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One Man's Meat Is Another's Person.
July 29, 2002 11:24 AM   Subscribe

One Man's Meat Is Another's Person. There are certain words which evoke powerful images and emotions. One such word is Cannibalism. There is a lot of myth and truth about this nearly universally distained practice. But it has happened in the United States and virtually everywhere, at one time or another. If religion were removed from the equation would cannibalism still be wrong? Is the fear of cannibalism learned or is it a self preservation instinct which might get in the way of self preservation when starving to death? Is it the last taboo?: We eat meat and we are meat.
posted by Mack Twain (76 comments total)

 
universal distain. oh the shame!
posted by quonsar at 11:28 AM on July 29, 2002


We're just trying to avoid the spread of Mad Man disease.
posted by dwivian at 11:29 AM on July 29, 2002


I once wrote a short story about a guy who was always telling his friends that when he died, he didn't want to be buried because that was a waste of good meat. He wanted to be eaten by all of his friends so he could be with them (at least in some small way) always. His next door neighbor gets consumed by the idea of consuming his best friend, so he kills him and eats him. The story was a lot funnier than this synopsis.

Having said that, I'd eat a human, depending on how it was cooked.
posted by ColdChef at 11:33 AM on July 29, 2002


Which celebrity would you most like to eat? Remember that you're looking for nicely marbled meat, not too sinewy, but neither too gristle-ly or fatty. I think Sammy Hagar would be about right, with Al Gore or Jeanne Garafalo a close second. And yes I've given this some thought, as I do all my posts--it's called respect.
posted by luser at 11:34 AM on July 29, 2002


If religion were removed from the equation would cannibalism still be wrong?

It's hard to get people to agree on what "wrong" means, if it's not defined within the context of a given religion. And whatever definition you come up with is what's going to determine the answer to this question....
posted by mattpfeff at 11:35 AM on July 29, 2002


Dwivian beat me to it, but here's some academia for y'all.

I'm really glad there's a non-religious reason to avoid eating corpses, because it gives me the willies (although cooking and eating those will make you fertile, apparently).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2002


The best part is supposedly the tender, fatty little pillow between the small of your back and the beginning of your butt.

Er, not yours, PinkStainlessTail, although yours must be quite good too. It's just using one's instead of your makes one sound like feckin' Prince Charles. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:44 AM on July 29, 2002


what a fine way to celebrate our cultural diversity.
posted by m@ at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2002


Well, barring the taboo aspect, you can get some incredibly funky diseases from cannibalism.

I've read that ancient cultures were predominantly cannibalistic (as well as otherwise omnivorous) and that the taboo against cannibalism comes from some sort of genetic memory-based revulsion against the prospect of being eaten (by one's fellows or otherwise - serving as main course for another's meal ranks right up there in the "primal fears" department).

Either way, I'm sticking with regular (as opposed to long) pork, barring a plane-down-in-the-Andes event, in which case all bets are off, obviously.
posted by UncleFes at 11:50 AM on July 29, 2002


Wow. Ten comments and no one's started quoting Monty Python yet. Amazing restraint.
posted by ColdChef at 11:52 AM on July 29, 2002


I'm glad that one of your links mentions the briliant work of William Arens, whose book "The Man-Eating Myth" is one of those rare scholarly works that single-handedly overturn paradigms and wipe out whole worlds of ignorance. Arens maintains, and convincingly proves, that there is no first-hand, eye-witness evidence that any tribe, nation or culture on earth has ever made a normative behavior out of cannibalism. Yes, people have eaten each other under extraordinary circumstances. But there are no cannibal societies. Some people consider this view controversial or outrageous. Some people NEED to believe in cannibals. At that point, the discussion moves outside the realm of anthropology, and into the realm of psychology.
posted by Faze at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2002


If religion were removed from the equation would cannibalism still be wrong?

I would like to see a good case made for this, but, being religious, I'll stick to my religious reasons (cannibalism=sin, I know, it's simplistic, but it works quite well), and one general principle: we should not treat humans the way we treat animals.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:56 AM on July 29, 2002


But there are no cannibal societies.

The Kuru page mentioned the Fore natives of New Guinea as "ritualistic cannibals." Not sure if that comes under the rubric of normative or not, but it certainly entails at least a modicum of munchitation.

One oughtn't leave out the recent hoohah about the anasazi, either.
posted by UncleFes at 12:00 PM on July 29, 2002


don't call it cannabilism, call it metavorism.

anyways, i'd eat human meat. why not? it's about the same as eating cow or pig or rat or dog.

meat is meat.
posted by jcterminal at 12:03 PM on July 29, 2002


We eat meat and we are meat.

