Cannibalism is the ultimate human taboo. No one wants to talk about it, but it very much exists in human history. The thought of eating another person would, at the very least, make most people sick to their stomach. And for good reason. Cannibalism is a twisted, disgusting, and vile practice. However, as we’ll soon discover, plenty exceptions exist to that rule, and some people have been pushed to violent ends in order to survive. Think you can stomach hearing about it? Here are 25 Disturbing Facts About Cannibalism.
Humans and their ancestors regularly practiced cannibalism.
It might not be an easy thing to stomach, but humans and their ancestors regularly practiced cannibalism thousands of years ago. Homo antecessor, for instance, would eat people even when there was wildlife available. They held cannibal feasts with rivals on the menu. When Humans and Neanderthals walked the Earth together, they supplemented their diets by eating each other.
Humans aren't very nutritious.
Though our early ancestors did feed on each other, they weren’t doing themselves any nutritious favors. A dead mammoth could feed a village of Neanderthals for a month, while a human would barely be an adequate lunch. Humans couldn’t match the calories of plenty of other food sources.
Endocannibalism is just one of many forms of cannibalism.
“Endocannibalism” is just one of many forms of cannibalism. It’s the ritual of eating a family member after they have died. In Papua New Guinea, the Fore tribe passed down this ritual for generations. The ritual was very specific and involved eating certain body parts of certain family members. For example, a sister had to eat her brother’s brain or the hands of her brother-in-law.
Cannibalism is common in the animal kingdom.
While cannibalism is a big human taboo, it’s surprisingly common in the animal kingdom. Black widow spiders will frequently eat the male spider after mating. Mothers have been known to eat their own young. Even some young end up eating their mothers.
Chimpanzees are known to be cannibals.
Chimpanzees are the closest animal relative to humans, and in rare cases, they’ve been known to kill and eat each other. In one case, a group of thirty chimpanzees rebelled, killed, and cannibalized their leader. Researchers believe the dispute could have been over sex.
Eating human foreigners is known as Exocannibalism.
While Endocannibalism is the ritual of eating a family member, in contrast, Exocannibalism is killing and eating a foreigner. Exocannibalism isn’t ritualistic; usually, it just involves terrifying another group, stealing another’s life force, or just to eat. The Mianmin in Papua New Guinea were known for their practice of exocannibalism during their village raids.
Japanese cannibals almost ate George Bush Sr.
Another prime example of Exocannibalism is when George Bush Sr. narrowly escaped being killed and eaten by Japanese cannibals. During World War II, he was shot down during a bombing raid over Chichi Jima. Unlike his fellow airmen, he escaped his plane further from the island and scrambled on a liferaft. The others were murdered and eaten during a feast put on by Major Sueo Matoba.
Human tastes like pork.
The only way to really know what human flesh tastes like is to ask the cannibals. That’s exactly what some researchers did. While their results were varied, with some saying it tastes like beef, pork, or veal, the overall consensus seemed to tip toward pork. Which makes sense since the Pacific Island name for human flesh is “Long Pig.”
19th century Methodist missionaries were killed and cooked.
In 1878, four Methodist missionaries were preaching the gospel in Papua New Guinea under the leadership of Reverend George Brown. At the time, the local tribe leader, Taleli, gave the order to kill and eat the missionaries because they were foreigners. In 2007, the tribe apologized for their ancestor’s actions.
The taste of human flesh can also be attributed to a number of factors.
While we know humans most likely taste like pork, there are a number of other factors to consider. For instance, gender, age, the part of the body eaten, and the method of cooking could all change the way humans taste.
People usually won't eat other people unless they need to survive.
In modern times, humans don’t eat other humans and would get pretty squeamish even thinking about it. However, there’s one exception, and it’s called “Survival Cannibalism.” This type of cannibalism isn’t taught, and believe it or not, it’s innate in us. When humans become hungry enough, a survival instinct kicks in, allowing us to push past our moral boundaries and do what it takes to survive. Usually, it only kicks in as a last resort when all other options have been totally exhausted.
The 1972 Andes Plane Crash resulted in survival cannibalism.
In 1972, Uruguayan Flight 571 crashed in the frigid Andes mountains. After being trapped for weeks, the survivors had to make an unthinkable choice: eat their friends who had died or die themselves. They chose to eat their friends. After 72 days, the remaining survivors were rescued.
In early European culture, medicinal cannibalism was quite popular.
