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When people hear the word cannibalism, they are almost immediately disgusted by it. It is a topic that is extremely taboo in many cultures and throughout the united states. Cannibalism is defined as “the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings.” (Wikipedia, 2020). The act of eating another humans flesh or internal organs has gone on for centuries. According to a recent study done by researchers in France, it was found that around 120,000 years ago, the Neanderthals cannibalized each other to combat the harsh climate changes.
There are stories of Christopher Columbus writing back to Queen Isabella telling her of the Caribs that he and his fellow explorers had met on there expeditions. He had told her that they were known for their violent raids and that they cooked and ate their prisoners. It is believed that this is where the term cannibal came from. Queen Isabella, being a person in power, made it so that anyone who ate human flesh was captured and enslaved. Thus, the first inkling that cannibalism was deviant came about.
In 15th century Europe, it was believed that a cure for epilepsy, nausea, bruising and pretty much any other medical issue was found within a brown powder that could be mixed into drinks, or used as a salve. This brown powder was called mumia and it was made from the ground up mummified flesh of humans. Mumia was so popular that it was listed in the Merck index, well into the 20th century.
Not only was eating mummified flesh used as a medical cure, but in ancient China it was believed that an adult child of an ill parent could help cure them by offering a piece of their flesh. The child would cut a piece of their thigh, arm or even remove their finger for their sick parent. This was not seen as a sacrifice seeing as the children did not die. This type of cannibalism was accepted back then but is not widely practiced now.
The Aghori’s of India are known as the modern-day cannibals. They practice various post-mortem rituals and believe their practices kill the ego and bring them closer to enlightenment. The Aghori’s live in the city of Varanasi or the cremation grounds, where they cover themselves in cremated remains of the dead, to bring them closer to the God Shiva. They meditate for 12 years while living in Varanasi and must cut off all ties with their family and friends. They will often partake in cannibalistic rituals and will eat freshly dead corpses brought to the cremation grounds and will eat the flesh raw. They believe God is in everything, so they are thankful for all that is bestowed upon them. The Aghori Baba’s or Monks will also eat rotten flesh from a corpse, if they so happen upon one. The Aghori are widely recognized and feared throughout India because they do not seem to have a care in the world and more times than not you will find them drunk or high on opioids. They choose this life to bring them closer to enlightenment. Does this make them deviant? If you look at the Aghori from a moral standpoint, then yes, they are deviant, in their cannibalism and their rituals. The Aghori pride themselves in making sure they do things that are especially heinous. They eat the flesh of the dead, they urinate into skulls of the dead and drink it, they do not have a care in the world.
What happens when cannibalism becomes an obsession or a fetish? In the case of Issei Sagawa it led him to kill an innocent woman. Issei Sagawa is a Japanese man who seemed to be obsessed with wanting to eat a woman. While attending school in France, Sagawa befriended a Dutch woman named Renee. He brought her back to his apartment, shot her in the head, raped her corpse and began eating her. Sagawa ate some of Renee raw, and cooked some of her flesh. He fed on her body for three days before cutting what was left up and attempted to dump it in a river. Authorities arrested him and he confessed to his crimes but was released after being found insane and not fit for trial by a French judge. Sagawa was sent back to Japan where he was to spend the rest of his days in a mental institution but ended up being freed because his case was dropped in France. Sagawa still fantasizes about eating human flesh again and says that it is a fetish. He has made a lot of money off being the cannibal who was freed, by writing books and manga’s and even making what are known as sexploitation videos. Issei Sagawa was brought up in a wealthy family, he was able to go to a nice school, he pretty much had everything he could ever need or want. The only thing he didn’t have was the looks. He was born prematurely, so he was very small, he had some health issues which made him look weird. He knew he was not handsome, and he knew that no woman in their right mind would want him on their own. So, he turned to fantasizing about eating them, wondering what they would taste like, until he could make that fantasy a reality.
What happens when your life depends on cannibalism? Survival cannibalism is often one of the things that people will accept. You did it to live and survive. You had no other choice. In October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes Mountains. Onboard was 19 members of the Old Christians Rugby team. In total there were 45 people on the plane, and only 33 survived the original crash. During this time, several of the 33 people died off and their bodies got carried down the mountain by avalanches. The survivors tried to live off candy bars and wine for several weeks, but once that was gone, they were running out of hope. After a long conversation the survivors all decided that they would eat whoever died next, which they did. By they end of the whole thing, only 16 people were rescued. They were trapped on the mountain for 2 months and were only able to survive by eating their fellow friends and travelers. If it was not for their decision to cannibalize the dead, none of them would have made it out alive. Survival cannibalism has been around for ages, and this is just one instance where it has saved a few lives. I feel like eventually the bodies fight or flight instinct will kick in and your need to live will drive away your disgust at eating human flesh.
What about auto cannibalism though? The act of eating one’s own flesh or organs? Again, people turn up their noses at the thought of cannibalism but what happens when women choose to eat their own placenta’s after giving birth? It is widely known that the placenta is packed full of nutrients, it provides a growing baby with everything they need to survive in the womb, so it makes sense to eat it right? It could be argued that eating your own placenta is not auto cannibalism because it’s an organ that is grown when you get pregnant and is not with you your whole life, or that it is not really a part of you. It is still an organ though. It is still apart of you and you are a human. Why is this so widely accepted and eating a rack of ribs from John Smith is not? It comes down to the taboo, the deviancy and what we see as morally correct. Eating John Smith is morally wrong, and we should not do it, because someone higher in power than us said so, but go ahead and eat your placenta because its yours and you can!
Cannibalism is deviant. In the United States it will always be seen as deviant and taboo, but we also have to understand that in other countries, many tribes and people take pride in eating their loved ones and feel they will always carry their loved ones with them after eating a piece of their flesh. Cannibalism is gross but intriguing and I believe it will always be that way. I feel like most people would be curious to know what another human tasted like, just out of sheer morbid curiosity and for the fact that it is so taboo.
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