The line between plant and animal is a scientific, not a moral distinction. The extent to which we cannibalize can only be defined as how closely the creatures we eat resemble ourselves.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:04 PM on July 29, 2002


I can't believe that cannibal societies ate each other on a regular basis. It wouldn't promote too much trust in each other, would it?

I know, they ate enemies or sacrifices.

The question is, would any of you, under the proper circumstances, eat another human being? I'd like to say I wouldn't, but I really can't put myself in the proper circumstances.

Say, what was that short story by Stephen King, where the guy ate himself to stay alive?
posted by ashbury at 12:07 PM on July 29, 2002


Ashbury:The question is, would any of you, under the proper circumstances, eat another human being?

While cannibalism does freak me out, I'd eat an already dead human before I'd kill and eat a cat. If those were the only options.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2002


There's no way of knowing without being in the "proper circumstances", but eating dead chicken muscle is already nauseating enough for me. I dunno if I could handle human meat, and I don't really want to know.
posted by puffin at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2002


I once asked my father, who fancies himself a wine expert, what wine would go best with human flesh. Without batting an eye, he responded that he’d choose a rosé, because human flesh is closest to pork.

I gained a lot of respect for my father that day.
posted by Acetylene at 12:12 PM on July 29, 2002


If religion were removed from the equation would cannibalism still be wrong?

I would assume atheists would be disgusted with cannibalism too. Also, the film 'Alive' (based on an actual incident) suggests that the survivors Catholic beliefs made it easier to accept cannibalism in order to survive, drawing parallel's to the Eucharist.
posted by bobo123 at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2002


Without batting an eye, he responded that he’d choose a rosé, because human flesh is closest to pork

A nice chianti, indeed :D
posted by UncleFes at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2002


pinkstainlesstail, thou shalt not kill, not even a cat? It strikes me as an uneven response, choosing the dead body over the living cat, but que sera sera.
posted by ashbury at 12:16 PM on July 29, 2002


ashbury - I believe that would be Survivor Type, from "Skeleton Crew". And an excellent story it is.

"Lady fingers... they taste just like lady fingers..."
posted by starvingartist at 12:18 PM on July 29, 2002


I'd eat an already dead human before I'd kill and eat a cat. If those were the only options.

Logically, shouldn't one save the cat for eating later on, after the dead human has spoiled?
posted by bobo123 at 12:22 PM on July 29, 2002


This lends a whole different spin to the motto "Snap into a Slim Jim!"

Sorry, Jim. And I wish you were fatter.
posted by Skot at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2002


Ashbury- It's more a anthropomorphic thing I have with cats. If the choice was a dead human or a live chicken, that bird is a goner.

Bobo123-A spoiled human is still a good source of tasty fresh maggots.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:24 PM on July 29, 2002


obThey'reMadeOutOfMeat link.
posted by ewagoner at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2002


Admit it, though. We're all sort of curious what a nice loin-of-couch-potato would taste like. (Suckling pig would be my guess.) Since my only real problem with cannibalism is the killing part, I've been contemplating a little experiment with blood sausage.

As for the religious question, could someone point me to a passage in the New Testament that calls cannibalism a sin? (I'm assuming, Insomnyuk, that you don't keep kosher.) From my shallow but wide readings in anthropology, religion is the context in which cannibalism is most often "right."
posted by chino at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2002


The question is, if fed human meat unknowningly, would you notice? Probably not. I shudder to think of the idea of giant "human farms", where people are fed a specific diet to bring out their natural flavours.

As for "would I eat human meat", hell, I'd eat a pig's ass if they cooked it right. But the idea of cannibalism becoming a common practice is way, WAY off in the future, if ever.
posted by Succa at 12:37 PM on July 29, 2002


starvingartist, that's the line I remember as well. Thanks.
posted by ashbury at 12:42 PM on July 29, 2002


It has been suggested that the Aztec were using people as a domesticated animal source of protein. True or not, the Aztecs were certainly a fascinating people, and their emphasis on human sacrifice has always made me question the relativity of morality.
posted by quercus at 12:44 PM on July 29, 2002