Early European culture claimed consuming mummified bodies or parts of the deceased could cure various ailments. Much of these beliefs spread into the Medieval era all the way up to the 18th century. The belief ushered in an economic boom of sorts with grave robbers stealing mummies from Egypt in the 11th century.
Cannibalism is addictive.
Karen Hylen, a therapist at Summit Malibu Treatment Center, states that cannibalism activates the pleasure center of the brain and large amounts of dopamine are released. She compared it to what happens when someone ingests cocaine. Once that happens, the person will want to keep pursuing the act, creating a cycle.
The Donner Party was a tragic case of cannibalism.
In 1846, a group of 90 emigrants left Springfield, Illinois, traveling west to California. When the leaders Jacob and George Donner decided to lead their group through a new route to California, they ended up getting trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The results were disastrous, causing the group to resort to survival cannibalism to make it through the winter. Only half the group reached California by the end. When their story spread, the “Donner Party” became interlinked with cannibalism.
Cannibalism led to a disease called "Kuru."
When the Fore people in Papua New Guinea ate their deceased, they developed a strange new disease later called “Kuru” or “Prions Disease.” Its symptoms were paralysis, uncontrollable laughter, and the inability to control bodily functions. Some have called it “Laughing Death.” Researchers discovered this happened by a twisted protein that would slowly create holes in a person’s brain; you only got this protein if you ate the deceased.
During a famine, Colonial Jamestown resorted to cannibalism.
Life in early colonial America was harsh and brutal, and no one experienced that more than Colonial Jamestown in 1609 during “The Starving Time.” Early accounts mentioned cannibalism during this time but were disputed. Now, researchers found new evidence of a 14-year old skull that was killed and cannibalized.
Most people participate in mild forms of cannibalism.
To some degree, most humans participate in mild forms of “autocannibalism” or the process of eating one’s own body. This can include eating scabs, dried skin, or fingernails and is generally benign behavior.
Some people have taken Autocannibalism way too far.
Autocannibalism can also become a twisted practice leading to severe self-bodily harm. In on particular case, a man who developed a fingernail-biting habit started to bite off his own fingers. It resulted in him losing the tips of all his fingers. The doctors associated it with severe diabetic neuropathy and social isolation.
Autocannibalism can be genetically inherited.
Making matters worse, autocannibalism can be genetically inherited. It’s called “Lesch-Nyhan syndrome” and happens due to a single faulty gene on the X chromosome. People with the syndrome have been known to chew off their tongues and other parts of their body. Doctors aren’t certain why patients do this, but some of theorized it could be a loss of motor control. If a patient thinks about biting themselves, they’ll do it even if they don’t want to.
17th Century Europeans thought blood of the deceased would cure them.
Believing it would treat epilepsy, 17th century Europeans would frequently line up at executions with cups in hand to collect the blood of the deceased. The more violent the death, the more value they thought the blood had.
Joseph Stalin's man-made famine caused Ukrainians to resort to cannibalism.
When Joseph Stalin seized land and reorganized the agriculture in Russia, Ukrainians suffered most because they refused to give it up. In turn, Stalin starved them into submission, creating a man-made famine. Millions died and many resorted to cannibalism to survive.
A growing popular trend of cannibalism is Placentophagy.
Due to various celebrities promoting the practice, placentophagy, or the practice of a mother eating their own placenta, has become more popular in modern times. While advocates claim it has various health benefits, doctors have come out claiming there’s no merit to the claims. They’ve even taken it a step further, saying it can be dangerous for the mother and her child if the placenta is infected or contaminated. The infection can pass through the breast milk and infect their child.
People with mental disorders like schizophrenia have been known to be cannibals.
Mental disorders such as schizophrenia or psychopathy which reduce a person’s sense of empathy and morality have also been linked to cannibalism. In one specific case, a paranoid schizophrenic nicknamed “The People Eater” went into great detail of how he kills and prepares his victims before eating them. Rather than be repulsed, he readily accepted his identity and embraced it.
Cannibal Armin Meiwes put out an ad for someone to become his next meal.
Armin Meiwes was a 42-year-old computer engineer from Germany and also a cannibal. He led a double life on the internet where he found chatrooms about cannibalism with people claiming to want to be eaten. He met many of them in hotel rooms, but no one actually went through with it. However, Meiwes’s victim and lover Bernd Brandes replied to one of his ads and Meiwes eventually killed and ate him. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
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