Category : Articles
28 April 2011
The concept of Cannibalism
???Food or no food, I was going to get out of there??¦I had to think about which miner was going to collapse first and then I started thinking about how I was going to eat him??¦I wasn??™t embarrassed, I wasn??™t scared???, Mario Sepulveda, one of the survivors of the collapsed Chilean mine which caved-in on August 5, 2010. The 33 miners whom were rescued last year after 69 days inside a Chilean mine at times pondered suicide and cannibalism (Usborn 1). This demonstrates cannibalism for survival or necessity. Merriam-Webster defines cannibalism as: 1) The usual ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being; 2) the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind and 3) an act of cannibalizing something (Merriam-Webster 1). It is also called anthropophagi, the eating of human flesh by humans. Many books and research reports offer examples of cannibalism, but few scholars have questioned whether cannibalism was ever practiced anywhere, except in cases of ensuring survival in times of famine or isolation.
There are three basics types of cannibalism: survival cannibalism, dietary cannibalism, and religious and ritual cannibalism (Ngo 102). This is a side of human nature many would prefer to keep hidden. The complex elements of secrecy, denial, and even pride have historically accompanied the act of eating of human flesh (Cannibalism Secrets Revealed). The reality is that even the most civilized of human beings have resorted to cannibalism for one reason or another. In most cases, cannibalistic activity is the result of dire, life-or-death situation and the ultimate last resort in a bid of survival. For many people, the word ???cannibalism??? usually evokes the image of a group of uncivilized beings sitting around, roasting their enemies over a fire. Cannibalism is an ancient taboo that continues to intrigue, inspire research and produce new evidence. When reading about these types of cannibalism, it will give a whole new meaning about this practice that has been happening for hundreds of years.
Survival cannibalism takes place when someone who has no means of actual food consumption must choose eating another individual (should there be anybody around) and help prevent them from starving to death. The distinctive trait unique to survival cannibalism is that the person being eaten is usually dead before the decision to eat them is made. The story involving the Andes plane crash is an example of cannibalism for survival. The 32 survivors of the Andes plane crash that occurred on October 12, 1972, were only left with some alcohol, candy and a few miscellaneous items such as crackers and jam. The idea of eating flesh for the remaining survivors was repugnant, but as they grew weaker and weaker they came to the realization that this would be the only way for them to survive (Donner Party 4).
Dietary cannibalism occurs when humans are captured or otherwise obtained with the intent to be eaten. Unlike survival cannibalism, in which human flesh is eaten as a last resort after a person had died, in dietary cannibalism humans are purchased or trapped for food and then eaten as a part of a culture??™s tradition. This form of cannibalism is believed to be rarer and is usually considered to be a sub-motivation of other forms of cannibalism, such as survival cannibalism.
The third type of cannibalism is religious or ritual cannibalism. Religious or ritual cannibalism occurs when the victim is sacrificed then eaten in a ceremonial fashion. This can occur with one victim or many victims at one time. This type of cannibalism is different from survival or dietary cannibalism in that it has a ceremonial purpose rather than one of nourishment. Cannibalism is a well known and widespread custom going back into early human history and has been found among peoples from peoples on most continents. In some regions, human flesh was looked upon as a form of food. For others, the consumption of certain portions or organs of the body was ritual for which powers of witchcraft might be employed (???Cannibalism??? Encyclopedia Britannica 1).
One of the most well known examples of a serial killer to perform ritual cannibalism is Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer believed that by eating his victims, they would be with him forever. He claimed to be extremely lonely and had been all his life and he did not know how to get close to people. This case labels cannibalism as a mental disorder. His crimes were particularly gruesome because they involved cannibalism and necrophilia (Jeffrey Dahmer 1). Another reference to ritual cannibalism is within the Korowai tribe in Indonesia New Guinea. The Korowai believe that there are male witches called khakhua and when asked whether they eat people or if there is any other reason to eat humans other than those that have been killed in battle, they reply, ???We don??™t eat humans, we only eat khakhua.??? Many khakhua are reportedly murdered and eaten each year, although it has declined within past years (Raffaele 3). The Korowai could be one of the last surviving tribes in the world engaging in cannibalism.
Within religious or ritual cannibalism, there are two more specific forms: endocannbalism and exocannibalism. In some cases, the body of a dead person was ritually eaten by his relatives; this form is called endocannibalism. Some have performed such practices as acts of respect. In other cases, ritual cannibalism occurred as a part of the drama of secret societies. This form of cannibalism referred to on occasion as ???compassionate cannibalism.??? Exocannibalism is defined as a culture, group or tribe??™s consumption of another culture, group or tribe. This form has been associated with tribal power, murder and aggression and has been used in an effort to scare of possible invading enemies, to get rid of captured enemies of war and slaves. It was widely believed that consuming one??™s enemy would allow them to obtain and absorb the spirit and skills of the victim (Bell 2). Ritualistic cannibalism is frowned upon by most cultures, but for some it plays an integral part of those cultures that do practice it (Bell 3).
The existence of cannibalism has been a widely disputed topic. However, the evidence supporting its existence is abundant and is represented in every medium imaginable, including stories, symbols, legends, writings and firsthand accounts. Cannibalism is a practice that reaches across centuries and cultures. In many cultures, it is considered atrocious and sacrilegious, whereas in another culture it is a sacred and revered custom. Cannibalism is an undeniable occurrence rooted in antiquity and branching forth to the present-day. Even in the most extreme cases, the act of cannibalism is treated with scorn and disgust by many cultures and is sometimes punishable by social ostracization, institutionalized in a mental facility, arrest, incarceration or even death. Cannibalism is most commonly believed to be the epitome of savage behavior. Although disease and religion have greatly diminished the practice, it continues to be practiced worldwide (Bell 3).