Historians have claimed that cannibalism
has been in existence since the last five hundred thousand years.
Until recently, the practice was in existence in parts of West and
Central Africa, Fiji, New Guinea, Australia, Sumatra, among the
Maoris of New Zealand, and among various tribes from North and South
It has been found that cannibalism was
connected with religious or traditional beliefs. Interestingly, most
cannibals ate only parts of the body of their fellow human beings.
For instance, one tribe that believed that eating the hearts of the
dead would give them courage and wisdom (since they associated the
heart with these qualities). They, therefore, ate the hearts of the
dead in the hope of acquiring these qualities. In some parts of what
is now France, cannibalism was practiced because it was believed
that it was a cure for certain diseases.
Some tribes believed that eating up parts
of their dead friends and relatives was a sign of respect. The
practice was called endocannibalism. A few Aboriginal tribes from
Australia followed this practice. They believed that it strengthened
their ties with the dead people. For some tribes in Sumatra,
cannibalism was a marketing industry.
Cannibalism has also been associated with
witchcraft and sorcery. Some tribes in Africa indulged in
cannibalism in the hope of acquiring these powers. Ritual murder and
cannibalism in Africa were often related to sorcery. The tribe
members, especially the tribal chiefs, ate bits of the bodies or
heads of deceased enemies as a means of absorbing their vitality and
reducing their powers of revenge. The Maoris of New Zealand ate
their dead enemies as an ultimate insult to their foes. For the
Aztecs, it was more a ritual of religious sacrifice, a prayer for
war captives and war victims.
Another interesting point to be noted is
that, although different peoples practiced it for different
purposes, each cannibal tribe viewed with horror another’s act and
Today, cannibalism is more or less out of
practice, except in isolated parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific
Islands. There have been instances of man eating dead human for
survival, as happened when a plane crash in the Andes Mountains
forced the survivors to eat the flesh of the dead co-passengers.