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Cannibalism (from Spanish caníbal, in connection with alleged cannibalism among the Caribs), also called anthropophagy (from Greek anthropos “man” and phagein “to eat”) is the act or practice of humans eating other humans. In zoology, the term cannibalism is extended to refer to any species eating members of its own kind.

Care should be taken to distinguish among ritual cannibalism sanctioned by a cultural code, cannibalism by necessity occurring in extreme situations of famine, and cannibalism by mentally disturbed persons.


There is an innate disgust with the term cannibalism, which strikes at the heart of the most base of human activities. This social stigma has been used as an aspect of propaganda against an enemy by accusing them of acts of cannibalism to separate them from their humanity. New research points to the fact that early man practiced cannibalism.Genetic markers commonly found in modern humans all over the world could be evidence that our earliest ancestors were cannibals, according to new research. Scientists suggest that today some people carry a gene that evolved as protection against brain diseases that can be spread by eating human flesh.
The Carib tribe acquired a longstanding reputation as cannibals following the recording of their legends by Fr. Breton in the 17th century. Some controversy exists over the accuracy of these legends and the prevalence of actual cannibalism in the culture.

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

The Korowai tribe of southeastern Papua could be one of the last surviving tribes in the world engaging in cannibalism.Marvin Harris has analysed cannibalism and other food taboos. He argued that it was common when humans lived in small bands, but disappeared in the transition to states, the Aztecs being an exception.

A well known case of mortuary cannibalism is that of the Fore tribe in New Guinea which resulted in the spread of the disease Kuru. It is well documented and not seriously questioned by modern anthropologists, except by those scholars arguing that although post-mortem dismemberment was the practice during funeral rites, cannibalism was not. Marvin Harris theorizes that it happened during a famine period coincident with the arrival of Europeans and was rationalized as a religious rite.

In pre-modern medicine, an explanation for cannibalism stated that it came about within a black acrimonious humour, which, being lodged in the linings of the ventricle, produced the voracity for human flesh.


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