Good point, chino. Mack Twain's comment seems to imply that cannibalism is such a huge temptation that only the most severe religious proscription keeps us all from immediately devouring one another. But really, who has trouble restraining him or herself from taking a bite out of that person standing next to them on the subway (the sexual yumminess of some people nothwithstanding)? People will only do it in extremis, or if its embedded in some elaborate religious ritual. You don't need a "taboo" against something nobody wants to do in the first place.
posted by Faze at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2002


Sadly, my band Muscle Turns To Meat never took off. Which is to say no recordings, no members, no lyrics. Not yet anyway.
posted by daver at 12:46 PM on July 29, 2002


Oddly synchronistic thread, given that I just got done watching Cannibal: The Musical, a dark comedy take on the only person in the US to be convicted of Cannibalism in the US, Alferd Packer, by those rascals Matt & Trey.
posted by nomisxid at 1:02 PM on July 29, 2002


"The question is, would any of you, under the proper circumstances, eat another human being"? I was warming up to the idea until those disgusting medical facts were brought up.
posted by Mack Twain at 1:04 PM on July 29, 2002


I'm surprised this thread has gone along this far without a single mention of ManBeef.com.
posted by briank at 1:12 PM on July 29, 2002


"The question is, would any of you, under the proper circumstances, eat another human being"?


I would rather be left dying than eat another man, as i would be emotionally scarred for life......................not that i am not already scarred
posted by Seipher at 1:14 PM on July 29, 2002


Wasn't it in Rudy Rucker's 'Ware series that 'Wendy Meat' (cloned meat from a celebrity named Wendy, of course) was a popular food item?
posted by GriffX at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2002


i don't believe in any sort of organized religion, but i still wouldn't eat human flesh. just on instant reaction the idea grosses me out completely. on further ponderance i can't really come up with a lot of solid reasons, but it just seems wrong to eat your own kind, and generally i prefer not eating anything that ever had a face... (altho' i have been known to tuck into a nice bit of fowl on occasion) it seems like a trust issue among other things...

for survival reasons, i can't foresee ever being in a position where human flesh would be my last resort. or cat, dog, horse or wascally wabbit. so it seems pointless to torture myself with that sort of what-if.

y'all seem just a tad too much in a hurry to chow down tho'... creepy lot you are...! :-D

*heading to kitchen to make myself a nice leafy salad*
posted by t r a c y at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2002


chino said: From my shallow but wide readings in anthropology, religion is the context in which cannibalism is most often "right."

I'm guessing that cannibalism is such anti-survival behavior (in the Darwinian sense) that it would take a religious ceremony or extreme starvation to make most people consider it - it's just not something we're "wired" for. The thing that keeps us from eating our neighbors willy-nilly isn't a taboo per se, its the fact that a race that did that would tend to be less successful than one that didn't, and we've invented the taboo response to explain it to ourselves.

Just my $0.02.
posted by RylandDotNet at 1:20 PM on July 29, 2002


on a slight tangent, one of my friends had just seen Hannibal and asked our group what we thought of the idea of eating human brain. I told him "I don't think I would eat brain. Not because I was offended by cannibalism, but for some reason I imagine that brain wouldn't have much of a taste to it so it would be pointless. But then again, it's my brain is that is providing me with this information, so it may just be acting in self-defense".
posted by stifford at 1:27 PM on July 29, 2002


Grourmet Girls. (Not work-safe.)
posted by bingo at 1:37 PM on July 29, 2002


[off topic]
i don't believe in any sort of organized religion, but i still wouldn't eat human flesh.

So what kind of religion do you believe in, the unorganized kind?
[/off topic]
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:38 PM on July 29, 2002


Said Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran was 'tender' long before he was Chatokay on Voyager.
posted by gimonca at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2002


As the article pointed out to a small degree, the word Cannibal comes from the word Canib, named for the Canib natives discovered by the Spanish in the early 1500s. Canib was pretty much interchangeable with the other name for these natives, the Carib, from whence we get the word Carribbean.

So, next time you take a cruise to the Bahamas, Jamaica or St. Kitts, you're touring a place that could just as well have been called the Cannibalean.
posted by stevis at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2002


bingo: I'll go you one better: The Dolcett Archives. (Extremely not work-safe - in fact, don't bother. I'm sorry I brought it up.)
posted by RylandDotNet at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2002


The scary implication in the religious question seems to be that without religious constraints anything is acceptable, that the only thing keeping these question posers from doing such things IS religious decree. That if some bizarre event proved to them that god does not exist, within three minutes they would be raping your children and eating you.
posted by HTuttle at 1:55 PM on July 29, 2002


Hmm. Does "Soylent Green is made out of clo-ones!" have the same grotesquery as "...pee-ple!"?

