Cannibalism: Myth or Reality

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Cannibalism. Myth or reality? Discuss.

Cannibalism is the practice of eating the flesh of one’s own species. It can happen among many animals, and also humans. A person who practices cannibalism is called a cannibal. Cannibalism can be classified as endocannibalism and exocannibalism. Endocannibalism can further have different reasons including mourning for the dead like the Wari’ people and Melanesians, and need of protein like the Aztec. In this essay I am going to talk about cannibalism in general, and endocannibalism only in some cases because in my opinion, exocannibalism is more understandable than endocannibalism because I think eating enemies’ dead bodies make more sense than eating one’s family members’ bodies. I’m more interested in the reasons why endocannibalism happens and whether it is myth or reality. It is important to learn this because it will help us study cannibalism, think about cannibalism, and understand cannibalism.

I believe that endocannibalism is mostly believable according to all the evidence and materials recorded by many anthropologists and in some circumstances, scientists, but some little bits need more proof, like the Aztec, which I will discuss later in more detail in this essay. However, there are also some people disagree with the existence of cannibalism completely, which I consider some part convincing, some part not so reasonable, which I will also discuss.

First of all, there have always been many mythologies about cannibalism in various forms of documents from different parts of the world since thousands of years ago or even tens of thousands of years ago. The ancient myths of the Greeks, for example, have many parts involving cannibalism, including the stories of Dionysus in the Orpheus tradition, and Hesiod’s Theogony. There must be a reason for cannibalism being described in so many stories. I don’t believe that the Greeks come up with the stories just by their imagination. Actually some anthropologists suggest that ritual cannibalism was common in human societies prior to the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic period, which was between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Then during the period of early history, cannibalism was mentioned many times in literature as well. It was reported in the Bible during the siege of Samaria. In 2001, archaeologists at the University of Bristol actually found evidence of Iron Age cannibalism in Gloucestershire. The team had excavated about five per cent of the bone deposit, and the remains of at least seven individuals have been discovered, one of which was an adult human, whose femur had been split longitudinally and the bone marrow scarped out. This practice was considered by the archaeologists not happen accidentally, and to be very good evidence of cannibalistic activity. Many dog bones, as well as the occasional cattle bone, and a possible vertebra of a bear, as well as wooden twigs are also found placed in the caves nearby, reason of which, Dr Horton said, “was a highly structured deposit that can only have got there as a result of some form of ritual activity.”

In the last few hundreds of years, there have been anthropologists going into the primitive tribes especially in the Pacific and Amazonia, to study about various forms of cannibalism. Aztec, Wari’ and Melanesian are some of the most famous cases.

Beth A. Conklin introduced to us the Wari’ endocannibalism in her book “Consuming Grief: compassionate cannibalism in an Amazonian society”. The Wari’ people live in western Brazil and they had always eaten they roasted flesh, certain internal organs, and sometimes the ground bones of their dead ancestors as a way of expressing their compassion for the dead person and the family, until they got in touch with Western civilisation in the 1950s. They did not eat the dead because they liked the taste of human flesh, nor because they needed the meat, as compared to Aztec. Instead, they ate out of respect and compassion and to...
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