The dark history of Cannibalism


There are few topics that whenever popped invites disgust and repugnance. One such is eating human flesh, sorry! HUMAN EATING HUMAN FLESH- the ultimate betrayal of humanity. Commonly known as cannibalism, a form of eating human is despised, vile and yes morally profligate. Of all the screen villains, none is more horrific than that of cannibal. Yet, a larger part of the world stands still with the practice of Cannibalism, if not, they are encouraged.

Cannibalism occurs in several species but human performing the act finds prevalence from thousands of years. While ancients believe a miracle cure, eating human flesh has its own adverse health impacts. Thus, it is important to understand how a large sect of the world thrive the practice but most importantly since when?

The Origin of Cannibalism

Humans have been “de-fleshed” by other humans go back 600,000 years. In the 15th century, people of Europe believed that eating human flesh is a best remedy for curing several diseases such as haemorrhage, nausea or bruising. Known as Mumia, this remedy was made by grinding mummified human flesh. But the first widespread acknowledgement was made by Christopher Columbus in 1492, when he sailed the ocean blue and claimed to encounter with Cannibals. Here he met a tribe engaged in Cannibalism called Caniba. They were the group of a tribe in South America also known as Cariba. On his return back to Spain, he mentioned the story to the queen. Whereas, in October, 1503, Queen Isabella issued an order to capture on enslave anyone who ate human flesh especially for “a certain people called Cannibals.” Thus began the official European discourse of cannibalism.

But the trend of witnessing Mumia as a medicinal remedy soon spread across the borders and more and more people were coming forward for trade. So, for production purposes, people usually relied on the dead of the country, however, these dead bodies alone were not enough to meet the huge demand. Mummies were then stolen from Egyptian tombs, and skulls were stolen from Irish burial sites. Gravediggers were requested to rob and sell body parts. Apparently, it was a time when human flesh was thriving business.


Additionally, cannibalism was not restricted for medicinal needs only; in fact a lot of cultures did encourage cannibal practices. One was in Aztec culture, where there was large abundance of domestic animals such as cattle or pigs and so the people regained to the practices of Cannibalism. Another culture was among Korowai where people believe in evil spirits, and it was necessary to kill and eat a person they believe to be taken by a demon. In Chinese culture, children often offered a body parts usually a thigh or upper arm to their parents to consume as an extreme demonstration of filial piety. Similar beliefs were found among other cultures of the world, such as in Aghoris of India.

A cannibalistic funeral ritual is one typical example of mortuary requests. Endocannibalism is such practice where people used to describe the consumption of human body in a mortuary context. In 1967 Cannibalism in the kuru region of New Guinea gained a lot of recognition, where often the deceased family member would wrote to the family to willingly consume their flesh upon death.  

While, the practice of cannibalism sounds wild and vile, there are also recorded incidents where people engaged in the practice due to harsh circumstances. For instance, during famines people would often eat the flesh of the dead in order to survive, even in the modern times. Or the chilling story of the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 in 1972, where many survivors ate frozen bodies of their deceased friends in order to survive the despotic circumstances. Similarly, there are also cases of people performing cannibalism for sexual pleasures such as the case of Jeffrey Dahmer. This condition is listed in medical science as a mental disorder.

Cannibalism in India- The Aghoris

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in India- astonishingly people travel here in a hope to die. It has around 2,000 temples lining its streets – where Hindu pilgrims come from far and wide to bathe in the river’s sacred waters and perform funeral rites on its white sand beaches. In India, there are different religious sect whose beliefs are based around Hinduism, but out of them certain groups has been nearly universally denounced by mainstream Hinduism. They have same basic believe of the religion but what’s makes them differ could be explained only by a single word- cannibalism.

The Aghori monks of Varanasi are feared throughout India for their extreme practices, the monks are said to be able to predict the future and make evil prophecies. The exiled tribe believe in engaging in taboo practices in search of spiritual enlightenment. They feasts on human flesh, drink from skulls and live among the dead. The most important private ritual is called Shav Putra.  In order to complete it, they must find human corpses. Once they are done finding one, they meditate on it; chop the head off and some eat the flesh. They believe that they can’t please God if they don’t do this human sacrifice.  They keep the skull of the corpse as a reminder of the impermanence of life. That’s why they are known as the nomadic ‘cannibal cult’ of India. This is the main reason why locals stay away from them. They seem to do black magic along with future telling.


One of the most important and chilling daily rituals that they do is smothering their face in human ash. In order to stay alleviated all day they mostly consume a lot of marijuana. They call it, holy ash. It’s not easy finding Aghori because of the local shut out of them. In order to become an Aghori, each member of the sect has to spend at least 12 years learning and practicing from his personal guru. 

The Bottom Line

It turns out, that there are lot of myths regarding cannibalism yet not many are well documented in the history. While some claims remains a myth, a lot is carried to the modern times. Mostly, the verdict on cannibalism is unclear as several communities legalised the act- it is indeed morally wrong. But occasionally, a bit of cannibalism is stunningly hard to define.    


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