One could actually say "Eat me!" and mean it.

If human parts were carefully grown to be healthy and disease-free, then properly cooked, would it be a true 'health food'?
posted by kablam at 2:19 PM on July 29, 2002


*dragging monju_bosatsu back on topic*

my point is i don't need the united church of canada (or the pope, or anyone else in the biz of telling others how to live) to inform me that eating your brain is wrong.
posted by t r a c y at 2:29 PM on July 29, 2002


my point is i don't need the united church of canada (or the pope, or anyone else in the biz of telling others how to live) to inform me that eating your brain is wrong.

Hey! I'm still using it. Put the fork DOWN.

Oh, and I would totally eat any of you. Sleep with an eye open.
posted by ColdChef at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2002


BRAINS!
posted by UncleFes at 2:52 PM on July 29, 2002


grok me baby, all night long.
posted by quonsar at 4:15 PM on July 29, 2002


I'd rather eat humans than anything with Olestra, after reading this.
posted by msacheson at 4:38 PM on July 29, 2002


Hmm, well cleaning vomit off of the keyboard makes a change from coffee off of the screen...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:58 PM on July 29, 2002


Ah, c'mon, impHilltr8r, it's all tongue in cheek (pun intended).
posted by ashbury at 5:11 PM on July 29, 2002


Instantly recognized by the divorced:

"If you really loved me, you'd let me eat your braaaaiiiiinnnn!"
posted by kablam at 5:26 PM on July 29, 2002


Normally carnivores eat herbivores anyway, because it's easier, but there are two major reasons why animals generally do not eat members of their own species. The first is nepotism, helping one's relatives, which has a spectrum of enthusiasm ranging from 'my child' down to 'member of my species'. The second is nutrition. Whatever trace nutrients the human body lacks, you're not going to get by eating another human. Whatever poisons the human body concentrates, the cannibal's body is going to concentrate much more of.

So 'not eating the same kind of animal as I am' is a survival instinct. Having inherited survival instincts, and being intelligent and myth-seeking animals, we ascribe divine inspiration to our instincts.

On the subject of growing brainless bodies for consumption, I think this is a brilliant plan, and intend to switch to it as soon as it is practical. Not human or Siberian tiger meat of course (those will be fringe luxuries, and extremely expensive), but cow, pig and sheep meat.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:33 PM on July 29, 2002


The main reason for not eating your own species (I always heard) was disease vectors. In most cases, even if a cow or a chicken is ridden with disease, they are cow or chicken-specific diseases. I won't catch 'em by munching on that animal. But, if I were to eat another human, I'd be much more likely to become ill from whatever bugs they were carrying around.

The thought of cannibalism makes me ill either way, but it's still interesting.
posted by GriffX at 7:00 PM on July 29, 2002


Well, for those too squeamish to kill and eat a human, what if we take the killing out of the equation and just eat parts of other people? A nice fresh placenta...fried with some shallots and garlic.

Of course, I would probably eat just about anything if it were a) fried and b) made with shallots and garlic.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 7:23 PM on July 29, 2002


If not for the health risks, I'd have no problem with cannibalism (of dead-by-accident humans, not by disease, old age, or certainly murder). I don't feel any need to go seeking it, but it seems hypocritical to distinguish that sort of meat from other sorts, once it is divorced from the mind.
posted by rushmc at 8:46 PM on July 29, 2002


Excerpts from Good to eat : riddles of food and culture, Marvin Harris

"...let me confront the issue of whether or not Staden's description is truthful. In his popular book, The Man-Eating Myth. anthropologist William Arens claims that Staden's account, like all other accounts of cannibalism (except for emergency cannibalism) is a tall tale. Arens advances three arguments to discredit Staden's account. Staden could not have translated verbatim the words of his Tupinamba captors right from the first day of his captivity because he didn't speak Tupi-Guarani, the native language; Staden reconstructed cannibal events in impossibly precise detail nine years afer they allegedly took place; and Staden relied on John Dryander, a German doctor, to help him fake the manuscript. Another anthropologist, Donald Forsyth, has refuted these clames. Staden was in fact a member of an expedition led by the Spanish captain Diego de Sanabria, which set sail from Seville in the spring of 1549. Two of the expedition's three ships made it to a Brazilian harbor near modern-day Florianopolis. The larger of the two vessels sank in the harbor. For two years Staden and his shipwrecked companions kept themselves alive by trading salvaged items from their ships with Tupi-Guarani-speaking villagers in exchange for food. When the salvaged items were used up, the survivors split into two groups. Staden's group took the small ship north along the coast. After another shipwreck, Staden and his companions reached the Portuguese settlement of Sao Vicente--the colonial forerunner of the modern-day port of Santos--in January 1553. For the next year Staden worked as a gunner for th ePortuguese and was in close contact with at least one Tupi-Guarani-speaking native whom he described as his "slave" and who accompanied Staden on hunting expeditions. Staden was also well acquainted with other Tupi-Guarani-speaking residents of the Portuguese settlement.

