cannibalism - Kannibalismus

Leonhard Kern : ogre, ivory sculpture, around 1650

The consumption of conspecifics or parts of them is called cannibalism . In particular, it is understood to mean the consumption of human flesh by humans (anthropophagy) , but cannibalism also exists in the animal kingdom. The terms cannibalism and anthropophagy are used regardless of whether the eating was preceded by killing or not. Biologists use the more precise terms active and passive cannibalism in animals to distinguish the two cases.

In almost all human societies cannibalism is subject to a food taboo. Anthropophagy in extreme situations (due to lack of food) must be distinguished from ritual or religious manifestations. The belief in the medicinal effectiveness of consuming body parts was widespread in Europe until the 18th century. Individual cases of cannibalism also appear in a sexual or psychiatric context.


The word “cannibal” came into use in European languages ​​as a result of Christopher Columbus' voyages of discovery around 1500. It is first recorded in German in 1508.

When Columbus anchored off the island of Hispaniola on his first voyage , he noted in his logbook on November 23, 1492 that the inhabitants of this island lived in constant fear of the Caniba or Canima , the supposedly one-eyed, dog-faced and man-eating inhabitants of the neighboring island of Bohío. The name of this Indian people meant something like "brave" (cf. Tupi language caryba : "hero"). Since the sounds l, n and r vary as allophones in their language, the Spanish sailors used the variant caribe or caribalWhat in the parlance to refer to the inhabitants of the coasts of the Caribbean , the Caribs , narrowed, and on the other canibal meaning "man-eater".

Since one was firmly convinced in the pre-scientific ethnology of antiquity and the Middle Ages that anthropophagic (man-eating) and “half-human” peoples lived on the edge of the known world, the literature of the 16th century in the Caribbean canibales could be particularly topical and seemingly real Discover embodiment of this ancient idea. The name became a concept; as such, it spread very quickly and became a synonym for the previously common Greek term anthropophage .

In today's German, the term man eater is used primarily for fairy tale and legend characters or peoples.


Different contexts and motives for cannibalism

Christian Spiel distinguishes in his book People Eat People - The World of Cannibals [1] different types of cannibalism according to the motives and occasions:

  • Mythically based cannibalism - world creation through cannibalism described in world creation myths
  • Religious cannibalism - part of the body as a direct offering to the gods (for example, the Aztecs' heart for the sun god, so that the sun can run its course across the sky anew every day; the raw remains of corpses for humans as omophagy )
  • ritual cannibalism as “ burial in man” - taking in the victim or the deceased and thus preventing his return
  • Piety cannibalism - honoring relatives, be it an ancestor or their own child, out of respect, love or grief, but also keeping them safe
  • Fear cannibalism - to keep the killed enemy in the safest place imaginable, within himself, and thus prevent his return
  • magical cannibalism - the idea that qualities such as strength and courage pass from sacrifice to eater through consumption
  • judicial or court cannibalism - eating convicts or drinking their blood
  • Nutritional cannibalism in extreme emergencies
  • Cannibalism as sexual fetishism

He did not take into account the medical cannibalism that was widespread in Europe.

Controversial reviews

The description of cannibalism, especially in older reports, but also the corresponding interpretation of archaeological finds is sharply criticized by some authors or viewed as inaccurate. The charge of cannibalism is a pretext for up to the recent past in Europe discrimination of indigenous peoples and other ethnic groups have been used. The results of archaeological research could also not be clearly confirmed. Corresponding misinterpretations have been uncovered several times, for example by showing that scratches, which were initially interpreted as signs of cannibalism, came from animals. The lack of organs could also result from funeral rituals, if z. B. in ancient Egyptduring the mummification the internal organs were removed. The inscription of the Egyptian cannibal hymn is also controversial .

