eating of individuals out of sadistic or psychopathological motives. (There is considerable evidence for this pattern of cannibalism.) In exocannibalism, gastronomic cannibalism, and sadistic cannibalism, the victims are murdered before being eaten; in endocannibalism, starvation cannibalism, and medicinal cannibalism, they are not.
Cannibalism in Nonhuman Animals
Cannibalism occurs in a wide variety of invertebrate and vertebrate species and includes: infanticide, mating and courtship, competitive encounters, eating the old, and eating eggs. Among nonhuman organisms, cannibalism may be either ecological or social. Ecological factors include a limited food supply or the recovery of reproductive investment when food is scarce for infant survival; social factors include competition for reproductive resources or food resources. A general principle is that older individuals usually consume younger ones or eggs; it is relatively rare for adults to eat other adults. Elgar and Crespi (1992) define cannibalism in nonhuman organisms only in cases where an individual is killed (rather than dying a natural death) before being eaten.
In a comprehensive survey of cannibalism in primates in the wild, Hiraiwa-Hasegawa (1992) observed only five species in this practice: Cercopithecus ascanius (redtail monkey), Papio cynocepharus cynocephalus (baboon), Macaca fuscata (Japanese macaque), Gorilla gorilla beringei (mountain gorilla), and Pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee). In each episode observed, infants were eaten after being killed, and this custom appeared to serve a nutritional (therefore, ecological rather than social) purpose in animals who ordinarily consumed meat as a part of their diets. Chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relatives, have the highest rates of cannibalism among non-human primates; chimpanzees also have the highest rates of predation (of red colobus monkeys) among nonhuman primates.
Cannibalism in History and Prehistory
Identification of cannibalism in the distant past is, according to Tim White (1992), based on very specific indicators in fossilized or unfossilized human bones: (1) similar butchering techniques for human and animal remains; (2) similar patterns of long bone breakage (for marrow extraction); (3) identical patterns of processing and discarding after use; and (4) evidence of cooking (White, 1992). Based on these criteria, there is good evidence for cannibalism from the southwestern United States; New Guinea, Fiji, and other sites in the Pacific; and Europe; there is limited evidence at other sites around the world. Ann Gibbons (1997) has reported that very early paleoanthropological specimens dating back hundreds of thousands of years are increasingly being identified as showing signs of cannibalism.
There is abundant evidence from historical accounts of cannibalism in the Caribbean (the term was defined for Carib Indians; the Spanish word Canibales is a form of the ethnic name Carib ) and in Spanish accounts of Mesoamerican ritual sacrifices and cannibalism. Many historical accounts have been challenged within the past few decades because most information was derived from enemies of the groups identified as "cannibals," where the term was used to denigrate the other group. Also, during periods of exploration from the sixteenth century onward, Europeans were likely to accept the identification of "cannibal" in a group that was thought to be "savage" and "primitive." Hence, there is probably some exaggeration in the historical literature.
A storm of controversy has arisen over new evidence for cannibalism in Anasazi populations of the southwestern United States from the period between 900 and 1200 c.e. White (1992) and the Turners (1999) have identified skeletal remains from a number of populations that lived in the Four Corners area that show clear signs of persistent and regular cannibalism (White, 1992; Turner and Turner, 1999). The controversy has been fueled by the traditional view of these peoples as peaceful and non-violent and the belief that, if cannibalism did exist, it resulted from periodic famine and hunger, which must have commonly struck prehistoric peoples of the arid Southwest. A new image of these peoples, under the purported cultural influence of Mesoamerican traditions of violence from the south, is one of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and social pathology—quite different from the earlier view.
Cannibalism and Survival
Some of the best-documented examples of cannibalism have been based on the conditions that take place during widespread famines and on accounts of shipwrecked, marooned, or stranded groups of people who have gone for long periods without food. Two of the best-documented of many cases are the pioneer Donner party's isolation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the fall and winter of 1846–1847, and the crash of the Uruguayan rugby team in the Chilean Andes in October 1972. In these and other well-documented cases, it is unquestionable that the food acquired by means of cannibalism enabled some individuals to survive rather than starving to death.
