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Human Cannibalism, When Did It Exist?

Updated on April 24, 2020
powers41 profile image

History of cannibalism and why it was practiced by Indigenous people or survival reasons.

Fiji and the Maaori People

Fiji Island,  New Guinea
Fiji Island, New Guinea

Human Cannibalism

The very thought of cannibalism is frightening to modern man, but years ago, it was the culture, belief, and spiritual beliefs of many indigenous people. On the other hand, it was for simple survival found among the Neanderthals, the Roman Empire, world wars, disastrous events.

It has been well documented in ancient and recent times that cannibalism was practiced around the world. It was practiced in New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and, from the Amazon basin to the Congo and the Maaori people of New Zealand.

Excannibalism is meant to be someone outside the community, and endrocannabalism is considered within the community.

During the 12th century, human remains were used as medicinal remedies. Egyptian tombs and Irish burial sites were raided for bones and fat.

The Fiji Islands, also known as Cannibal Islands, have practiced cannibalism dating back to 2500 years ago. It since has been made illegal in 1844. Captain James Cooks eluded to the practice in his visit there.

Recently, the Fijians made an official apology to the descendants of Rev. Thomas Banks, who, as a missionary, was killed and eaten in 1867. After that incident, their soil was infected, their crops failed, and they began to believe they were cursed. It was then that they started to believe in Christianity.

Fiji Culture

A Fiji Druas
A Fiji Druas
Fiji Warriors
Fiji Warriors
Fiji Temple
Fiji Temple

Tanna Vanuata Island

Cannibal Feast 1885-1889
Cannibal Feast 1885-1889

Tanna Vanuata

First settled in 400 B.C. and visited by Captain James Cook in 1774. The group of islands was well known for cannibalism. The first missionaries were killed and eaten by the indigenous people. The last recorded act was in 1969.

Maaori Island People

In 1809, the Maaori people killed and ate 66 passengers, and the crew onboard the Boyd. In 1772, French explorer Marion du Fresnet and 26 of his crew.

It is believed the Maaori people practiced cannibalism until at least the 1800s: Paul Moon, author of the book, The Horrid Practice. Moon is a Pakeha history professor at Te Arc Poutama, the Maaori Development at Auckland University of Technology. Moon's book was not well received by the Maaori people since it put them in a bad light. The title of Moon's book was taken from a journal entry in 1770 of Captain James Cook.

Sinking of the Meduse

In 1816, the French frigate Meduse sank off the coast of Africa with over 400 passengers and crew on board. Most of the passengers were evacuated while a raft with 151 men was towed behind the ship. A decision was made to cut the tow line because of bad weather and waves leaving the raft with no means of navigating. Many were washed into the seas, others rebelled and were killed by the officers while the injured were thrown into the sea.

Supplies running low when cannibalism became a necessity. After thirteen days at sea, when they were rescued with only fifteen were left alive. This incident made the Meduse one of the most infamous shipwrecks. Two of the survivors, a surgeon, and an officer went on to write books about the ordeal.

It was in 1980 when a French marine archaeologist led by Jean Yves Blot located the wreck of the Meduse. A painting, LeRadeau de la Medias 1818 by Theodore Gericault, has made it even more famous.

Painting La Radeau de la Meduse 1818

Painting LaRadeau de la Meduse 1818
Painting LaRadeau de la Meduse 1818

Episodes of Starvation Cannibalism

Andes Crash 1972
Andes Crash 1972
Donner Party Pioneers
Donner Party Pioneers
Nazino Affair 1933
Nazino Affair 1933

Tragedies and Cannibalism

It is naive of any of us to judge what others had to do to survive in a tragedy and to be put in such a position. These are some of those tragedies and their ordeals of survival.

The airline Uruguayan Air Force Flight crashed while crossing the Andes Mountains in 1972.

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Donner Party in their trip west

And, more horrifying, the Nazino Affair when thousands died after Stalin deported his people to an island, 1800 ft. wide and only two miles long with no shelter and no food.

And, during the starving time of Jamestown, cannibalism was practiced for the survival of the settlers.

Famous Criminal Cannibals

They were; Jeffrey Dahmer, Anthony Morley, Albert Fish, Armin Meines, Stephen Griffiths, Lika Magnotta, Mountain Man Boone Helm and, Issei Sagawa.

Unfortunately, there are criminals who practiced cannibalism and NOT for survival reasons.

Some of these horrendous incidents can never be fully understood or explained. Certainly, they were sick individuals and a threat to society.

Cannibalism Today

Today, cannibalism, perhaps not admitted to but probably still practiced for their culture are the Papua of New Guinea, in the Congo, in Cambodia, in French Polynesia, Liberia and, India. One can only imagine this practice, and thankfully, it is behind the scenes.


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    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      4 weeks ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for your comments, John. Appreciated!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      A very interesting and informative article, Fran. The thought of cannibalism may be shocking to most but it was widely practiced especially in the Pacific islands, and you never know what you will resort to if you have to choose between that and starving to death. Good job.

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      5 weeks ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Yes I do and thanks for reading

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      5 weeks ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for your comments. Since they believe its part of their culture, I don't know how they will ever stop.

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      5 weeks ago

      It is shocking to find out that Fiji and Maaori people and many others practiced cannabilism. What more, it is still being done today behind the scenes. How horrible! Steps should be taken to make these people sober and civilized. Don't you agree, Fran?

    • Kyler J Falk profile image

      Kyler J Falk 

      6 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      Wow, an extremely in-depth article with a lot of useful information here. It is crazy to think people would eat others just as a form of daily practice, like cooking up some bacon and eggs. This reminds of the story line for The White Glove Society in the game "Fallout: New Vegas" where you can choose to expose, or uncover the secret cabal of upscale cannibals on the New Vegas Strip.

      Great article!


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