The history of cannibalism has been part of societies’ history from time immemorial. The word cannibalism is derived from the Spanish term ‘Caníbales’, for the West Indian ‘Carib’ tribe of native Americans who, according to the explorer Christopher Columbus, were claimed to have supplemented their fruit and fish diet with human flesh.
The Caribbean Sea is named after the Carib, who probably originated in the valley of the Orinoco River, and they were noted for their ferocity. During the late 15th century the Carib inhabited most of the islands of the Lesser Antilles and the coast of what is now Venezuela; territories from which they had expelled the Arawak people. Carib men valued exploits in combat above all else. They were not organized into a hierarchical structure under a chief, but fought as individual warriors and raided other peoples. And, it is also said that male captives were tortured and eaten while female captives became slave-wives. …
Hardships of colonial America
Times were pretty tough for those colonists in America. Jamestown was particularly horrific. The group failed to plant crops in time, they were practically living in a swamp and during 1609-1610, they ran out of food. Some began to dig up corpses to eat and one man allegedly killed his pregnant wife, before salting and eating her. He's said to have been burned alive as punishment.
American farmer George Donner, his brother Jacob, and their families joined up with James Reed and his family to travel west from Springfield, Illinois, to settle in San Francisco in 1846. Bad timing, terrible advice and even worse weather meant that the Donner Party became stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains. When the party left Springfield, it had 33 members, but more joined along the way. The group split at Little Sandy River, Wyoming and 89 people took the ill-fated shortcut. Only 48 survived after family became food.
Lost at sea
In the spring of 1884, an Aussie gent visiting England purchased a yacht, the Mignonette, which he organised to have home delivered. On July 3 the yacht sank and the four crew members just managed to scramble on board their wooden dingy, without any food or water. They caught a sea turtle, which sustained them for a few days but when that ran out, they started eyeing off each other. When the youngest member, Richard Parker, became sick from drinking sea water, the other three were unanimous in their decision and the boy was killed and eaten. After they were rescued, the sailors insisted on taking what was left of Parker’s body home to England for a Christian burial.
Wreckage in the Andes
On Friday October 13, 1972, an Uruguayan plane, carrying 45 unlucky passengers to Chile, most of whom were students and rugby players, crashed in the Andes Mountains. Twelve people died in the crash and their corpses became a desperate option for those left alive as hunger pains worsened, the hope of rescue faded and they faced more nights of -30C temperatures in the snowy mountains. On December 22, 1972, after being isolated for 72 days, the 16 survivors were rescued just in time for Christmas – and a book and movie (both entitled Alive) soon followed.
Source: Geographic Australia
Cannibalism has been practised by certain populations as a part of their ritual. Certain tribes are known to have eaten parts of their deceased relatives as an act of veneration. Aboriginal Australians are meanwhile believed to have taken part in what is seen as a more benevolent form of cannibalism - endocannibalism - the consumption of friends and relatives, who are usually dead. In this case, the body of a dead person was ritually eaten by his relatives as a means of allowing his spirit to live on. This kind of cannibalism is known as endocannibalism.
Exocannibalism refers to the act of eating outsiders, especially the defeated enemies with the aim of gaining their abilities or to emphasize one's superiority over the vanquished. The Aztecs are believed to have practised cannibalism on a large scale as part of the ritual religious sacrifice of war captives and other victims in a practice known as exocannibalism - the eating of strangers or enemies. During World War II, Chinese military members reportedly ate the flesh of executed enemies. In another case, an American priest reported witnessing a Chinese Nationalist general cut out and consume the heart of a captured communist in the context of this war. Both Iroquois and Fiji Island cultures ritualized similar acts of cannibalistic rage (called battle rage, when found in the context of war). In both cultures, captured warriors were subjected to torture and mutilation before a crowd, before ultimately being killed and parts of their bodies eaten . Even more recently, Congolese rebels stood accused by the United Nations in 2003 of eating murdered pygmies [source: Los Angeles Times].
Earlier this year the United Nations accused rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo of cannibalising their enemies, and of forcing families of the victims to eat the organs of their relatives.