A more controversial issue is whether regular cannibalism in groups of people makes the difference between inadequate and adequate dietary intake. The Aztecs of Mexico practiced regular ritual sacrifice of captives and consumed the victims. Michael Harner (1977) and Marvin Harris (1977) argued that this food provided a protein-rich source of nutrients to a large Aztec population that was suffering from limited protein intake due to the absence of Native American domestic animals during pre-Hispanic times. This argument has been countered on the grounds that (1) population density was somewhat lower than estimated and (2) protein sources were available from a variety of plant and wild animal food that, when considered together, provided an adequate protein intake for most of the people.
Garn and Block (1970) argued that the meat yield from an average human body (50 kg) would only provide about 4.0 kg of protein, and that this would meet the daily minimum protein requirements of only sixty adults. However, Dornsteich and Morren (1974) presented a more convincing argument for New Guinea cannibalism in several highland populations. They noted that the consumption of human flesh by the Miyanmin people provided between 5 and 10 percent of the daily intake of protein, which was equivalent to or greater than the protein derived from domestic and feral pig consumption. This basic issue seems to relate to the primary motives that people have for consuming human flesh. It is probably not correct to state that some people practice cannibalism solely as a source of food. There are many other human motives for cannibalism. On the other hand, human tissue has the same nutritional value as any other mammalian tissue when it is eaten, whether by a human or nonhuman predator.
Cannibalism and Disease
The Fore tribe of the highlands of Papua New Guinea was investigated at length beginning in 1957 by D. Carleton Gajdusek, who won a Nobel prize in 1976 for his study of the neurological-degenerative disease kuru, which he determined was caused by human contact with infected human brain tissue. Kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy are all transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) and were formerly believed to be caused by a slow virus infection; recent evidence indicates that they are conveyed by proteins called prions. Among the Fore, the principal pattern of contact with infected human tissue was during the mortuary preparation associated with endocannibalistic consumption of dead kin. In 1979 William Arens challenged Gajdusek's explanation for the spread of kuru on the grounds that there were no direct observations of cannibalism in the Fore people.
Whether cannibalism reflects pathological behavior depends on the circumstances of consumption. Starvation cannibalism appears to be tacitly condoned by Western societies, and other societies have sanctioned a variety of exocannibalistic practices. But perhaps the most abhorrent practice is that of sadistic or psychopathological murder and consumption of human tissue. Jeffrey Dahmer is a most recent example. A deranged young man who did not appear to be abnormal, he was arrested in Milwaukee in 1991 for the murder, dismemberment, and partial consumption of seventeen individuals. There are many other examples of such bizarre and pathological behavior in the literature.
Arens, William. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Askenasy, Hans. Cannibalism: From Sacrifice to Survival. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1994.
Barker, Francis, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, eds. Cannibalism and the Colonial World. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Brown, P., and D. Tuzin, eds. The Ethnography of Cannibalism. Washington, D.C.: Society for Psychological Anthropology, 1983.
Dornstreich, Mark D., and George E. B. Morren. "Does New Guinea Cannibalism Have Nutritional Value?" Human Ecology 2 (1974): 1–12.
Elgar, M. A., and B. J. Crespi. "Ecology and Evolution of Cannibalism." In Cannibalism: Ecology and Evolution among Diverse Taxa, edited by M. A. Elgar and B. J. Crespi, pp. 1–12. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Gajdusek, D. Carleton. "Unconventional Viruses and the Origin and Disappearance of Kuru." Science 197 (1977): 943–960.
Garn, Stanley M., and W. D. Block. "The Limited Nutritional Value of Cannibalism." American Anthropologist 72 (1970): 106.
Gibbons, Ann. "Archaeologists Rediscover Cannibals." Science 277 (1997): 635–637.
Goldman, L. R., ed. The Anthropology of Cannibalism. Westport, Conn., and London: Bergin and Garvey, 1999.
Harner, Michael. "The Ecological Basis for Aztec Sacrifice." American Ethnologist 4 (1977): 117–135.
Harris, Marvin. Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. New York: Random House, 1977.
Hiraiwa-Hasegawa, M. "Cannibalism among Non-Human Primates." In Cannibalism: Ecology and Evolution among Diverse Taxa, edited by M. A. Elgar and B. J. Crespi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Howell, Michael, and Peter Ford. The Beetle of Aphrodite and Other Medical Mysteries. New York: Random House, 1985.