The modern research methods of archeology, however, have produced sufficiently credible evidence for the occurrence of cannibalism in various cultural areas. One example is the findings of a research group in 1999 in a cave in Moula-Guercy , France. The human bones found were broken up using the same method as animal remains. In a pre-Columbian Anasazi settlement in what is now the US state of Colorado , a group of doctors led by Jennifer and Richard Marler found traces of human myoglobin in the cooking pots and excrement found , which can only come from the ingestion of human flesh. [2]

Archaeological Findings in Europe

"The archaeological criteria for cannibalism are broken bones, hacking and cutting marks , longitudinal splitting of the long bones for the medullary and opening of the skull to remove the brain, as well as the effects of fire, which occur in the same or a similar way on animal bones and suggest the same treatment of humans and animals . " [3]

Homo antecessor und prehistory

Already around 800,000 years old bone finds by Homo antecessor have been interpreted as evidence of cannibalistic practices, which is asserted on the basis of incisions on finds from 1997 from Atapuerca (near Burgos , northern Spain). [4] In Bilzingsleben (Thuringia) an approximately 300,000 year old pavement semicircle was found, which could have served as a ritual place. Remnants of the shattered skulls of the early man Homo erectus were interpreted by the excavator Dietrich Mania as evidence of a brain removal (funeral cannibalism). [5] [6]


In the Krapina cave north of the Croatian city of Zagreb, broken and partially burnt bones of at least 24 Neanderthals were found between 1899 and 1905 , which was classified as “ritual cannibalism”. [7] [8] This is countered by the fact that the supposedly authentic cut marks on the skulls as scratches can in part only have arisen after the preservation. According to an in-depth investigation from 2008, the site is unsuitable as evidence of cannibalism. [9]

In a cave in the Hortus massif (southern France), the remains of up to 36 people were found, all of whose bones were broken and who were surrounded by remains of food and animals. [10] Also cuts on a lower jaw with Neanderthal features from the cave of Les Rois (near Mouthiers-sur-Boëme ) were considered possible evidence of cannibalism, which is said to have been practiced by the Cro-Magnon people of the Aurignacia . However, this was contradicted by a study in 2009, which came to the conclusion that the context of certain pieces of information that are necessary to give preference to a cannibalistic context are missing. [11]


The finds from the Jungfernhöhle von Tiefenellern in Franconia come from the Neolithic Ceramic Band culture with traces of cuts that were interpreted as a sign of cannibalism. Today, however, the type of laying down is considered a secondary burial. [12] Other sites are the Hanseles Hohl cave in the Alb-Donau district, Ober-Hörgern in the Wetterau district and the sacrificial site of Zauschwitz in the Leipzig district. It is in these places that members of the band ceramic culture allegedly made sacrifices. Around the Herxheim siteAnother controversy was waged over cannibalism at the end of the ribbon pottery. [13] [14] The project manager Andrea Zeeb-Lanz ruled out cannibalism. [15]

The Fontbrégoua Cave in Provence , France, which was examined from 1986 onwards , is another finding that has been discussed.

Tradition, ritual and religion

The ritual consumption of human flesh, partly as human sacrifice , was practiced in different cultures. [16] It was above all the bodies or body parts of defeated enemies (exocannibalism) that were consumed in order to gain their powers. Those who consumed wanted to absorb properties of the dead such as strength or intelligence with the meal. That is why parts of the body were preferred where the magic power of the soul was assumed, such as the brain and heart. However, some peoples mainly ate body parts of deceased relatives and friends (endocannibalism). The inclusion in the body of the living served to preserve the soul of the deceased. During the meeting of the UN Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples' RightsIn 2017 cases of ongoing cannibalism were reported in the Congo Basin based on the belief by some Bantu that eating pygmy meat would render them invulnerable and even protect them from bullets. [17]


Burn marks on the bones of the Anasazi Indians from pre-Columbian times are interpreted as an indication of cannibalism. [18] The traces may come from execution rituals, however, the discussion about this is controversial. In 1150 AD were believed to be the researcher R. Marlar in Coloradokilled and consumed by the Anasazi enemies. The meat of the inhabitants of "three earth houses" was cooked in pots, the broken pieces of which were found in a pit. Bones with more than 1,000 cut marks from at least seven people of both sexes remained on the hut floor. Before one of the perpetrators left the place, he relieved himself in the fireplace. R. Marlar was able to detect traces of human flesh on the broken glass and in the excrement using biochemical methods. Myoglobin , a protein, was also foundwhich is responsible for the oxygen storage in the muscles. He discovered this substance in the dried excrement, which he found to be consistent in size and shape with human provenance. Myoglobin is found in skeletal and heart muscle tissue, but not in the digestive tract. If it is found in excrement, it can only come from human flesh that has been eaten, ”says Marlar.