There is considerable evidence of human beings resorting to cannibalism during food shortage, due to famine or when shipwrecked or marooned. Two very well documented cases are the Donner Party, that was isolated in the Sierra Nevada ranges, in the winters of 1846 - 1847. The Donner Party is one striking example. In 1846, a group of Westward expansionists set out for California from the Iowa territory. A group of 89 settlers broke off from the original party, taking a shortcut through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Stranded in the mountains by a harsh winter and faced with starvation, the group splintered again. As the weather grew worse, the original and expedition sections of the Donner Party depleted their food, their animals and eventually turned to cannibalism to survive. (Source: Howstuffworks)
And the second case being the crash of the Uruguay rugby team over the Andes in 1972. In both the cases cannibalism helped certain members of the team to survive rather than die of starvation.
* As a Mode of Regular Supply of Food:
This refers to routine cannibalism, in which human flesh is considered to a part of the diet. Cannibalism among the Aztecs of Mexico, has been justified by some scholars, a rich source of protein for the Aztec population. However, this view has been countered on the ground that population density of the Aztec society was much lower than earlier thought and so the population never ran short of protein source.
* Sadistic Cannibalism:
This refers to cannibalism that is driven by sadistic pleasure or psychopathological reasons. A famous case of this form of cannibalism is that of Jeffry Dahmer of United States. An otherwise normal looking individual, Dahmer was charged for murder and ingestion of seventeen individuals in 1991. He was believed to have killed children and keep their flesh in packets in the freezer, which he later cooked and ate.
Neil Hanson's book of that name recounts the most notorious instance of this custom in British maritime history. Off the coast of Africa in 1884, a freak wave crushed and sank the Mignonette, an unseaworthy yacht bound for Australia. Three crew members survived in a dinghy for four weeks by killing and devouring a 17-year-old cabin boy, Richard Parker. Rescued by a German steamer, the men of the Mignonette returned to a sympathetic British public and a government determined to prosecute.
With appropriate penny-dreadful gusto, Hanson exploits every blood-drinking, marrow-sucking, human-jerky-curing moment. The Mignonette's captain, Tom Dudley, a former ship's cook, did the butchering: "He reached into the still warm chest cavity and pulled out the heart and liver ... The three men ate them ravenously, squabbling over the pieces like dogs." Trial transcripts and contemporary newspapers aid Hanson's poignant re-creation of the crew's emotional voyage from horror to elation to a second round of torture courtesy of Queen Victoria's courts.
Nathaniel Philbrick's book centers on the 1820 death match between Nantucket, Mass., whale hunter Essex and a really big whale, which the Essex lost. Twenty men in three small craft escaped and wandered the Pacific; three months later there were two boats and five men left. Rescuers found bug-eyed stick figures hunkered over a pile of human ribs, with finger bones stashed in their pockets.
In many countries, the consumption of human flesh is not itself a crime.
Perpetrators tend to be convicted on the basis of accompanying acts: Mr Meiwes, for example, was not charged with cannibalism, but with murder for "sexual satisfaction".
A number of high-profile cannibal cases have involved the eating of flesh in a sexual context.
Albert Fish, who has been called America's Bogeyman, raped, murdered and ate a number of children during the 1920s. He claimed to have experienced immense sexual pleasure as a result.
Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, who murdered at least 53 people between 1978 and 1990, also indulged in cannibalism. His crimes were linked to sexual problems.
But what distinguishes Mr Meiwes' self-confessed sexual cannibalism from killers such as Fish and Chikatilo, or acts committed by peoples such as the Aztecs or the Congolese rebels, is the ostensibly consensual nature of his act.
Mr Meiwes met the man he was ultimately to eat, 43-year-old Bernd-Jurgen Brandes, in early 2001, after advertising on websites for "young, well-built men aged 18 to 30 to slaughter".
Mr Meiwes told investigators he took Mr Brandes back to his home, where Mr Brandes agreed to have his penis cut off, which Mr Meiwes then flambeed and served up to eat together.
Mr Meiwes says he then killed Mr Brandes with his consent.
But the allegedly consensual nature of the act has done nothing to pacify German disgust.