Petrinovich, L. The Cannibal Within. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000.
Turner, Christy G., II, and Jacqueline Turner. Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999.
White, T. D. Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUMR-2346. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Michael A. Little
The ancient Greeks' fears of cannibalism were reflected in the writings of Homer and others. For example, the Titan god Kronos ate his sons Hades and Poseidon and tried to eat Zeus in the fear that they would supplant him. Zeus, the future leader of the Olympian gods, forced his father to disgorge Hades and Poseidon. In another story, the curse on the House of Atreus was brought about by a deceptive form of endocannibalism. Atreus and Thyestes were brothers. In a series of deceptions, Atreus, having killed his own son without knowing who he was, exacted revenge against his brother, Thyestes, by killing Thyestes' own sons and serving them to him at a feast. A final example is in the tale of Odysseus' return from Troy to Ithaca. He stopped at an island in search of food and stumbled on the cave of Polyphemus, a Cyclops. Odysseus escaped from Polyphemus, but not before the Cyclops had devoured a number of his men.
Jack and the Beanstalk
This rhyme from "Jack and the Beanstalk" illustrates an example of threatened cannibalism in a children's story. Numerous nursery rhymes and fairy tales include cannibalism as part of the theme. Another example is "Hansel and Gretel."
Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum.
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he alive or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.
Kuru can be used as an example of how endocannibalism led to a disastrous epidemic of a degenerative encephalopathic disease, the discovery of a whole class of diseases called prion diseases, a Nobel Prize won by D. Carleton Gajdusek, and the beginning of our understanding of mad cow disease, which led to the mass destruction of livestock in the United Kingdom.
A popular account of the early discovery of kuru is given in a book by Michael Howell and Peter Ford (1985). The Fore people, who live in the central highlands of New Guinea and practiced a form of endocannibalism, were reported to have a disease that had a gradual onset (imbalance) but then progressed rapidly to an inability to stand or sit upright, dementia, and a general neurological deterioration that always ended in death. The Fore attributed the lethal disorder to sorcery, but Western officials believed the epidemic had natural causes, perhaps hysteria. Following work by Vincent Zigas, a district medical officer, and Carleton Gajdusek, a young American scientist, it was discovered that endocannibalism, as practiced by the Fore, contributed to the familial transmission of the infectious agent. By handling and consuming the incompletely cooked remains of the kuru victims, especially the highly infectious brain and nervous tissue, members of the family contracted the disease but did not show symptoms until many years later. The first connection with an animal disease was suggested in 1959 when a veterinary scientist suggested that kuru in humans seemed similar to symptoms of a disease called scrapie that was found in sheep. The most recent epidemic of a prion disease is mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), which is a livestock disease that has been transmitted to humans. This is the second example of a livestock prion disease that has somehow been transformed and become infectious in humans (the first is the probable transmission of scrapie to humans in kuru). Finally, the kuru epidemic in the Fore population was brought to a halt when the Australian government outlawed cannibalism in what is now Papua-New Guinea, and the practice slowly began to decline.
"Cannibalism." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
"Cannibalism." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
The possibility of cannibalism has been an object of thought and imagination in virtually every society. The idea of consuming human body substance as food or for symbolic purposes invokes emotionally charged cultural and psychological concerns with boundaries between self and other, persons and nonpersons, the meanings of food and ingestion, and the limits of a moral community. Many societies, both Western and non-Western, have seen cannibalism as a marker of negative difference between peoples, a quintessential symbol of otherness, savagery, and subhumanity. Others have treated it as a form of exchange or as a mechanism of transformation, regeneration, or reproduction through transactions between ontological categories such as kin and enemy, mortals and deities, human and animal.
In Western thought, two uses of the idea of cannibalism have been recurring themes: as a negative stereotype of exotic "others," and as a metaphor for reflexive questioning, critique, and parody of Western culture. Especially in the politics of colonialism, accusations of cannibalism have been deployed to denigrate non-Western peoples, assert colonizers' moral superiority, and legitimize the takeover of native lives and lands. Only recently have scholars called attention to socially approved cannibal practices in Western history, such as the tradition of using human body substances as medicines, which flourished in Europe until the eighteenth century.