In the sacrificial cult of the Aztecs , up to 14,000 victims are said to have been eaten at religious slaughter festivals from 1325 to 1519 (the beginning of the Spanish conquest of Mexico ). This often included thousands of prisoners of war from opposing tribes . The heart went to the priests for use in fire rituals, the skulls were lined up in a tzompantli . The rest of the body went to the family of the warrior who captured the victim. Bernal Díaz del Castillo found over 100,000 skulls kept as relics in the city of Xocotlan alone. [19] In Zultepecarchaeologists found the evidence that 550 people were sacrificed and partially eaten at this place. With the Aztecs, ritual cannibalism was one of the fertility rites. Young male priests clad with the peeled skin of a woman were of particular interest to the European colonizers. [20]

In her book Consuming Grief, the ethnologist Beth Conklin of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee described the Wari ' tribe who lived in the Brazilian rainforest and practiced both endo- and exocannibalism, the former as a means of dealing with grief. When eating enemies, the body was shown no respect and treated like that of a hunted animal ( dominance behavior ). Own tribesmen, on the other hand, were respectfully ate partially in elaborate funeral ceremonies. [21]However, their findings are not based on their own observation, but on the memories of the Wari '. In addition, she admits that anthropological or ethnological eyewitness accounts of cannibalism do not exist. [22]


On his second South Sea voyage to New Zealand, James Cook and the entire crew (including the natural scientists Georg and Johann Reinhold Forster , the on-board astronomer William Wales and the third lieutenant Richard Pickersgill) witnessed the cannibalism of the Māori . A Māori had been slain in a tribal feud and the victors had dismembered the body and partially consumed it. Cook's third officer Richard Pickersgill bought a Māori head and took it aboard the Resolution ship . In the afternoon some of the victorious Māori came on board:

“As soon as they saw the head, they testified to a great desire for it, and indicated by signs that the meat was of excellent taste. [Pickersgill] offered to give them a piece of the cheek [...] but they did not want to eat raw, but asked to have done it. So it was left to roast a little over the fire in all our presence, and no sooner had this happened than the New Zealanders devoured it before our eyes with the greatest greed. " [23]

The incident is documented in several private on-board diaries of Cook's travel participants. [24] The naturalist Georg Forster suspected "anger and revenge" as the cause of cannibalism, while the on-board astronomer William Wales said that the Māori human flesh liked "because of the taste." The observers agreed that the cannibalism was in no way caused by hunger or lack of meat.

In Papua New Guinea it is said that the Fore tribe eats the meat of their deceased relatives for ritual reasons. The spread of Kuru disease is said to be due to this. However, this is questioned by some authors. [25] There are reports of ritual cannibalism among the Korowai forest nomads in the province of Papua in the southeastern part of West Papua until at least the late mid-20th century . People believed to have fallen into witchcraft ( khakhua ) were killed with an arrow shot in the heart. Then they were gutted, cut up and made ready to eat in banana leaves . [26]

On July 21, 1867, the English missionary Thomas Baker is said to have been eaten in the village of Nabutautau , which belongs to Fiji , because of a taboo violation . It is considered an insult in Fiji to touch someone else's head hair . The island's residents solemnly apologized to the descendants of Baker in 2003. [27]


In China, special burial rituals and have up to the present time Ahnenkult obtained, which are essential components of the Chinese culture. Before their burial, the deceased are offered sacrificial foods by their biological relatives, which today mainly consist of rice dishes. The sources show, however, that human sacrifices were also common in the past and were then eaten ritually. “Throughout the length of Chinese history, one can see a development in sacrificial foods. It ranges from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice and finally to vegetarian sacrifice. (...) The sacrifice of people also meant eating people. " [28]

