Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism: The Ancient Taboo in Modern Times

Historical Perspective

Except from Herbert Wards A Voice From the Congo as found in Gary Hoggs book, Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice:

  Do you people eat human bodies? I said one day, upon entering a native village, and pointed to a quantity of meat, spitted upon long skewers, being smoke-dried over numerous smouldering fires. Io; yo te? was the instant reply - Yes; don't you? And a few minutes later the chieftain of the village came forward with an offering, which consisted of large and generous portions of flesh, only too obviously of human origin. He seemed genuinely disappointed when I refused.

Historically shrouded in mystery, myth, symbolism, fear and speculation, cannibalism remains in most cultures one of the ultimate taboos. According to William Arens book The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology & Anthropophagy, the first known account of cannibalism came following an expedition to the West Indies, led by Christopher Columbus. Columbus and his crew supposedly discovered that the Carib West Indies tribe participated in a particularly gruesome practice of ritualistically eating the flesh of other humans.

The Man-Eating Myth
The Man-Eating Myth
 
The explorers mispronounced the name of the tribe and referred to them as Canibs, which was overtime changed to canibales, meaning thirsty and cruel in Spanish. The English translation of the Spanish word became cannibalism, which is the most widely used term to express humans consumption of other human beings. The Latin form of the word cannibalism is anthropophagy and is a term used mostly in anthropology and archeology.

The existence of cannibalism has been a widely disputed topic in academia. However, the evidence supporting its existence is abundant and is represented in every medium imaginable, including stories, symbols, legends, writings, archeological evidence and first hand 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.

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