The stigma associated with cannibalism in Western thought makes any assertion that certain people engaged in it politically sensitive. Since the 1970s, especially in the United States, anthropologists and historians have debated where and to what extent cannibalism was an institutionalized, socially accepted practice (as distinguished from its occurrence as an aberrant, individual act motivated by starvation or psychological deviance). These arguments mostly involved historical and retrospective evidence, since under the impact of colonialism and modernity, any former practices of institutionalized flesh-eating had largely disappeared by the 1970s. Major controversies focused on Michael Harner's and Marvin Harris's interpretation of human sacrifice as a response to dietary shortages among the Aztecs of fifteenth-century Mexico; the role of funerary cannibalism in epidemics of the neurological disease kuru in the New Guinea highlands; the ongoing debate between Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere over allegations of cannibalism among South Pacific islanders and after the death of Captain James Cook; and the interpretation of archaeological finds from Europe and the southwestern United States that show dismemberment, mutilation, and cooking of body parts.
A major impetus to debates over the reality of cannibalism came from William Arens's The Man-Eating Myth (1979), which examined selected accounts from some non-Western societies. Finding a lack of hard evidence and no credible eyewitness accounts by Western experts, Arens expressed doubt that cannibalism ever existed anywhere as a socially approved practice. He argued that cannibalism is best understood not as a cultural practice but as a projection of Western fantasies, racism, and political propaganda. Although presented as a critique of Orientalist prejudices, the argument reified negative colonial stereotypes with its implicit assumption that the act of ingesting human substance is in all cases repulsive and morally indefensible. Arens's critique of the supposed bias and credulity of those who have written about cannibalism as social practice found some scholarly receptivity, particularly within cultural studies.
In anthropology, Arens's book drew criticism for its methodology, sensational rhetoric, and unreasonable and inconsistent empirical standards. The controversy had the positive effect of stimulating ethnographers and historians to reassess historical and ethnographic evidence. While debates continue over the evidence in specific cases, most anthropologists accept the idea that normative, institutionalized practices of consuming human body substances did occur in some times and places in the past.
Recent anthropological work has sought to contextualize local cultural practices by elucidating their social, symbolic, religious, and ritual significance. A few scholars, such as Eli Sagan and I. M. Lewis, have proposed universal explanations interpreting flesh-eating in all contexts, from warfare to funeral rites, as expressions of similar impulses such as hostility, ambivalence, or desires for dominance. The stronger trend has been to recognize diversity and the many different kinds of practices with distinctive cultural meanings that have been lumped together under the rubric of "cannibalism." Ethnographies from Melanesia and the South Pacific have highlighted how cannibalism, as practice or idea, was linked to cultural ideas about ethnicity and gender, the uses of flesh and food to define spheres of morality and exchange, and human reproduction and the circulation of vital energies or substances contained in the body. Lowland South American ethnography has emphasized cannibalism's role in the production of personhood and alterity and indigenous notions of its role in metaphysical transformations and exchanges between enemies and between the living and the dead, humans and animal, mortals and immortals. There has also been new attention directed to native peoples' images of Europeans or other foreigners and their descendants as "white cannibals." An implicit agenda in much recent scholarship is to undermine negative stereotypes and deexoticize the subject of cannibalism by expanding humanistic understandings of how, within local systems of cultural meaning, some peoples may have felt that consuming human flesh or bones was a positive, morally acceptable thing to do.
Over the past five centuries, numerous writers, from Michel de Montaigne to Jonathan Swift and Ruth Benedict, have used cannibal imagery to express critical perspectives on Western culture and as a rhetorical device for inverting conventional boundaries of civilization and morality. In Brazil in 1928, Oswaldo de Andrade's "Cannibal Manifesto" launched the avant-garde Antropofagia movement, which reclaimed cannibal imagery from native Brazilians' early encounters with Europeans and asserted that the key principle of Brazilian modernity is assimilation of foreign influences. Latin American artists and intellectuals continue to find cannibalism a fertile metaphor for Euro-American culture and exploitative political economic relations.