Even hated enemies were sometimes eaten as a special punishment and as an expression of triumph in ancient China, also in honor of their own ancestors. “When, for example, Zhou , the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, felt his honor had been struck by two gentlemen, he had one processed into minced meat in brine sauce, the other cooked and served, seasoned and sliced. He sacrificed this food in observance of the rites in the temple of his ancestors. ” [29] Although cannibalism became uncommon under the influence of Buddhism , according to sources it still occurred in the recent past, albeit no longer religiously motivated. The famous Chinese writer Zheng Yidocumented some incidents of cannibalism during the Cultural Revolution in Guangxi Autonomous Region where alleged class enemies were victims. [30]

“In historical times, cannibalism also existed when someone in the family died of natural causes. Here cannibalism also served to free the bones of the dead from contamination by the decomposing flesh of the corpse. The corpse was ritually cleansed in this way. This happened because the successor of the deceased in the family hierarchy ate the meat of the deceased or drank a broth prepared from it. (…) This cannibalism practiced within the family was considered a duty of piety towards the deceased. " [30]

Medical cannibalism (Europe)

In ancient Rome , fresh blood from gladiators was given for epilepsy . [31]

According to recent medical historical research by the cultural historian Anna Bergmann (2004) [32] and the British medical historian Richard Sugg (2006) [31] there was widespread medical cannibalism in Europe well into the 18th century. [33] Body parts of those executed, as well as their blood, were sold by the executioner to the people and to pharmacists and then used for medical purposes. The fat ( " hangdog fat ") and the meat ( "rogue meat") of the "poor sinner" - even the unborn and unbaptized deceased children - were processed into all sorts of magical ingredients that are swallowed in part, partially as ointmentssmeared on the face and body. A remedy was promised against gout and osteoarthritis , for example, and against diseases, for the development of which the fateful work of demons was assumed to be the cause. From the 17th century z. For example, a prescription from the German doctor Johann Schröder has come down to us, which describes the preparation of human muscle meat. Similarly, the American anthropologist Beth A. Conklin [34] describes , referring to the 1896 publication by Mabel Peacock: “In Denmark , epileptics were reported who, with a bowl at hand, were grouped around the scaffoldstood ready to drink the red blood that flowed from the still trembling bodies. ” [35] Still in the 1870s - e.g. B. 1879 in Berlin and thus after the creation of the Reich Penal Code - there was desecration of graves in Northern Germany , whereby pieces of meat and blood were removed from corpses, with the intention of "strengthening" the sick.

The British King Charles II is said to have consumed a distillate from human brains ("the king's drops") every day . This form of magical medicine was based on the notion of unity of body and soul and the belief that the incorporation of parts of a purified sinner had healing properties. [36]

Since the Middle Ages , powdered ancient Egyptian mummies were also regarded as medicinal products under the name Mumia and sold in European pharmacies. This was based on the assumption that the good state of preservation of the embalmed body was a sign of the special healing powers contained therein. The mumia had been in effect since the 16th centurymade from parts of the body of those who were executed were found to be particularly effective. There was extensive trade in real and counterfeit mummies for centuries until the 1920s. Tinctures and ointments were made from the powder, which were used internally or externally to help with various ailments and diseases. Since the 19th century, Mumia has been used almost exclusively in veterinary medicine . [37]

Cannibalism in extreme situations

Middle Ages and Early Modern Times

Due to the worsening climate in Central Europe , isolated cases of cannibalism were reported during the extreme hunger year 784. [38] During the Maarat an-Numan massacre in 1098, cannibalism by Christian crusaders against the local Muslim population occurred due to a famine .

In the "hunger winter" of 1609/1610, residents of Jamestown, Virginia , the first permanently settled English colony in North America , ate a 14-year-old girl to avoid starvation. [39]

During the Thirty Years' War, the parish priest Michael Lebhardt von Kutzenhausen, a neighboring village of Agawang (near Augsburg), documented the consumption of human flesh on February 3, 1635. He reported about it to his superior Dr. Kaspar Zeiller, who urged the parish priest to be lenient in the face of the extreme famine. [40]

19th century

Sometimes cannibalism occurred in the event of a shipwreck in order to save one's own life, even if only a few cases, such as the loss of the French frigate Méduse in 1816, are documented.