"In January 1554 a Tupinamba raiding party captured Staden and brought him back to their village. Staden spent the next nine months in constant fear of being killed and eaten. In September 1554 he eluded his captors, made his way to the coast, and was rescued by a French ship. The ship docked in Honfleur, Normandy, on or about 20 February 1555. On reaching his native Marburg, Germany, Staden quickly sought the help of Dr. John Dryander, a distinguished scholar and friend of Staden's family. Staden's motive in going to Dryander is clear from what Dryander says in the introduction to Staden's book. Staden wanted someone of high repute to serve as a character witness and to vouch for his account:

"'I have known [Staden's] father for upwards of fifty years, for he and I were born and taught in the same town, namely Wetter. Both in his home and in Hombert in Hesse where he now lives, he [i.e. the father] is looked upon as an upright, pious, and worthy man not unversed in the arts... I believe that Hans Staden has faithfully reported his history and adventures from his own experience and not from the account of others, that he has no intent to deceive and that he desires no reward or worldly renown, but only the glory of God, in humble praise and faithfulness for his escape.'

"Staden's book was finished at the latest in December 1556, less than two years after his return to Europe and less than three years after the date of his capture, although it was not actually published until early 1557. Forsyth has checked all of the principal facts, dates, and names by cross-reference to specific individuals mentioned by Staden as being at certain places and specified dates. From this resume it is clear that Staden spoke Spanish and Portuguese as well as German and had ample opportunity during the five years which *preceded* his capture, to have learned Tupi-Guarani, that he did not delay nine years in writing down his experiences but two at the most; and that he asked for and received Dryander's help not to invent and embellish a tall tale, but to assure the reader that he was a pious and honest man.

"Other sixteenth-century accounts independently corroborate the fundamental pattern of warfare cannibalism as practiced by the Tupinamba. Jesuit missionaries to Brazil wrote hundreds of pages of letters and reports about the practice. Most of these Jesuits spent years traveling among and visiting Tupinamba villages and almost all of them had learned to speak Tupi-Guarani. Father Jose de Anchieta, for example, who mastered Tupi-Guarani sufficiently to compose the first grammar of that language, had this to say about cannibalism in 1554:

"'If they capture four or five of their enemies, they [immediately] return [to their village] to eat them at a great feast...'

"Anchieta was no armchair ethnographer. He not only obtained information from talking with the Tupinamba but from traveling among and living in their villages where he recorded specific events, as in his account of the slaughter on 26 June 1553 of an enemy "slave."

"'But in the afternoon when they were all full of wine, they came to the house where we were lodging and wanted to take the slave to kill [him]... Like wolves the Indians pulled at him [the slave] with great fury; finally they took him outside and broke [open] his head, and together with him they killed another one of their enemies, whom they soon tore into pieces with great rejoicing, especially the women, who went around singing and dancing, some [of the women] pierced the cut off members [of the body] with sharp sticks, others smeared their hands with [the victim's] fat and went about smearing [the fat on] the faces and mouths of others, and it was such that they gathered [the victim's] blood in their hands and licked it, an abominable spectacle, such that they had a great slaughter on which to gorge themselves.'

"Another Jesuit father, Juan de Aspilcueta Navarro, wrote about a direct encounter with cannibalism in 1549 in a village near what is the modern-day city of Salvador.

"'...upon my arrival they told me that they had just finished killing a girl and they showed my the house, and when I entered it I found that they were cooking her to eat her, and the head was hung on a timber; and I began to chide and decry such an abominable thing and so against nature. ...And afterwards I went to other houses in which I found the feet, hands, and heads of men in the smoke.'

[another account from Navarro that Harris calls eye-witness, from a letter dated 28 March 1550--ehk]

"Another Jesuit eyewitness of Tupinamba cannibal rituals was Father Antonio Blasquez. Writing in 1557, after being in Brazil for four years, Blasquez stated that the Indians find 'their happiness by killing an enemy and afterwards, for vengeance, to eat his flesh... there is no meat they like better.'


