Since antiquity to the present day man is documented to have indulged in cannibalism for such diverse reasons as duty, desperation and desire. To some tribes in Africa and Latin America cannibalism is normal and in some cases essential. The practice is as natural to them as the eating of dogs, pigs or camels for others. Cannibals have a special place in the folklore, literature, history and painting.
The five most common reasons for cannibalism are:
1. Religion: Among the score of practices, Cortes and his men found the most intriguing and the most repelling was that of cannibalism among the highly developed Aztec civilization. In Aztec culture human sacrifice and then eating the sacred meat was the best possible way to keep the gods happy. In addition, cannibalism acted as a shield against their wrath which manifested itself in the diverse forms of famine, drought, pestilence and disease. According to most anthropologists it was a way to keep the population in check and a sure way to prolong their rule by drumming into the common man’s mind the fear of god. A practice all theocracies adopt, in one way or another, to the present day.
The Wari tribe, deep in the heart of the Amazon practiced cannibalism when they were discovered in 1950’s. Their logic was that they eat their dear ones when they die as it is more humane to be in the warm inside of a loved one than the cold earth. References to cannibalism are found in the sacred scriptures, including the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran.
2. Revenge and Punishment: In most primitive cultures cannibalism was practiced to instill fear into the hearts and to show utter scorn of their avowed enemies. The women folk followed their men in the battlefield and built temporary kitchens, depending on the outcome of the fight, these women then searched the battlefield for the best specimens and cooked them. They enjoyed the meal with their men and the leftovers were carried back to their abodes for the consumption of the children and the old tribes member.
In Nigeria, Suru tribe ate criminals and adulterers as a punishment. In China, (AD 600), Sui Emperor Yang Ti broiled an official and had the colleagues eat him. It was a common custom in China that the generals who lost battles were presented as meals to other fellow generals.
In Africa, the Mau Mau rebels indulged in cannibalism, till as late as the 1950’s. They hunted white man, and then ate him in order to end white supremacy for good.
3. Medicine: In Egypt, the Pharaohs used to bathe in fresh human blood to wash away leprosy. In ancient China, various human body parts were used for medicinal purposes. In Chinese medical text-books of Teng dynasty, the curative effect of human organs, like heart , liver and eyes, and human body-parts, like upper-arms, thighs and breasts is discussed in great detail.
In certain African tribes cowards were made to drink the blood and eat the hearts of the brave, so that the qualities of the dead could be transferred to those living.
4. Sadism: This form of cannibalism that has persisted to he present day. The prisoners like beasts, were often castrated, force-fed and fattened. Then they were taken to the market place where the buyers chose the choice cuts. Instances of modern-day cannibalism are found among the satanic cults and their rituals. Most recorded instances of modern-day cannibalism are to be found to be done in states of hallucinations under the influence of drugs.
5. Survival: It may sound gruesome and macabre but cannibalism, in modern society, is mostly resorted to in instances of extreme and genuine need for survival. Such was the case of the Uruguay rugby team whose plane crashed in the remotest part of Andes mountains. The survivors had to eat the dead loved ones in order to survive, till the time they were rescued.
Facts truly are strange than fiction, as the prevalence of cannibalism proves in human evolutionary history.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada