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Anthropophagy (Cannibalism): The Types, Causes and Effects

Updated on May 13, 2017

Anthropophagy refers to the act of eating a human's flesh by a human being or animal. It carries the same meaning with cannibalism which is the act a human being has developed of eating the flesh of his/her fellow human being including internal organs. A person who engages in the act of eating human’s flesh is referred to as a cannibal.

Cannibalism isn’t a new phenomenon or something that began in the early 19th century. It has spanned for decades as a custom and fear-induced terror method. Recently, the causes of a person practicing cannibalism have shifted from the original meaning as will be noted later in this article.

Cannibalism is not only limited to human beings but has also been extended to zoology. Whether for food or sexual satisfaction, this is whereby an individual animal of a particular species eats an animal of the same species it belongs to either in whole or in parts.

Formal Cannibalism
Formal Cannibalism | Source

Unlike in animals, sexual cannibalism in humans is rare. This occurs when a human engages in this act for sexual purpose which is to elicit sexual fulfillment. People who engage in sexual cannibalism are referred as socialpaths.

A socialpath is a person whose behavior goes against the social norms, thus his/her behavior can be termed as antisocial. According to psychologists these people suffer from a disorder known as Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). It is mainly characterized by lack of sympathy for others and their conduct can be termed as abnormal meaning their actions have been carried to extreme. In most cases it is hard for socialpaths to control their behaviors and they always resort to threats and aggressions when faced with a situation that is repulsive, meaning it is against them.

What do you think, is cannibalism acceptable in some circumstances e.g. during drought and/or famine?

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In the animal kingdom, sexual cannibalism is common especially in the insect kingdom. The famous sexual cannibals are female praying mantis and black widow. Among the studies carried out, it is the females who carry out this act after mating with a potential male. They will bite off the head of a male after mating. Scientific studies suggest there are reasons why female insects behave in this manner. In the case of female mantis, IB Times notes, “Female praying mantis eats their male partner after sexual intercourse as it may increase their fertility and ensure the potential survival of the species…” It is further noted, “They (scientists) believe that more eggs were laid by females who engage in acts of ‘sexual cannibalism.’”

Is there the possibility people who practice cannibalism are suffering from mental instability? It is not the case as a large group of them are mentally stable with a few mentally ill. This is the reason why consumption of human’s flesh by a fellow human is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder (DSM). It can be deduced the reason is because the majority of cannibals, whether they do this practice for sexual arousal or otherwise, know what they’re doing. They are mentally stable.

Types of Anthropophagy

There are two major types of cannibalism:

a) Endocannibalism

This is a situation whereby an individual consumes the flesh of another individual from the same group or community.

b) Exocannibalism

In this case an individual eats the flesh of another person from a different group or outside the community.

As stated by Psychology Today, “Some acts of endocannibalism are actually acts of necro-cannibalism (i.e. the eating of flesh from dead humans also known as necrophagy) where dead people’s parts are eaten as either part of the grieving process, as a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of the living, and/or as a way of imbibing the dead person’s ‘life force’ or more specific individual characteristics.”

In the case of exocannibalism, the act of eating was a i) way of celebrating victory after defeating the enemy and ii) to induce fear.

Women’s fleshes were never consumed as it was believed in the communities practicing cannibalism that it would lead to emasculation.

Both the two major types of cannibalism share a similarity. The cannibals believed when they consume the flesh of others, they would possess the characteristics of that person such as endearing acts or courage and intelligence. This is according to communities who practice cannibalism and not an individual cannibal.

National Geographic documentary Cannibal Tribes´ Scariest Secrets Pacific Tribes

The other four minor types of cannibalism are:

c) Survival Cannibalism

In this type of cannibalism, people resorted to this act as a result of the extreme condition they were in. In times of extreme hunger such as during drought or famine whereby there was starvation of food, people resorted to eating the flesh of others who were dead including their family members and friends.

d) Sexual Cannibalism

As noted above this is when an individual engages in this act in order to arouse his/her sexual desire or feelings. Theirs is only for sexual satisfaction, not necessary the taste of the meat or as a mechanism for survival.

e) Aggressive Cannibalism

In this type of cannibalism, a person involves himself in this act in order to show his superiority or that he is more powerful than his victim whom he feels is under his control. Many cases of modern individual cannibalism results from the cannibals wanting to feel they rule. When they’re threatened they resort to cannibalism in order to show they cannot be threatened. As an antisocial behavior they resort to cannibalism so that they don’t feel threatened.

f) Nutritional Cannibalism

A person resorts to this type of cannibalism in order to have a taste of a human being. The human’s flesh becomes part of a meal whereby spices are used to make it more tasteful. Either it is they enjoy the taste of the human flesh or think there nutritional values derived.