Another excerpt from Harris's Cannibals And Kings in regards to Aztec sacrificial rituals:

These descriptions clarify a number of points about the Aztec warfare-sacrifice-cannibalism complex. Harner notes that each prisoner had an owner - probably the officer in charge of the soldiers who actually made the capture. When the prisoner was brought back to Tenochtitián, he was housed in the owner's compound. We know little about how long he was kept there or how he was treated, but one can guess that he was fed enough tortillas to keep him from losing weight. It even seems likely that a powerful military commander would have kept several dozen prisoners on hand, fattening them up in preparation for special feast days or important family events such as births, deaths or marriages. When the time for sacrifice approached, the prisoners may have been tortured for the instruction and amusement of the owner's family and neighbours. On the day of the sacrifice, the owner and his soldiers no doubt escorted the prisoner to the foot of the pyramid to watch the proceedings in the company of other dignitaries whose prisoners were being sacrificed on the same day. After the heart was removed, the body was not tumbled down the steps so much as pushed down by attendants, since the steps were not steep enough to keep the body moving all the way from top to bottom without getting stuck. The old men, whom De Sahagún refers to as Quaquacuiltin, claimed the body and took it back to the owner's compound, where they cut it up and prepared the limbs for cooking - the favourite recipe being a stew flavoured with peppers and tomatoes. De Sahagún states that they put ‘squash blossoms’ in the flesh. The victim's blood, as De Sahagún notes, was collected in a gourd vessel by the priests and delivered to the owner. We know the heart was put into a brazier and burned along with copal incense, but whether or not it was burned to ashes remains unclear. There is also some question concerning the fate of the trunk with its organs and the head with its brains. Eventually, the skull ended up on display on one of the racks described by Andrés Tápia and Bernal Dïaz. But since most cannibals relish brains, we can assume that these were removed - perhaps by the priests or spectators - before the skulls ended up on exhibit. Similarly, although according to Dïaz the trunk was tossed to the carnivorous mammals, birds and snakes kept in the royal zoo, I suspect that the zoo keepers - Tápia says that there were large numbers of them - first removed most of the flesh.

I have been pursuing the fate of the victim's body in order to establish the point that Aztec cannibalism was not a perfunctory tasting of ceremonial titbits. All edible parts were used in a manner strictly comparable to the consumption of the flesh of domestic animals. The Aztec priests can legitimately be described as ritual slaughterers in a state-sponsored system geared to the production and redistribution of substantial amounts of animal protein in the form of human flesh. Of course, the priests had other duties, but none had greater practical significance than their butchery.

posted by y2karl at 9:06 PM on July 29, 2002


Arens is, you should pardon the expression, full of it.

Maori tribes (New Zealand's indigenous people) practised cannibalism into the 1820's as did their fellow Polynesian elsewhere (eg Fiji). No one, whether of Maori or Pakeha descent seriously questions the historicity of accounts of Maori cannibalism. (I was particularly amused to read by Googling the report of one old Maori guy saying he "was European by ingestion; his grandfather had eaten Englishmen, and 'you are what you eat'"). Google maori+cannibalism+evidence and see what you get.

Which reminds me - two cannibals are eating a clown. One of them turns to the other and says: "does this taste funny to you?"
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:21 AM on July 30, 2002


aaeschenkarnos: Normally carnivores eat herbivores anyway, because it's easier, but there are two major reasons why animals generally do not eat members of their own species. The first is nepotism, helping one's relatives, which has a spectrum of enthusiasm ranging from 'my child' down to 'member of my species'.

Nepotism doesn't seem to have imposed much of a universal taboo on killing or stealing, though.

In Anne Rice's Queen Of the Damned, there was a story about a cannibal culture in ancient Egypt, that consumed their dead relatives as a sign of respect. I have no idea if it has any basis in fact, though.

This is a rough transcription of a story related in a brilliant play I saw recently, Pentecost by David Edgar.

An English soldier parachutes into a jungle and is taken prisoner by a cannibal tribe. The natives prepare to eat him. In hope of saving himself, he offers to regale them with tales of his soldierly exploits.

The natives ask the Englishman if he is a warrior, and he confesses that he is. They ask him if he has killed many men, and he admits that he has. They ask him how many, and he says that he is sure about at least twelve.

The natives are impressed. One native asks: "Did you eat the twelve men all by yourself?"