Since the 1970s, there has been a trend among scholars, artists, and culture critics in the United States and elsewhere to deploy cannibalism as a metaphor for Western civilization itself. Globalization, capitalist consumer culture, and cross-cultural appropriation in tourism, art, media, and museums have been portrayed as forms of cannibalism. Richard King criticizes the Occidentalism in analyses that treat "the West" as a single, undifferentiated entity while perpetuating negative stereotypes, trivializing cannibalism as a real experience and embodied cultural practice, and deflecting attention from its meanings in specific social-historical contexts. As one of the last real taboos in contemporary cosmopolitan society, cannibalism's attention-getting power to shock ensures that it will continue to be a theme and source of fascination in popular culture and scholarship.
See also Colonialism ; Ethnography ; Eurocentrism ; Occidentalism ; Orientalism .
Arens, William. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Barker, Francis, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, eds. Cannibalism and the Colonial World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Brown, Paula, and Donald Tuzin, eds. The Ethnography of Cannibalism. Washington, D.C.: Society for Psychological Anthropology, 1983.
Conklin, Beth A. Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.
Goldman, Laurence, ed. The Anthropology of Cannibalism. Westport, Conn.: Bergin and Garvey, 1999.
Harner, Michael. "The Ecological Basis for Aztec Sacrifice." American Ethnologist 4 (1977): 117–135.
Harris, Marvin. "People Eating." In his The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig: Riddles of Food and Culture, 199–234. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.
King, Richard. "The (Mis)Uses of Cannibalism in Contemporary Cultural Critique." Diacritics 30, no. 1 (2000): 106–123.
Lestringant, Frank. Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne. Translated by Rosemary Morris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Obeyesekere, Gananath. "Cannibal Feasts in Nineteenth-Century Fiji: Seamen's Yarns and the Ethnographic Imagination." In Cannibalism and the Colonial World, edited by Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iverson, 63–86. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sagan, Eli. Cannibalism: Human Aggression and Cultural Form. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.
Sahlins, Marshall. How "Natives" Think: About Captain Cook, for Example. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Beth A. Conklin
"Cannibalism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism
"Cannibalism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism
The belief in the existence of man-eaters just beyond a culture’s boundary is a time-honored and cherished notion for many parts of the world. In what we call advanced societies, such as our own, cannibals are thought to inhabit the remaining mysterious distant fringes of civilization such as the highlands of New Guinea and the rain forests of the Amazon. There, the inhabitants with a more limited view of the world suspect cannibals in the next valley or around the bend of the river. How and why this imagery came into existence and continues to be so compelling for both the lay public and academics alike is as debatable as it is apparent.
No better example of the longstanding Western proclivity to label distant people as cannibalistic can be found than in the work of the fifth century BCE Greek traveler Herodotus, the father of history and anthropology. Not far from the limits of Hellenic culture in an area we now recognize as central Asia, he noted (in Herodotus: A New and Literal Version, 1879) that “beyond the desert Anthropophagi dwell, … the only people that eat human flesh” (pp. 243, 273.) With these characteristic remarks, the author of the first account of exotic peoples set the paradigm generally employed over the succeeding centuries: First, those who did not share Western culture, those both different and inferior, are the other ; and second, they were often labeled sight unseen as man-eaters.
This theme was repeated in some of the classic Roman texts and then later by medieval travel accounts of the then known world. Over time, many peoples, such as the Irish and the Scots, as well as the European Jews and North African Muslims, were cast by one or another obscure writer as consumers of human flesh. Eventually, the list of itinerant raconteurs included the famous Marco Polo, who in the late fourteenth century claimed to have traversed the Eurasian continent from Venice to China before residing there for a number of years.
Although the veracity of his account is now debated, what is significant is his report of unobserved cannibals on Jipangu (Japan) on the border of Kubla Khan’s Mongol empire. A copy of this text, which even then was popular, was later in the library of Christopher Columbus and also occupied his imagination as he sailed into the New World while erroneously assuming he was on the eastern border of the Old World. Believing that he was in the vicinity of Jipangu, the admiral also recorded an encounter with cannibals in what was actually the Caribbean, probably in the vicinity of Cuba. Thus, for the first time contact with the rumored man-eaters was made, and the word cannibal, a Spanish derivation of Carib, entered the lexicon to replace Anthrophagi. Although the suspected cannibals were then seen, the act of cannibalism continued to go unobserved. This new context necessitated a revision of the ideological paradigm, which now assumed that the custom was repressed by conquest. There were also more profound practical implications, for at the time those degenerate enough to eat their own kind could be enslaved. In subsequent eras the label legitimized conquest and colonization as Western nations came into contact with a host of far-flung would-be cannibals.