There is a lesser known type of cannibalism which was prevalent in the early centuries but now has found its way in the modern world.

g) Auto-Cannibalism

Also known as self-cannibalism or autosarcophagy, this involves eating of one’s flesh. Eating one’s flesh can be voluntary or involuntary. An example is when a person bites his fingers consciously or sub-consciously. Nevertheless, there are situations whereby auto-cannibalism goes overboard. This is when a person does this act for body modification. Then, there is auto-vampirism whereby a person drinks his own blood. There is no doubt at one time or another each one of us has been involved in auto-cannibalism. As such, we have been cannibals at one-time in our lives.

What about when a person sucks his own blood in order to stop bleeding, for example, when the person has accidentally cut her finger while peeling an onion? Is it auto-cannibalism? Does one do it for pleasure or is there a feeling one gets from sucking the blood?

Some state it is auto-cannibalism while others are opposed to it stating it’s not the case. In order for a person to be involved in whatever form of cannibalism, there must be intent. Fingernail biting might result from the habit a person has developed of biting the nails which is a form of pica. Most of auto-cannibalism is done unwillingly, with no intent of satisfaction derived from either eating a part of flesh that has stuck out, or sucking blood to stop bleeding.


Eating Human Flesh is Addictive

Not only does a cannibal delight in consuming human’s flesh but also delights in hunting humans for meat because it’s addictive. When a person tastes a human’s flesh, “the centre pleasure of the brain becomes activated and large amounts of dopamine are released – similar to what happens when someone ingests a drug like cocaine,” states Huffingpost. The person will seek more human’s flesh in order to regain the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure.”

The Taste of Human’s Flesh

How does a human’s flesh taste like? As we have seen that eating human’s flesh is addictive, it goes without reasoning it does taste good, somehow, for those who enjoy eating human's flesh. Some cannibals who were arrested especially in the western and European countries stated it tasted like beef and/or veal. It is odorless and is so sweet, sweeter than pork.

Interview with a Cannibal

Effects of Cannibalism

Are there effects of cannibalism? None so far among the single cannibals arrested who have carried this act for a long time. Even in recorded history no effects of consuming human flesh has been noted apart in one situation in New Guinea, West Africa.

People from this country especially the women and children suffered from a disease known as Kuru. Over 2,500 people especially women and children succumbed to death from 1950s to 1970s. Melissa in her article, ‘Is Cannibalism Unhealthy Or Just Awful’ says, “Depending on what parts are eaten (the most infected include the brain, spinal cord, bone marrow and small intestine), human cannibals run the risk of contracting a fatal prion malady, similar to Creutzfeld-Jacob disease…known as Kuru.” She says not all prions are bad “but some develop an abnormality in their shapes. As these abnormal prions from the infected deceased worked their way into their new victim’s brains, they caused great destruction due to their ability to make other proteins conform to their same, abnormal shape. These conformed proteins aggregate in sponge-like clumps that prevent brain cells from functioning properly.”

In regards to this disease which is a neurodegenerative disease, IBT Media Inc. remarks, “People who eat people with a type of prion disease, a category of illness that also includes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and Mad Cow Disease in animals, tend to have brains that look like sponges and neurological damage that takes away control over the body.” Once infected by this disease a person has trouble walking and “and from there it was a rapid descent into losing control over their limbs and emotions…” This prion disease is “usually rapidly progressive and always fatal.”


Causes of Cannibalism

Why do cannibals eat human’s flesh? In the olden days and some communities in the world that still practice it, the reasons are well-known: survival-tactic, to induce fear among a different group or community, cultural practice e.g by eating the flesh of a dead person you are freeing his/her spirit. In the modern world whereby this act takes place among isolated individuals, the reasons are myriad of which it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause why an individual performs this act. The mostly believed cause is a cannibal feels he is in control. When he kills and consumes the flesh of the already dead victim, he feels he has power over that person, and ultimately over people. Another believed reason is most of these individual cannibals are loners. When they kill and consume their flesh, they feel they are not alone. They may stay with the dead body for several days cutting a piece while by having someone there makes them not to feel lonely. Another reason why a person may become a cannibal is out of curiosity. There are other reasons out there but as stated above it is hard to know why some people decide to become cannibals. In some circumstances in the modern world, a person may resort to cannibalism in order to survive. This is particularly the case in times of starvation.


Man-eaters are animals that have incorporated in their diet the human’s flesh. They hunt them as part of their meal. This does not take into account scavenging. They include the hyenas, lions, leopards, crocodiles and tigers among others.

Human Placenta Baby
Human Placenta Baby | Source

What Do You Think? Human Placentophagy

This involves ingestion of human placenta. It may be eaten raw or eaten as part of a meal. Some who engage in it believe there are healthy benefits associated with eating human placenta. Nonetheless, there is no scientific evidence that consuming human placenta has any health benefits. Is there any effect of eating placenta? No effects are yet known.


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