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Cannibalism

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Would you eat someone?
If absolutely necessary to survive.
50%
 50%  [ 1 ]
If custom permitted
50%
 50%  [ 1 ]
For fun
0%
 0%  [ 0 ]
Total Votes : 2

Frederick The Monk
9707.  Wed Oct 27, 2004 12:52 pm Reply with quote

Does anyone know of any proven instances of a tribe or group preying on other humans for food - i.e. true cannibals? I exclude from this ritual cannibalism (such as that sometimes practiced by the Fore of Papua New Guinea) or cannibalism in extremis (such as George Pollard's eating of some of the crew of the Exeter after an unfortunate incident with a whale).

 
Jenny
9709.  Wed Oct 27, 2004 1:34 pm Reply with quote

What about the recent chap in Germany? Although I think that would come under the 'for fun' category.

 
Ciggywink
9710.  Wed Oct 27, 2004 2:25 pm Reply with quote

Well it's pretty rife in west Africa at the mo - DRC, Uganda, Sierra Leone, etc. but always in warfare, to my knowledge, so however free of ceremony (e.g. a recent film on Liberia at Frontline showed rebel forces stopping a new prisoner mid-march, pushing him over on the road, breaking open a his rib cage, and pulling out his beating heart) it's always driven by ritualistic purpose - taking the strength and sometimes the wisdom of the enemy.

The thing that's always intrigued me about cannibalism, though, is that all ritual (rather than 'in extremis') documented cases of cannibalism have occurred in the tropics, and are particularly found in rainforest-dwelling tribes.

So maybe the deforestation of the planet isn't as bad as they make out, and shortly before the planet implodes or explodes or whatever it does when it's fully globally warmed, we will, for the first time in history, at least have stopped eating each other.

 
Flash
9713.  Wed Oct 27, 2004 5:19 pm Reply with quote

Anticipating this question, I've been garnering stuff - here's a a precis of an article from The Week dated 25th October 2003:

In 1495 Columbus reported finding a recently abandoned feast of human limbs simmering in cauldrons and roasting on spits, the work, he said, of the "Canib" tribe, a misrendering of "Carib" which gave us the word cannibal. Other explorers reported cannibalism in the Amazon basin, Africa, Australia, Fiji, Sumatra, New Guinea, Melanesia and Polynesia. An 18th century traveller wrote of the natives of Seregipe in Brazil "They eat human flesh when they can get it, and if a woman miscarries, devour the abortive immediately".

But the prevalent view of cannibalism seems to shift with time. William Arens' The Man-Eating Myth (1979) argued that these stories were racist lies of a kind which had been propagated since ancient times; the Romans accused the Celts of cannibalism, as the English accused the Irish, and the "Blood Libel" that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their cooking has been held against the Jews for centuries. In 1503, after the Spanish crown decreed that only cannibalistic tribes in America could be enslaved, man-eating tribes were suddenly discovered all over the New World. Arens' thesis - that cannibalism was a fiction invented to justify western colonialism - resulted in a period of cannibal denial among anthropologists.

However, more recent discoveries are said to have proved beyond doubt that cannibalism was once ubiquitous. The last society to admit to ritual cannibalism, the Fore tribe of New Guinea, stopped in the mid-50s after an outbreak of kuru, a brain disease contracted through eating human flesh. In the aftermath, some members of the tribe were found to have developed a genetic resistance to the disease, and the same genetic strain was then found in various populations around the world - implying that cannibalism was once so commonplace that humans evolved a genetic resistance to the diseases associated with it.

There is also archaeological evidence. Human myoglobin has been discovered in the 1,000-year-old faeces of the Anasazi people, ancestors of the Pueblo, and in the same sites were found human bones which had been boiled in a pot until polished smooth and skulls that had been roasted over a fire. Other caches of butchered human remains have been found in France, Spain and Britain. Some of the British remains date from 30BC to 130AD, suggesting that the Romans were right - the Celts did eat people.

And, with that great cartoonists' cliché in mind: in October 2003 the inhabitants of a Fijian village announced that they would be making a formal apology to the family of the Rev Thomas Baker, an English missionary killed and eaten by their ancestors in 1867.

 
Ciggywink
9733.  Thu Oct 28, 2004 3:02 pm Reply with quote

yers, well Flash your list very much reinforces my curiosity - Amazon basin, Africa, Australia, Fiji, Sumatra, New Guinea, Melanesia and Polynesia all sound pretty rainforest-ish to me. As for the Anasazi - well, it was forest when they lived there - they deforested it to build their empire, which subsequently collapsed (archeo-anths believe) when they deforested their way into extinction.

Middens are - well, historic, aren't they? I'm not trying to draw false lines in the sand, but I do think it's difficult to consider them on the same terms as witnessed accounts. It definitely needs to be done eventually, but it seems to be a bit carts and horses to try to understand those (which might have been cases of in extremis, etc) when we don't understand even recent witnessed events.

