Cannibalism Essay

1201 words - 5 pages


"Cannibalism, or institutionalized anthropophagi, has been part of human culture from the earliest times. Human teeth marks in ancient human bones offer clues cannibalism was commonplace. When Christopher Columbus explored the Americas, the term cannibal was coined after the Caniba, “a ferocious group of man-eaters who lived in the Caribbean islands” (Salisbury, 2001, Brief history . . .). The idea of cannibalism in the New World evoked paranoia in Europe. Any such practice was considered demonic and sacrilegious. Cannibalism was a topic of ancient horror stories. In Greek mythology, “after Thyestes unwittingly ate the flesh of his own children, the Sun was so appalled that he turned back on his course and plunged the world into darkness” (Hodgkinson, 2001). Cannibalism has been detested throughout Western history and was declared a sin by Pope Innocent IV in the sixteenth century. Spain’s Queen Isabella “decreed that Spanish colonists could only legally enslave natives who were cannibals, giving the colonists an economic interest in making such allegations” (Salisbury). Many natives were falsely accused of cannibalism and were made inferior as a result. Although they criminalized and enslaved West Indians for cannibalism, Europeans imported mummified body parts from Egypt and consumed medicine made from them to cure various diseases. Such treatment was commonly prescribed by seventeenth century doctors (Salisbury). Cannibalism is a significant part of Western history and it has sparked much controversy.

In some present cultures, cannibalism remains a way of life. The Kim Yal people in Indonesia and the Wari’ people of the Amazon both have practiced cannibalism as part of their heritage. The Kim Yal used cannibalism as a tool of defense. In 1974, after “a preacher from another tribe and a dozen of his helpers” visited their village and abused local women, “all 13 were eaten” (Evans, 2001). The devouring of enemies and strangers is exocannibalism. Historically, exocannibalism is a bold statement of power. Such a statement is evident in the Iliad when “Achilles shows his extremeness by declaring over the defeated Hector that he wishes his anger would drive him to eat Hector’s body raw” (Hodgkinson, 2001). Julian Evans, a writer for New Statesman, used his personal experience in Indonesia’s Baliem Valley to support his argument that cannibalism is not wrong. Until recently, the Wari’ used both exocannibalism and endocannibalism—the eating of close ones. Beth Ann Conklin, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University who visited the Wari’ tribe, explains the distinct meaning of each form:

Eating enemies was an intentional _expression of anger and disdain for the enemy. But at funerals, when

they consumed members of their own group who died naturally, it was done out of affection and respect

for the dead person and as a way to help survivors cope with their...

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