This assumption and powerful image of the other as cannibal remained a feature of Western ideology for some centuries until it was eventually challenged in The Man-Eating Myth (Arens 1979). A review of some of the literature on the most infamous reputed man-eaters from North America, Africa, and New Guinea led to the book’s conclusion that the idea of gustatory cannibalism— that is, an activity engaged in on a regular basis with social approval—could not be substantiated by the usual standards of academic inquiry.
The initial negative reaction to the conclusion, most explicit in a series of essays by cultural anthropologists (Brown and Tuzin 1983) has gradually lessened over time. Once the question whether it could be that so many, if not most, people of color were cannibals until contacted by white Europeans was explicitly framed for debate, it became intellectually and politically untenable in the postcolonial era to maintain what was formerly an implicit affirmative conclusion. There was also the eventual realization that the proposal did not rule out survival and ritual cannibalism. This new perspective, though, leads to related issues regarding how those implicated in this sort of activity are labeled, and then how to define ritual in a consistent manner.
As for the consumption of human flesh under dire conditions, it has been long recognized that this behavior is possible in any culture. This impression is substantiated by European shipwreck tales, as well as by the Donner Party incident when the party’s members survived on the remains of their compatriots while stranded in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846. In no instance are those implicated—the French, the English, and Americans—subsequently labeled as endo-cannibals, eaters of their own kind. Similarly, this behavior may have been characteristic of, for example, the Inuit or other Native Americans, as deduced from historical sources or archeological evidence, such as that reported in Billman, Lambert, and Leonard’s (2000) detailed article about the Mesa Verde region in the twelfth century. However, these groups are not stigmatized as cannibals by the general public. These contradictory impressions are objectively unacceptable.
The issue of ritual cannibalism is more complicated. Desiccated human body parts were sold as remedies for various human ailments by European and American apothecaries until the early twentieth century (Gordon-Grube 1988); some American food cultists advocate the consumption of the human placenta (Janszen 1980); and there is the use of human cadaver extracts in contemporary biomedicine, presumably to capture the strength of the deceased. These domestic customs may be considered bizarre, misguided, or even guided science, but they are never labeled ritual cannibalism. However, South American groups reported to consume the ashes of the dead for whatever reason are ipso facto deemed ritual cannibals. Again this situation is intellectually unacceptable and hints at cultural discrimination.
A recent consideration of the issue in Gananath Obeyesekere’s Cannibal Talk (2005) recommends that we reserve the term cannibalism for the irrational fear that the other wants to eat us and use the term anthropophagy to refer to the actual practice in ritual and survival contexts. Perhaps it would be simpler to conclude that there are no cannibals in the sense of how the situation was once subjectively viewed; alternately, from a more objective contemporary perspective, we could all be cannibals. What is more obvious is that the cannibal epithet, as leveled by one culture against another, is more common than the deed itself.
SEE ALSO Anthropology; Religion; Rituals; Warfare, Nuclear
Arens, W. 1979. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Barker, Francis, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, eds. 1998. Cannibalism and the Colonial World. Cambridge, NJ: Cambridge University Press.
Billman, Brian R., Patricia M. Lambert, and L. B. Leonard. 2000. Cannibalism, Warfare, and Drought in the Mesa Verde Region During the Twelfth Century, A.D. American Antiquity 65: 145–178.
Brown, Paula, and Donald Tuzin, eds. 1983. The Ethnography of Cannibalism. Washington, DC: Society for Psychological Anthropology.
Gordon-Grube, Karen. 1988. Anthropophagy in Post-Renaissance Europe: The Tradition of Medicinal Cannibalism. American Anthropologist 90 (2): 405–409.
Janszen, Karen. 1980. Meat of Life. Science Digest (November–December): 78–81, 121.
Obeyesekere, Gananath. 2005. Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Seas. Berkeley: University of California Press.