The Englishman answered with disgust: "I am civilized. I don't eat people."

"Really?" answers the cannibal with amazement. "Then what do you kill them for?"
posted by bingo at 1:27 AM on July 30, 2002


Arens maintains, and convincingly proves, that there is no first-hand, eye-witness evidence that any tribe, nation or culture on earth has ever made a normative behavior out of cannibalism.

Wow, I'm having flashbacks of one of my earliest net conversations, with a guy from alt.folklore.urban who reviewed Arens's book in approving terms. As far as we could establish (him having read the book, me not but knowing a fair bit about the Pacific), Arens pretty much ignored the Pacific, which makes his 'proof' pretty shaky. There are convincing 19th century accounts of Fijian cannibalism.

Digging through that old correspondence I found this quote from one of those 'odd news' mailing lists from the mid '90s:

You may still be able to find a book by Karl Wurf called 'To serve man: a cookbook for people, published in 1976 by the Owlswick Press in Philadelphia and sold then for $6.95. 94 pages of recipes for preparing and serving 'long pig'. It's the only item in the Library of Congress catalog under the subject heading of 'Cannibalism--Humor'.
posted by rory at 4:16 AM on July 30, 2002


hello
posted by johnnyboy at 5:00 AM on July 30, 2002


y2karl, Marvin Harris was one of the most biased, axe-grinding, hobby-horse riding anthropologists in the business. For him, all of human culture was explained by what he imagined was this insatiable need for protein -- he even went so far as to believe that the human sacrifices of the Aztecs were driven by a dietary need for the protein in the victim's hearts (as if a whole civilization could get their protein needs met by enemy hearts). The man was fun, but something of a crank, especially as no respectable dietician ever corraborated his theories. So he was predisposed to be credulous about cannibalism. In fact, cannibalism was a keystone of his theory. Nobody's taken him seriosly for a long time.
What I find shocking is that the politically "progressive" posters of MeFi have fallen so eagerly for this cannibal myth. Doesn't it occur to anybody that accusations of cannibalism are simply a cultural universal -- a way of denigrating an enemy, a neighbor, a minority group, a means of justifying colonialism, missionary work, or just plain oppressions? Doesn't it fall into the category of the blood libel against the Jews, or the Belgian nuns as one of those big, hysterical lies that's supposed to justify an obliterative response?
posted by Faze at 6:36 AM on July 30, 2002


Possible, Faze, but seems quite improbable. I think it has a lot more to do with the ignorance that the average modern person has about historical activities that are so alien to the 21st century mind as to seem unthinkable (this goes far beyond cannibalism). I believe that Arens' "debunking" was pretty thoroughly debunked among anthropologists a decade ago, as I recall from my reading at the time (late for work, so no links at this time). The charges against him were that he set out to prove a thesis, not to objectively examine the data, and that he threw out or ignored much that countered his hypothesis.

And your suggestion that accusations of cannibalism are a universal cultural form of denigration implies the universality of a negative view of the activity, which is precisely what is being examined and, therefore, rather circular in reasoning.
posted by rushmc at 7:03 AM on July 30, 2002


What I find shocking is that the politically 'progressive' posters of MeFi have fallen so eagerly for this cannibal myth. Doesn't it occur to anybody that accusations of cannibalism are simply a cultural universal

So what? So are accusations of murder. That doesn't mean that murder doesn't happen - and that some societies, from time to time, have seen more of it than others.

While there may well be 'cannibal myths' about certain societies, that doesn't mean that every story of cannibalism is myth. There are convincing accounts of Fijian cannibalism. And if you doubt those because of their internet provenance, all I can say is I've seen similar accounts in various 19th-century volumes, all by different people. If there was a grand conspiracy to spin a cannibal myth around the Fiji Islands it was surely even more elaborate than the conspiracy theories floating around about 9-11 today.
posted by rory at 8:12 AM on July 30, 2002


(Of course, Sod's law means that after posting that link I see that the site has crap on it about the Holocaust being a 'myth', which casts a shadow on their motives for publishing those Fiji quotes. But Cargill, at least, was a genuine missionary to Fiji in the 1830s, his accounts from that time were indeed published, and I've seen some of them. And various of those details, like using live men as rollers to launch canoes, I read long before seeing that page. You don't tend to forget that stuff...)
posted by rory at 8:23 AM on July 30, 2002


Marvin Harris was one of the most biased, axe-grinding, hobby-horse riding anthropologists in the business.