Re-Kuru it's a PNG dialect word for the rather less exotic-sounding vCJD (variant Creutzveldt-Jacob Disease) which is the legacy of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) or 'mad cow disease'.

Jenny, you're pretty hot on Biblical refs, and I think The Revelation of St John has some comments about the time when herbivores eat other herbivores, and the consequences thereof. I just can't find them right now. All I can say is that those comments seemed scarily prescient when I was doing my original research into the BSE whitewash 15 years ago. Having spent my life in the squeamishness-intolerant world of a farm, I stopped eating mass-produced meat there and then. I have yet to get round to starting again.

 
Jenny
9742.  Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:27 pm Reply with quote

Well I've just had an interesting skim through Revelations - incidentally do you know there is a 'sardine stone' in Chapter 4, v 3? At any rate, there is in the King James version. I rather like that idea. However, I found not a sign of herbivores eating herbivores.

I did learn that when Babylon is fallen, the merchants will mourn because there will be no one to buy their goods, although what with the plagues and the locusts I'm not sure anybody would notice a few people mourning.

It's an amazing piece of writing - like the nightmare of somebody on a bad LSD trip but terribly poetic in places.

 
hardie
9747.  Fri Oct 29, 2004 4:50 am Reply with quote

There's always been a strong rumour that Captain Oates of Antarctic fame was eaten by the rest of the bunch. An early Frozen Meal.

 
Ciggywink
9749.  Fri Oct 29, 2004 5:11 am Reply with quote

Earliest death by frozen meal was, I think, Francis Bacon on 9 April 1626. He stuffed a chicken with snow to ascertain whether low temperature delayed putrefaction, caught bronchitis, and died a week later.

 
Flash
9750.  Fri Oct 29, 2004 5:52 am Reply with quote

I've seen that one too, but always wondered how much sense it makes. How can you catch bronchitis from having cold hands?

 
Ciggywink
9751.  Fri Oct 29, 2004 6:01 am Reply with quote

Maybe i was joining too many dots, but I imagined that more than just his hands had to go out into the snow to collect it.

 
Flash
9753.  Fri Oct 29, 2004 6:04 am Reply with quote

Well OK, but only enough to stuff a chicken. And chickens were probably smaller in those days, too.

 
Flash
15190.  Tue Feb 08, 2005 10:19 am Reply with quote

Cross-ref Jenny's post 15188 on the general board:
"see [url]http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/P/Prions.html [/url]for details of infectious prion diseases, including Kuru (which is the disease to which Frances referred.)"

 
Jenny
15253.  Wed Feb 09, 2005 10:01 pm Reply with quote

Has anybody looked into the Scottish cannibal Sawney Bean? Apparently there was a TV programme on about them a while ago:

http://www.leithhistory.co.uk/2004/11/10/can-they-survive-night-in-sawneys-haunt/

 
eggshaped
15621.  Wed Feb 23, 2005 11:33 am Reply with quote

Flash wrote:

Quote:
in October 2003 the inhabitants of a Fijian village announced that they would be making a formal apology to the family of the Rev Thomas Baker, an English missionary killed and eaten by their ancestors in 1867.


Just in addition to this story, it seems Baker's must be one history's only comb-related deaths:

Quote:
There are differing accounts of how Baker ended up getting cooked but the villager told AP that Baker was seen combing his hair by the village's chief, Nawawabalavu, who had never seen a comb before.

He borrowed the comb but it got stuck in his hair. Baker removed it, not knowing that in Fijian custom to touch a chief's head is absolute taboo and punishable by death.


According to folklore, the cannibals managed to eat Baker until all was left was his leather boots:

Quote:
The cannibals "cooked the boots for a week with bele (a spinach like vegetable) but they were too tough,"


The aforementioned apology did take place, the reason behind it was that the villagers thought they were cursed by Baker's spirit. In fact, it wasn't the first time they had apologised:

Quote:
The last time they said sorry was in 1993, when villagers presented the Methodist Church of Fiji with Baker's overcooked and slightly chewed boots.


This story is all over the place, my main source:

http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/asiapcf/auspac/10/16/fiji.apology.ap/

 
Gray
16101.  Mon Mar 14, 2005 7:13 am Reply with quote

Many animals are cannibalistic, but a couple of interesting ones are:

Some species of shark, whose foetuses eat each other while still in the womb (known as 'embryophagy'), leaving the toughest one to be born. Some foetuses also feed on unfertilized eggs (known as 'oophagy'), although whether this is actual cannibalism is hard to define.

Some species of caddis fly eat each other in the larval form as they need a great deal of protein to manufacture the silk they need to concrete their houses together. Tune in to this thread for more caddis fly-based weirdness.

 

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