"Cannibalism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/cannibalism
"Cannibalism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/cannibalism
Initially it must be entertained, if not accepted, that travellers' accounts of strange lands with anthropophagic (man-eating) inhabitants should be discounted. Famous representatives of this genre, such as Herodotus and Marco Polo, as well as a host of minor peregrinators, never actually encountered the phenomenon in question. (Often they never even encountered the presumed anthropophagi.) Instead they relied upon the reports of one exotic people about the peculiar behaviour of others even more distant. Nonetheless, a template had been set for followers, including Columbus and his contemporaries, who subsequently also issued accounts on the fantastical inhabitants of the New World. (In the process they introduced the term ‘cannibal’, as a perversion of the word ‘Carib’). In addition to relying on expectations and unsubstantiated reports, this generation of explorers and Conquistadors had the added impetus to provide a legitimization for their activities, which often had sad consequences for the indigenes. Subsequent exemplars also inevitably came upon cannibals in Africa, South America, Asia, and the Pacific in the colonization process. In some instances, those who failed to have the encounter merely plagiarized the work of others so as not to be outshone.
In the twentieth century, anthropologists — newly-minted professional interpreters of the exotic — whose self-proclaimed mandate was to de-romanticize the experience by direct observation and objective interpretation of contemporary cultures, continued, despite its absence, to reinforce the cannibalism theme on the authority of previous visitors. The usual explanation for the lacuna was the recent cessation or secret practice of the deed, due to the impact of colonialism and/or missionary activity. The retention of this ethnographic tidbit, as so many others were abandoned, obviously has much to do with the discipline's need for the exotic. This peculiar state of affairs led to the suggestion of a cannibal mythology as a feature of Western cosmology. This does not suggest that those responsible for the vision, including anthropologists, were engaged in a conscious hoax as opposed to maintaining a long-standing cultural projection. (Although their errors are understandable, it could be argued that the discipline had a greater responsibility to be more circumspect in its deliberations on this matter than others.) Nor does the argument imply that cannibalism has never been a feature of some societies; rather that such a conclusion is not supported by evidence. The best way to comprehend the situation in all its complexities invites a consideration of a more recent cannibal belief complex involving a number of academic disciplines, including medicine.
In 1957, while visiting Papua New Guinea, D. Carleton Gajdusek, a medical researcher, learned of an epidemic called kuru, savaging the highland area, principally among the Fore people. After arduous initial investigations, his preliminary results allowed for an expanded research team including cultural anthropologists. Of more immediate importance, laboratory results indicated that the disease could be transmitted — via the distillation of human victims' brain tissue — to chimpanzees. A reasonable extrapolation of this fact was that the illness had been transmitted among humans in New Guinea in some unknown fashion. A review of the literature indicates that the pre-figured notion of cannibalism entered into the discussion as the suspected agent of kuru transmission, first tentatively, and then with greater authority; the authors, including the anthropologists, began to cite each others' remarks in their publications until cannibalism eventually emerged as a scientific fact. The sensational nature of the claim soon enshrined it in the secondary and popular literature. However, none of the parties intimately involved had ever observed the deed, as opposed to learning of it from previous accounts. The inability to document the activity was explained as usual in terms of the cessation of the practice, or its continued secret occurrence. Thus, a common assertion about an exotic people was incorporated into an otherwise rational scientific discourse.
The recent concern over the spread of Creutzfeld–Jacob disease (a variant of kuru) in Europe provides an instructive example of how the matter is envisioned for ‘civilized’ populations. The implication of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in this instance suggests that the dietary habits of the Fore people, which included the consumption of undercooked pork, including brain tissue, should now be given greater consideration in the transmission of kuru. Customary funeral practices, which involved direct contact with the deceased's brain tissue, and institutionalized male homosexuality, also deserve greater appreciation as a disease vector, since they are well-documented activities, as opposed to cannibalism, which was merely assumed.
In sum, it no longer appears reasonable to assume the anthropophagic nature of others in the sense that they have been wholesale consumers of human flesh. This assertion does not deny some cross-cultural variation on the theme. For example, it has been reported on good authority that inhabitants of South America ritually consume the bone-ash of the departed. Yet, similar bodily substances were sold in European and American apothecaries until the beginning of the twentieth century and continue to be used today in some forms for their assumed medicinal qualities. The human use of the human body in all these instances raises interesting questions about the distinction between science and ritual.
Arens, W. (1979). The man-eating myth. Oxford University Press, New York.
Gajdusek, D. C. (1977). Unconventional viruses and the origin and disappearance of kuru. Science, 197, 943–60.