From the Columbia College obituary:

Harris was a proponent of the four-field approach to the discipline of anthropology, which combines cultural anthropology, anthropological linguistics, biological anthropology and archaeology. His influence spans all four fields. Harris is known as the founder of cultural materialism, a theoretical paradigm and research strategy that attempts to explain cultural practices as a result of the ways in which a culture solves the practical problems of survival. He suggested that food taboos, warfare and witchcraft originate from a society's ways of adapting to a means of subsistence.

In fact, cannibalism was a keystone of his theory.

Oh, really...

A short summary of Cultural Materialism.

Also, Marvin Harris's Cultural Materialism.

Listing from The Search For Terrestrial Intelligence


Nobody's taken him seriosly for a long time.

Oh, really...

American Anthropological Association website--note who's quoted at the top.
posted by y2karl at 8:44 AM on July 30, 2002


he even went so far as to believe that the human sacrifices of the Aztecs were driven by a dietary need for the protein in the victim's hearts (as if a whole civilization could get their protein needs met by enemy hearts

That is so silly (and wrong)--care to source where he ever said anything like that?
posted by y2karl at 8:48 AM on July 30, 2002


Pages 228-34 in Harris's 1985 "Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig" lay out the theory in embarassing detail, all a bit too lengthy to copy out here. Harris was a powerful department head at Columbia. I'm sorry to hear that he's passed away, and I will say this much for him: he was an entertaining popularizer, and unlike most of his colleagues at the time, he wasn't a Marxist.
posted by Faze at 7:25 PM on July 30, 2002


Faze: What I find shocking is that the politically "progressive" posters of MeFi have fallen so eagerly for this cannibal myth. Doesn't it occur to anybody that accusations of cannibalism are simply a cultural universal -- a way of denigrating an enemy, a neighbor, a minority group, a means of justifying colonialism, missionary work, or just plain oppressions?

Not really...I don't have a moral problem with the idea in itself, nor does it particularly disgust me to contemplate. The idea of a culture that practices it does not mean that they are being denigrated.
posted by bingo at 1:40 AM on July 31, 2002


I believe if you read more closely, he notes the hearts were cut out by the priests in the sacrifice and burnt on the altars, the bodies of the sacrificed then dismembered and rolled down the steps of the pyramids for the waiting peasantry below...

he even went so far as to believe that the human sacrifices of the Aztecs were driven by a dietary need for the protein in the victim's hearts (as if a whole civilization could get their protein needs met by enemy hearts

Um, Faze, the hearts?

As some ceremonies involved such sacrifices in the thousands, that's a lot of meat in a densely populated land where the top three sources of protein were dogs, turkeys and pond scum (algae skimmed from the lake around Tenochtitlan and pressed into cakes).

And since you've read Harris, you'll perhaps remember an extensive quotation in Of Cannibals And Kings from an eyewitness account by a French priest capture by the Iroquois that involved the torture, killing, dismemberment and consumption of an enemy prisoner.

Arens maintains, and convincingly proves, that there is no first-hand, eye-witness evidence that any tribe, nation or culture on earth has ever made a normative behavior out of cannibalism.

I believe I quoted another part of Harris's extensive bebuttal of the brilliant Arens' contention above--in which he is most case-by-case specific but you seem to be able to ignore that...

--as well confabulate the narrative of Aztecs eating the remains of victims of human sacrifice into Aztecs eating human hearts alone...

--not mention reducing your reduction of his theory of cultural materialism into this insatiable need for protein ...

(Although an impartial observer might decide otherwise from the links on cultural materialsim provided above.)

Oh, he was an entertaining popularizer but evidently not up to your post-docoral standards of scientific rigor. Right....

No matter what half-cocked, weak and wrong things you said in the first place, you manage to introduce more with each response--Talk about making yourself right by making the other guy wrong--chalk you up in the Immortal Hall of the Never Wrongs.
posted by y2karl at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2002


Harris was a powerful department head at Columbia.

Well, he'd been at the Univerisity of Florida for some years before he died, if you're insinuating the obituary was a puff piece. Oh, and he was also the former chairman of the general anthropology division of the American Anthropological Association, too. Nobody's taken him seriosly for a long time, indeed.
posted by y2karl at 12:27 PM on July 31, 2002


y2karl, those were some pile-driving posts. I would say that I stand corrected, only nobody could remain standing under that relentless barrage. Let me just say... ah, never mind.
posted by Faze at 1:31 PM on July 31, 2002


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