Whether Mr Meiwes' victim was willing or not, eating another for anything less than necessity remains a taboo in the modern world.
This theory is further supported by a study on cross-cultural cannibalism conducted by Eli Sagan. According to Sanday's book Divine Hunger, Sagan argues that cannibalism is a "psychological response to anger and frustration" expressed through oral aggression and an urge to literally absorb a person through consumption. Sagan states that this urge can be directed at an enemy who may threaten the strength of the individual.
Sagan believes that children who are excessively dependent on their mothers, due to maternal over nurturing, are more likely to experience oral aggression and frustration due to separation. Moreover, he contends that the adult who subconsciously carries this oral aggression is likely to express it in an overtly dominant fashion against women by turning to cannibalism.
Cannibals are Schizophrenics
What seems to be a common characteristic among many cannibals is that many of them have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or some other form of personality disorder.
This theory suggests that there may be an underlying a neurochemical component related to cannibalistic behavior. Many cannibals, such as Andrei Chikatilo, Albert Fish, Edward Gein, and Issei Sagawa, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is defined in Reber's Dictionary of Psychology as a "general label for a number of psychotic disorders with various cognitive, emotional and behavioral manifestations reflecting a cleavage or dissociation between functions of feeling and emotion" as well as a dissociation between thinking and cognition.
Reber points at several common characteristic of schizophrenia, including thought disturbance, delusions, hallucinations and a loss of reality. This diagnosis might help explain the experiences many cannibals claim to feel prior to, during and after their cannibalistic activities, including black-outs, heightened sense of self and of the experience, hallucinations and other forms of disorganized thoughts or behavior.
Moreover, schizophrenia may also be a significant component in historical accounts of tribal cannibalism. The psychotic features related to schizophrenia have been found to have a significant genetic component, thus it can be passed from generation to generation. Therefore, it is not unlikely that schizophrenia may take root in some small indigenous tribes, which pull from a small gene pool.
Later, in February 1943, roughly 100,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner of war (POW). Almost all of them were sent to POW camps in Siberia or Central Asia where, due to being chronically underfed by their Soviet captors, many resorted to cannibalism.
The Australian War Crimes Section of the Tokyo tribunal, led by prosecutor William Webb (the future Judge-in-Chief), collected numerous written reports and testimonies that documented Japanese soldiers' acts of cannibalism among their own troops, on enemy dead, and on Allied prisoners of war in many parts of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. According to historian Yuki Tanaka, "cannibalism was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads and under the command of officers".
In some cases, flesh was cut from living people. An Indian POW, Lance Naik Hatam Ali (later a citizen of Pakistan), testified that in New Guinea: "the Japanese started selecting prisoners and every day one prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the soldiers. I personally saw this happen and about 100 prisoners were eaten at this place by the Japanese. The remainder of us were taken to another spot 50 miles [80 km] away where 10 prisoners died of sickness. At this place, the Japanese again started selecting prisoners to eat. Those selected were taken to a hut where their flesh was cut from their bodies while they were alive and they were thrown into a ditch where they later died."
Another well-documented case occurred in Chichijima in February 1945, when Japanese soldiers killed and consumed five American airmen. This case was investigated in 1947 in a war crimes trial, and of 30 Japanese soldiers prosecuted, five (Maj. Matoba, Gen. Tachibana, Adm. Mori, Capt. Yoshii, and Dr. Teraki) were found guilty and hanged. 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.
* The Aghoris of northern India consume the flesh of the dead floated in the Ganges in pursuit of immortality and supernatural powers. Members of the Aghori drink from human skulls and practice cannibalism in the belief that eating human flesh confers spiritual and physical benefits, such as prevention of aging.
* During the 1930s, multiple acts of cannibalism were reported from Ukraine and Russia's Volga, South Siberian and Kuban regions during the Holodomor.
* Cannibalism was proven to have occurred in China during the Great Leap Forward, when rural China was hit hard by drought and famine. Allegations of cannibalism during the Cultural Revolution in China have also emerged. These allegations claim that cannibalism was practiced for ideological purposes.
* 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."
* 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]..." 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..." 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."
* 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. "...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."