See also prions.
"cannibalism." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
"cannibalism." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
cannibalism (kăn´ĬbəlĬzəm) [Span. caníbal, referring to the Carib], eating of human flesh by other humans. The charge of cannibalism is a common insult, and it is likely that some alleged cannibal groups have merely been victims of popular fear and misrepresentation. Nevertheless, archaeological research suggests that ancient societies did practice cannibalism, and it has been observed in Africa, North and South America, the South Pacific islands, and the West Indies. Widespread cannibalism is usually not found in state-level societies, which have the means to tax and control surplus labor. Nevertheless, one of the most famous cases of cannibalism is that of the Aztecs, who sacrificed their prisoners of war and undoubtedly ate some of them. According to available evidence, most authorities consider the partaking of human flesh almost always to be a ritual practice. A minority of anthropologists, however, believe cannibalism emerged as a cultural response to chronic protein shortages. In modern Western society, cannibalism is commited only by the deranged or by people who otherwise face death from starvation (see Donner Party). In contrast, various traditional cultures are known to have encouraged their members to eat part of their kinsmen's corpses out of respect for the deceased in a practice known as endocannibalism. For example, Foré women of New Guinea, who dispose of the dead, ritually ate their deceased relatives' brains. Some anthropologists believe that head-hunting evolved from cannibalism. Among a few peoples the head of the enemy is preserved and the rest of the body or selected parts of it are eaten; this may represent a connecting link between cannibalism and head-hunting. The term cannibalism is also used in zoology to describe species who prey upon their own kind, such as lions, crabs, ants, and some kinds of fish.
See P. Brown and D. Tuzin, ed., The Ethnography of Cannibalism (1983); A. W. B. Simpson, Cannibalism and the Common Law (1984).
"cannibalism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
"cannibalism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cannibalism
- Alive account of cannibalism among air crash survivors. [Am. Lit.: Alive ]
- Antiphates chieftain of Laestrygones, man-eating giants of Italy. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ; Rom. Lit.: Metamorphoses ]
- Beane, Sawney highwayman who fed his gang on victims’ flesh. [Br. Culture: Misc.]
- black giants kill, roast, and devour Sindbad’s companions. [Arab. Lit.: Arabian Nights in Magill II, 50]
- Caliban his name is anagram of cannibal. [Br. Lit.: The Tempest ]
- Clymenus eats child who is product of incestuous union with daughter Harpalyce. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 114]
- Cronos swallowed his children at birth; they lived again when he was forced by Zeus to disgorge them. [Gk. Myth.: EB (1963) VI, 747]
- Donner Party of 89 emigrants to California, 47 survive by eating others (1846-1847). [Am. Hist.: EB, III: 623]
- Hansel and Gretel fattened up for child-eating witch. [Ger. Fairy Tale: Grimm, 56]
- Laestrygones man-eating giants encountered by Odysseus. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ]
- Lamia female spirit in serpent form; devours children. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 146; Br. Lit.: “Lamia” in Benét, 563]
- Lycaon turned to wolf for cannibalistic activities; whence, lycanthropy. [Gk. Myth.: Espy, 37]
- Modest Proposal, A Swift’s satire suggesting that children of the poor be used as food for the rich (1729). [Br. Lit.: “A Modest Proposal” in Harvey, 793]
- Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, The for four days, survivors feed on Parker’s flesh. [Am. Lit.: Poe, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” in Magill I, 640–643]
- Pelops cut up and served as meal to gods. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 817]
- Tereus wife Procne murders son Itys and serves him to Tereus. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 144]
- Thyestean banquet banquet where Atreus serves Thyestes’ sons to him as food. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 1081]
- Ugolino when his children die of starvation in prison, he devours them. [Ital. Poetry: Inferno ]
"Cannibalism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism-0
"Cannibalism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism-0
"cannibalism." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism-0
"cannibalism." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism-0
"cannibalism." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism
"cannibalism." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism
- the consumption of human flesh; cannibalism. —androphagous, adj.
- anthropophagism, anthropophagy
- the consumption of human flesh; cannibalism. —anthropophagous, adj.
"Cannibalism." -Ologies and -Isms. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism
"Cannibalism." -Ologies and -Isms. . Retrieved October 21, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cannibalism