cannibalism (kăn´ĬbəlĬzəm) [Span. caníbal, referring to the Carib], eating of human flesh by other humans. The charge of cannibalism is a common insult, and it is likely that some alleged cannibal groups have merely been victims of popular fear and misrepresentation. Nevertheless, archaeological research suggests that ancient humans and societies did practice cannibalism, and it has been observed in Africa, North and South America, the South Pacific islands, and the West Indies. Widespread cannibalism is usually not found in state-level societies, which have the means to tax and control surplus labor. Nevertheless, one of the most famous cases of cannibalism is that of the Aztecs, who sacrificed their prisoners of war and undoubtedly ate some of them. According to available evidence, most authorities consider the partaking of human flesh almost always to be a ritual practice. A minority of anthropologists, however, believe cannibalism emerged as a cultural response to chronic protein shortages. In modern Western society, cannibalism is commited only by the deranged or by people who otherwise face death from starvation (see Donner Party). In contrast, various traditional cultures are known to have encouraged their members to eat part of their kinsmen's corpses out of respect for the deceased in a practice known as endocannibalism. For example, Foré women of New Guinea, who dispose of the dead, ritually ate their deceased relatives' brains. Some anthropologists believe that head-hunting evolved from cannibalism. Among a few peoples the head of the enemy is preserved and the rest of the body or selected parts of it are eaten; this may represent a connecting link between cannibalism and head-hunting. The term cannibalism is also used in zoology to describe species who prey upon their own kind, such as lions, crabs, ants, and some kinds of fish.

See P. Brown and D. Tuzin, ed., The Ethnography of Cannibalism (1983); A. W. B. Simpson, Cannibalism and the Common Law (1984); B. Schutt, Cannibalism (2017).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Cannibalism: Selected full-text books and articles

An Intellectual History of Cannibalism By Cătălin Avramescu; Alistair Ian Blyth Princeton University Press, 2009
Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Seas By Gananath Obeyesekere University of California Press, 2005
Meat, a Natural Symbol By Nick Fiddes Routledge, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "The Reluctant Cannibal"
Scientific Controversies: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives By Peter Machamer; Marcello Pera; Aristides Baltas Oxford University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 11 "Anthropology: Art or Science? A Controversy about the Evidence for Cannibalism"
Aztec Cannibalism and Maize Consumption: The Serotonin Deficiency Link By Ernandes, Michele; Cedrini, Rita; Giammanco, Marco; Guardia, Maurizio La; Milazzo, Andrea Mankind Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 1, Fall 2002
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind By Curtis A. Keim Westview Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Cannibalism: No Accounting for Taste"
Cannabilism in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China * By Vardy, Steven Bela; Vardy, Agnes Huszar East European Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 2, Summer 2007
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