* When Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes on October 13, 1972, the survivors resorted to eating the deceased during their 72 days in the mountains. Their story was later recounted in the books Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors and Miracle in the Andes as well as the film Alive, by Frank Marshall, and the documentaries Alive: 20 Years Later (1993) and Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains (2008).
* Cannibalism was reported by the journalist Neil Davis during the South East Asian wars of the 1960s and 1970s. Davis reported that Cambodian troops ritually ate portions of the slain enemy, typically the liver. However he, and many refugees, also report that cannibalism was practiced non-ritually when there was no food to be found. This usually occurred when towns and villages were under Khmer Rouge control, and food was strictly rationed, leading to widespread starvation. Any civilian caught participating in cannibalism would have been immediately executed.
* 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. This may be done in desperation, as during peacetime cannibalism is much less frequent; at other times, it is consciously directed at certain groups believed to be relatively helpless, such as Congo Pygmies, even considered subhuman by some other Congolese. 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.
* The self declared Emperor of the Central African Republic, Jean-Bédel Bokassa (Emperor Bokassa I), was tried on 24 October 1986 for several cases of cannibalism although he was never convicted. Between 17 April and 19 April 1979 a number of elementary school students were arrested after they had protested against wearing the expensive, government-required school uniforms. Around one-hundred were killed. Bokassa is said to have participated in the massacre, beating some of the children to death with his cane and allegedly ate some of his victims.
* It has been reported by defectors and refugees that, at the height of the famine in 1996, cannibalism was sometimes practiced in North Korea.
* 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.
* Dorangel Vargas known as "El comegente", Spanish for "maneater", was a serial killer and cannibal in Venezuela. Vargas killed and ate at least 10 men in a period of two years preceding his arrest in 1999.
* Another serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer of the United States, experimented with cannibalism before his arrest and imprisonment in 1991. The traces of human flesh and bones found on pots and pans inside his home are more likely from his practice of taking souvenirs from his victims.
* A court submission at the trial of perpetrators of the Bodies in barrels murders in South Australia revealed that two of the murderers fried and ate a part of their final victim in 1999.
* 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 Brandes and eating parts of his body, Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and later, murder. The song "Mein Teil" by Rammstein and the song "Eaten" by Bloodbath is based on this case.
* In February 2004, a 39 year old Briton named Peter Bryan from East London was caught after he killed and ate his friend. He has been arrested for murder before, but was released shortly before this act was committed.
* In September 2006, Australian television crews from 60 Minutes and Today Tonight attempted to rescue a six-year-old boy whom they believed would be ritually cannibalized by his tribe, the Korowai, from West Papua, Indonesia.
* On August 14, 2007, a member of the far-left Maoist Naxalite group engaged in cannibalism. In the Indian state of Orissa, the leftist killed a police informant and consumed his flesh in order to terrorize the local villagers against reporting on Naxalite criminal activities
* 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."
* 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.
* 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 personnel.
* In Tanzania in 2008, President Kikwete publicly condemned witch doctors for killing people with albinism for their body parts which are thought to bring good luck. Twenty-five albinic Tanzanians have been murdered since March 2007.
* In a documentary by Colombian journalist Hollman Morris, a demobilized paramilitary confessed that during the mass killings that take place in Colombia's rural areas, many of them performed cannibalism. He also confesses that they were told to drink the blood of their victims on the belief that it would make them want to kill more.
* In November 2008, a group of 33 illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic who were en route to Puerto Rico were forced to resort to cannibalism after they were lost at sea for over 15 days before being rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat.
* In January 2009 Maxim Golovatskikh and Yury Mozhnov are accused of murdering and eating 16 year old Karina Barduchian in Russia.
* As of February 9, 2009, five members of the Kulina tribe in Brazil were wanted by Brazilian authorities on the charge of murdering, butchering and eating a farmer in a ritual act of cannibalism.
* The rap artist Big Lurch was convicted of the murder and partial consumption of an acquaintance while both were under the influence of PCP.
* November 14, 2009, three homeless men in Perm, Russia were arrested for killing and eating the parts of a twenty-five year old man. The remaining parts were then sold to a local pie/kebab house.