Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism and the Strange Case of Nathaniel Bar-Jonah

Ritualistic Cannibalism

Another variety of cannibalism is ritual cannibalism, in which members of a particular family or of an entire community are eaten during funeral rites in the belief that the memories of the recently deceased are being honored. Many cannibals in this category also believe that if they eat their dead relatives and community members they will inherit the qualities of the deceased. Interestingly and conversely, tribes in New Guinea and other locations have been shown to believe that the slaying of an enemy, the subsequent eating and excretion of the waste product symbolically represents total contempt and conquest of their adversaries.

Madura Island,
Madura Island, "Island of Charm," Java Sea

The latter appeared to be the case for a considerable number of Muslims who had settled on Madura Island, known as the "Island of Charm," in the Java Sea. There, witnesses reported fighting between the Muslim settlers and the local tribesmen, the Dayaks, over land rights and jobs. As a result, many Muslims have lost their lives when Dayak headhunters, now mostly ostensibly Christian converts, cut off their heads, drank their blood and ate their hearts. Similarly, riots in years past among certain Indonesian ethnic factions in the remote province of West Kalimantan on Borneo Island left thousands dead, many with their heads chopped off and their hearts cut out of the bodies and eaten. Again, what more effective way to show contempt for one's enemy than killing him, eating his body parts and excreting the digested remains afterward?