On November 20, 1820, the Essex whaler, rammed by an angry sperm whale , sank in the Pacific . The surviving sailors were able to save themselves with the small whaling boats and drifted for weeks in the Pacific. No longer able to cope with the strain, the Essex men began to die. The first two dead were buried in the seaman's style. Then the half-starved sailors began to eat their dead comrades. When that wasn't enough either, they drew the lot. Another whaler eventually found the last two survivors, “ the ulcerated skin littered, the castaways gnawed at the bones of their dead comrades with hollow-cheeked faces. Even when the rescuers rushed in, they did not want to give up their gruesome meal. " [41]

In 1822 seven prisoners and Alexander Pearce fled the Macquarie Harbor penal colony on Sarah Island and tried to cover the approximately 215 km long route to Hobart . The route led through the uninhabited and inhospitable west coast of Tasmania. Two of the inmates gave up and died from the exertions on their return, and four others were gradually axed to death to provide food for the others. In the end, only Alexander Pearce, who ate the meat of all four, survived. After more than 100 days, he was caught again, and he and his fellow inmate Thomas Cox managed to escape again. He killed this after a short time and ate parts of his corpse, he took other parts with him as food. Alexander Pearce was caught again ten days later and executed in 1824. His skull is in the possession of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to this day . His life has been featured in several films, including The Last Confession of Alexander Pearcefilmed. [42]

A tour group of 87 American settlers went down in the history of settlement in the American West as the Donner Party , who wanted to reach California in 1846 . In the Sierra Nevada , the winter caught her by surprise and went hungry. A total of 34 participants in the trek died. The others, according to the diaries and reports of the search parties, may only have survived through cannibalism on the dead group members. It is unclear whether any of the killings in the split-up tour group took place to obtain food. [43]

In 1884 the British sailing ship Mignonette got into distress in the South Atlantic . Four crew members were able to save themselves in a small rowboat. After starving for nearly three weeks, they decided to kill and eat the 17-year-old cabin boy . This was allegedly already terminally ill because he had drunk sea ​​water . Later the remaining three were rescued by a German sailing ship. Three months later, they were charged and convicted of murder in England . [44]

20th century

During a famine in Russia, 1921

In the Soviet Union , cannibalism occurred in the wake of great famines, [45] and in the wake of deportations during the Stalin era , such as the Nasino tragedy . [46] The consumption of corpses in emergency situations often occurred during the Second World War , for example during the Leningrad blockade (1941–1944). There is also evidence of hunger cannibalism among prisoners of war in Soviet camps at the time. A German doctor who was taken prisoner by the Soviet Union said when questioned later: "I know from personal experience from the camp I was in that hunger led to cannibalism there. Body parts of those who died at night were visibly nibbled on the next morning. " [47]

Other incidents of cannibalism during World War II occurred in the Pacific . In 1942, 160,000 Japanese were stationed in Papua New Guinea , where they fought against the Allies. The soldiers were no longer supplied with food by the Japanese army , and the food situation there rapidly deteriorated. Therefore, fallen Australians were first eaten. But living Australian prisoners of war were also quickly killed for consumption, and occasionally Japanese soldiers. Of the Japanese soldiers, only around 10,000 survived. The Japanese historian Yuki Tanakaassumes that the majority of these survivors practiced cannibalism. Similar reports are known from Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. [48]

Between 1959 and 1961, during the Great Leap Forward Campaign, the Great Chinese Famine occurred , which led to various forms of cannibalism, which are reported in extensive oral reports as well as some official documents. [49] [50] [51] Due to the magnitude of the famine, the resulting cannibalism has been described as unprecedented in 20th century history. [49] [50]

A plane crash in the Chilean Andes in 1972, also called Survival! was filmed.

In the documentary Children of the Secret State (2001) [52] , refugees from North Korea report on the famine there, which also leads to cannibalism. [53] It is reported that human meat is sold on the black market as pork. [54]

Psychiatric manifestations, psychology

In psychiatry , cannibalism is classified as paraphilia or sexual fetishism .

