Cannibalism in the world: history, curiosities and existing cannibal tribes

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Martí Micolau

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For many of us the word "cannibal"inspires fear and fear: it seems to us that of the cannibalism a phenomenon beyond all logic, terrifying, macabre. Despite the prohibitions and the intervention of international bodies, cases of mass cannibalism still occur in the world today, with entire tribes of cannibals who practice their belief and persist in their superstitions with the same serenity with which we eat a kebab or a flatbread at the end of an evening with friends.


  1. What is the meaning of cannibalism?
  2. Do Cannibal Tribes Still Exist?
  3. Historical information on cannibalism
  4. Curiosities about cannibalism
  5. User questions and comments

What is the meaning of cannibalism?

Cannibalism is the practice of eat the meat of others like it: this ritual belongs to human tribes but also for example to animal species, which feed on members of the same species for reasons due to overpopulation or food scarcity. As for men, cannibalism is strictly related to reasons of cultural custom or, in increasingly rare cases, to extreme reasons of famine. Cases of cannibalism often occur due to mental and psychological disorders. The meat that is eaten can come from anywhere in the body.

Do Cannibal Tribes Still Exist?

In industrialized and well-being contexts it may seem very strange, but mass cannibalism is still practiced around the world today. For example, it occurs in some tribes or sects, inclined to eat the likes of their own group, or the members of rival clans. Let's see some recent cases of cannibalism, or even still ongoing:

1 - Korowai, New Guinea

The members of this clan they consider human flesh as we consider pork: starting from the idea that the male person was killed by the "khakhua", a witch man coming from the underworld, they cut the limbs and the various pieces of the individual to be able to eat this mysterious entity that caused his death.
Their favorite part is the brain, but they eat everything except teeth, bones, hair, nails and penis. Children under the age of 13 are not allowed to eat their own kind.

2 - Aghori, India

The Aghoris are exiled monks much feared throughout India: they organize rituals based on human flesh and they stay near places of creation, seeking spiritual enlightenment. In addition to feeding on the flesh of their own kind, the Aghoris they drink from human skulls and chew the heads of live animals.
There are the most extreme sect of the Sâdhus, and the main nucleus of their settlements is Varanasi, a sacred city for Hindus. Here lived and died their guru Baba Kinaram, who apparently lived for 170 years. They endorse the most extreme practices because according to them the whole world is an illusion, an emanation of Shiva and therefore perfect. Denying any behavior is tantamount to offending Shiva.
The main purpose of the cannibal practices of the Aghori is to absorb the "Shakti" of the deceased, or rather his life energy and his "powers".
Mainly, they feed on corpses along the Ganges, believing in this way to ward off old age, as did their guru Baba Kinaram. To do this, they resort to a mix of marijuana, alcohol and meditation.

3 - Mai-Mai Militia, Congo

During the Second Congo War (1998-2003), the Mai-Mai militiamen were condemned by the United Nations for having eaten the community members they themselves massacred and for forcing the families of the victims to do the same.

4 - Yoruba, Nigeria

In some areas of Nigeria, including the one where the Yoruba tribe lives, cannibalism is still practiced, closely linked to trade in human flesh. The reasons are linked to the persistence of ancient superstitions, but also to medical beliefs. There are open markets where you can buy fresh human meat products as well as certain parts of the body.

Historical information on cannibalism

  • Birth of the term: It seems to have been born thanks to the navigator Christopher Columbus, who used to refer to the inhabitants of the New World, and to their wild habits (including anthropophagy), with the term "Caribe". This was then transformed over the years into "Canibe" and finally into "Cannibals".
  • Prehistory: some archaeological remains testify to occasional cannibalism practices by Neanderthal Man and Homo Erectus, who occasionally extracted bone marrow from corpses to eat it.
  • Medical cannibalism: in the 1889th century a drug known as "mumia", obtained from mummified human bodies, was particularly widespread and required in Europe, which was used in the form of ointment and sometimes taken orally. This practice was studied in the twentieth century and even included in the Merck Index, an important pharmacological encyclopedia published between 2012 and . But the assumption of mumia is not the only case of medical cannibalism, over the millennia they were used as curative remedies. also human blood (remedy for epilepsy), liver, heart and even a particular oil distilled from the brain.
  • Aztec religious rites: according to some historical theories, the Aztecs were forced out of necessity to eat men during periods of severe famine. Subsequently this practice was legitimized by religious reasons (with cults that included sacrifices and banquets based on human flesh).
  • Chinese noble banquets: according to some historical testimonies, in the past the human flesh was considered very precious by the Chinese nobility, therefore the "specialties based on man" were the main dish of rich banquets.
  • The custom of the sea: the story tells of some shipwrecks during which acts of cannibalism were carried out. In 1816 the frigate La Medusa was wrecked and 139 sailors were stranded on a raft for 13 days, only 15 people managed to survive practicing anthropophagy. A similar fate befell the crew of the shipwrecked Essex whaler in 1820.
  • Great famines: In the 20s in Russia and the 30s in the Soviet Union (Ukraine), famine forced the population into terrible acts of cannibalism. The children were kidnapped, killed, skinned and dissected, finally sold at a high price on the black market as "beef and pork". The perpetrators of these crimes were people reduced to desperation by hunger. These historical facts were then diverted and fictionalized during the Cold War, generating the rumor of "Communists eating children", often used to intimidate naughty and unruly children.

Curiosities about cannibalism

  • Cannibal killers: over the years there have been terrible cases of cannibalism due to acts of crime or psychopathologies; some of the most famous cannibals in history are Vincenzo Verzeni, Enriqueta Martí (known as the Witch of Carcelona), George Karl Grossmann, Karl Denke, Fritz Haarmann, Albert Fish, Anna Zimmerman, Jeffrey Dahmer (known as the Monster of Milwaukee), Andrej Romanovič Čikatilo (known as the Butcher of Rostov), ​​Armin Meiwes, rapper Antron "Big Lurch" Singleton, Cinghiz Bubeiev, Maksim Glavatskich and Jurij Možnov.
  • The disaster of the Andes: in 1972, following a terrible plane crash, an entire Uruguayan rugby team was stranded in the Andes. 72 days later only 16 survivors were recovered, surviving by eating the corpses of their comrades. The film Alive is inspired by this terrible story, with the well-known actor Ethan Hawke.
  • Cannibalism live on TV:
    In 2017, reporter Reza Aslan of the CNN show "Believer" ate a piece of cooked brain and drank alcohol from a human skull while filming a documentary on the Hindu sect Aghori.

    In 2011 there was an even more striking case. In the last episode of the Dutch program "Proefkonijnen" (in Italian "Cavie"), two contestants ate on live TV two small portions of their meat previously surgically removed and then sautéed in sunflower oil by a professional chef.

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