The terms Gynophagie ( ancient Greek γυνή gyne "woman", φαγεῖν phagein [55] "eat"), and similarly Androphagie ( ἀνήρ Aner "man", genitive ἀνδρός Andros ), called paraphilias, where cannibalistic acts subject of sexual fantasies are or deeds . Since the 1990s, cartoon drawings by Dolcett have been distributed on the Internet , which mainly deal with gynophagia.

The theory of the psychoanalysis based on Sigmund Freud interprets the suckling of the baby on the mother's breast as both sexual and cannibalistic identification of the child with the mother. [56]

Depth psychologists see stories that deal with cannibalism, problems, fears and trauma of the onset of puberty and mother / child separation , sexuality and instinct , but also the fear of one's own age and death in a literary way.

Criminal cases in the 20th and 21st centuries

Well-known cases of cannibalism in the 20th and 21st centuries have often found widespread dissemination and attention via the media and caused a great stir in the public. [57] [58]

Karl Denke murdered at least 26 men and 5 women during the First World War . Containers with cured human meat were found with him . The serial killer Joachim Kroll was arrested by the police in 1976 while he was preparing the hand of his last victim for consumption. Issei Sagawa killed a woman in Paris in 1981 and ate parts of her body.

The American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer , who became known as the Cannibal of Milwaukee , committed 17 murders in the United States from 1978 to 1991 and, after his arrest, confessed to practicing cannibalism in three cases and consuming a heart and muscle meat from his victims. [59] The Ukrainian-Russian serial killer Andrei Tschikatilo was executed in 1994 as a monster of Rostov for 53 murders mainly of women and children, some of which he ate.

In 2001, a man volunteered as a victim for a cannibalized meal that Armin Meiwes from Rotenburg made available. With the victim's consent, Meiwes ate parts of this body in front of the camera. Meiwes became known as the Rotenburg cannibal . [60]

Cannibalism can transmit disease

The prions responsible for the cattle disease BSE and scrapie in sheep are transmitted in particular through the consumption of infected organs of the central nervous system (CNS) or other contaminated parts. This is also the case with the Kuru disease , which was observed epidemically in the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea in the middle of the 20th century and which is attributed to ritual cannibalism. After the ban on cannibalism in 1954, the incidence of the disease also steadily decreased, only to go to zero by the end of the century. Alternative explanations are also discussed.[25][61]

Cultural adaptations of the topic

In mythology

Francisco de Goya : Saturn eats one of its children
  • In Greek mythology, Kronos eats his children because he fears for his rule. Zeus survives because his mother Rhea gives Kronos a stone wrapped in a diaper instead of him.
  • The goddess Athena arises from the head of her father Zeus, who had previously eaten her together with her pregnant mother. Athena, however, survives and wanders into her father's body and into his head.
  • Prokne , the wife of Tereus , cooked their son and put him in front of the ignorant husband for dinner because he had raped her sister Philomele . The subject was retold by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Legend of Good Women around 1387 .
  • The creation story of the South American Yanomami is about how the "first beings" exterminate each other in an interplay of murder, rape and cannibalism, so that a surviving spirit becomes the first Yanomami. Among other things, two young men kill an older man who ate a child, whereupon they rape a woman and turn her vagina into a mouth with teeth so that he can eat the next penis. As the story progresses, the woman turns into a large snake that still lurks to eat Yanomami men. The numerous comments of “hunger for each other” in the founding history are ambiguous, because copulateand eat are denoted by the same verb in the Yanomami language. [63]
  • In a story in the summer, the mythical creature Wendigo of the North American Algonquin marries the daughter of a family whom he has helped with food over her famine to eat in winter. [64]

In the literature

  • In Shakespeare's early tragedy Titus Andronicus , the Gothic queen Tamora is served a pie made from the meat of her two sons.
  • The man-eating witch is known from Grimm's fairy tales , who Hansel and Gretel first want to bake and then eat. Similar motifs appear in some of Wilhelm Busch's picture stories .
  • In the French pre-Grimm Little Red Riding Hood versions, the wolf gives him to drink the blood of her grandmother and eat her meat. [65]
  • A Scottish legend tells of Alexander "Sawney" Bean , who lived at the beginning of the 15th century and is said to have eaten more than 1,000 people with his family.
  • The satire A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift proposes the export of human flesh to fight poverty in Ireland of its time.
  • William Blake describes in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell how stronger monkeys capture weaker ones, have sex with them, and then physically tear them apart. [66]
  • In his short story "Diary of a Madman", Lu Xun uses the allegory of cannibalism to criticize traditional Chinese culture and Confucian ethics.
  • The story of Alfred Packer was written in Cannibal! The Musical satirically filmed with black humor.
  • In Sławomir Mrożek's absurd play on the high seas, three castaways vote in a pseudo-democratic process about which of them should be eaten.
  • In the novel Robinson Crusoe , published in 1719, the protagonist lives on a lonely island that is repeatedly visited by cannibals who kill and eat prisoners on the beach. One day one of the prisoners escapes, Robinson saves him, takes him in and names him Friday.
  • In the American author Herman Melville's first work, Typee , published in 1846, the latter describes a captivity in the valley of the Taipi, known as cannibalistic.
  • In the carnival burlesque Chieftain Abendwind or The Greyish Feast by Johann Nestroy , which premiered in 1862, cannibalism "on one of the most distant islands in Australia" is an ironic theme.
  • In Jules Verne's novel The Children of Captain Grant , published in 1867/1868, seafarers who had become shipwrecked off the coast of New Zealand are arrested by cannibalist Maori .
  • The short story The Survivor Type (original title Survivor Type ) from the book Der Fornit by Stephen King is about a doctor who is stranded on a lonely island and is forced by his hunger to amputate various body parts one after the other and to eat them.
  • Some Jack London short stories and novels depict cannibalism in the South Seas, such as "Jerry the Islander". Researchers of his time criticized him for exaggeration, but London repeatedly defended the authenticity of his stories through reports and documents.
  • The novel Die Strasse , set in a post-apocalyptic setting, addresses, among other things, people's turn to cannibalism after the fall of society.
  • In the short story volume A cannibal on the railroad - and other stories by Mark Twain , the topic of cannibalism is satirically taken up together with politics.
  • The American Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather describes in her novel Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), which is set during the time of slavery in the US southern states , how the white slave owner tries to attribute the sexuality to the young slave Nancy control, including arranging a rape of Nancy, while the slave Jezebel rediscovers her cannibalistic instincts when she thinks of Nancy. Apparently Sapphira and Jezebel work together and act in mental-emotional harmony. In the book itself there are several indications that Sapphira is gaining more and more weight, while at the same time the slaves mysteriously disappear. [67]
  • In Das Liebesopfer , the Croatian author Slavenka Drakulić tells how a violent physical relationship ends with the protagonist dissecting and eating her partner with a butcher's knife and bone saw.
  • Patrick Süskind's novel Das Parfum ends with a cannibalistic scene: the protagonist Grenouille, who has created a perfume from the body scents of young women, of which a drop had already led a whole crowd to a mass orgy, showered himself in a slum in Paris (his place of birth) with the whole bottle of the scented water, whereupon the bystanders and outcasts, who take him for an angel because of the effect of the perfume, eat him skin and hair with the intention of owning a part of him.
  • The German writer Orla Wolf theme in her 2008 in the Berlin theater under the roof , first performed play gutted the accomplished with the consent of the victim on camera killing by the offender, who is also body parts eaten his victim.
  • Donald Kingsbury describes in Die Riten der Minne , published in 1984, a dystopian society in which sick and old people are consumed with their consent. Due to the scarcity of resources, people pass on their tattooed skin to their descendants as leather.

In the movie

The cannibal film is a genre introduced in the 1970s that belongs to the exploitation and splatter film category .

Cannibalism in the animal kingdom

Active and passive cannibalism

A pond frog devours a smaller conspecific

When it comes to cannibalism among animals, zoologists differentiate between active and passive cannibalism. An active cannibal hunts and kills conspecifics before eating them, while a passive cannibal only eats conspecifics that are already dead. The latter are often predators and omnivores such as crows and seagulls or scavengers such as different types of crabs or even many snails .

  • Active cannibalism is very common among fish. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of all young pike are eaten by larger conspecifics. The same applies to the perch and many other predatory fish. In this way, the perch can survive in waters where it is the only fish species to enter.
  • Branch cannibalism is the act when parents assault their own offspring. This behavior is very common among Teleostei .
  • Male alligators , monitor lizards and snakes often kill conspecifics they are superior to and eat them.
  • In intrauterine cannibalism, which occurs in some ovoviviparous sharks , the embryos eat other (mostly) unfertilized eggs ( oophagia ) while they are still in the womb . In the case of the tiger sharks and other large deep-sea sharks, the young animals eat other fetuses , so that only two young animals are born from the entire litter, which have grown in two separate uterus ( Adelphophagy ).
  • Real spiders in particular sometimes eat careless conspecifics as prey. Often this also happens during mating, although the males try to surprise their partner, to woo them or to immobilize them with shackles or "bridal gifts" ( predatory spiders ).
  • In praying mantises ( Mantodea ) it occasionally happens that the female begins to eat the smaller male during mating.

Cannibalism in (mass) animal husbandry

Cannibalism can also occur when keeping mice and rats . When the population density increases sharply, young animals are often killed and eaten by highly stressed adults. This phenomenon also occurs in factory farming . Here pigs eat each other's tails or ears, chickens injure or kill each other by pecking.

Cannibalism is one of the most problematic behavioral problems in the keeping of hybrid chickens for egg and meat production in large groups. Often the chickens damage by feather peckingthe plumage of fellow species - until the skin and the sewer are bare. In the further course of the picking attacks, individual animals are then "properly eviscerated" via these points. In free-range husbandry, damaged feathers can also lead to the death of the animals as they cool down. Some researchers see a misguided exploratory behavior as the cause of cannibalism and feather pecking. Wild chickens explore their surroundings by pecking the ground and finding food such as worms, insects and grains. If concentrated feed is used in industrial farming, this natural urge cannot be lived out. Feather pecking and cannibalism can therefore be classified as a substitute act. As a countermeasure, day-old chicks often have their beaks shortened,[68] Feather pecking can increase the death rate in large stables up to 20 percent. Genetic causes are being researched. It can also be observed that the animals learn feather pecking and cannibalism in large herds, and that the phenomenon occurs in waves. [69]

Turkeys also have a typical instinct to look for food in their environment. If they cannot live out this drive, they will also start pecking at other turkeys, which can lead to cannibalism. Injuries are mainly inflicted on unfledged parts of the body (head, neck, neck, nasal cone) and in the vicinity of the cloaca and on the chest and back region. In addition to leg weakness, this is the most serious problem in keeping turkeys. In addition to the suffering of the animals, an increased susceptibility of the animals to infectious diseases and the resulting deaths could be demonstrated. In addition to other factors, the density of the stables also determines the frequency of cannibalism and feather pecking. [70]In order to reduce cannibalism in the herds, the tips of the chicks are docked . [71]

Use of the term “cannibalism” in other areas

In astronomy , the term meant the "swallowing" of small galaxies by larger ones.

The term was also transferred to production control : Here it describes (but not in accordance with the standard) the removal of parts from already assembled assemblies or products with the aim of installing the “cannibalized” parts in other assemblies that have to be completed more quickly.

In the economy there is the synonymous term cannibalization .

The US Indian Jack D. Forbes uses the term cannibalism in his philosophy of " Wétiko psychosis " - which denotes a pathological cannibalism among the Cree Indians - figuratively for the unrestrained consumption of man and nature through the legalized excesses of the capitalist market economy .

Habsburg cannibalism ” was a polemical catchphrase for the left-wing Habsburg defense in Austria in the 20th century.


History of science

  • Cǎtǎlin Avramescu: An Intellectual History of Cannibalism. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 2009, ISBN 978-0-691-13327-0.

Prehistory, anthropology

  • Jörg Orschiedt : Manipulation of human skeletal remains. Taphonomic processes, secondary burials or cannibalism? (= Prehistoric material booklets. 13). Mo Vince Verlag, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-9804834-7-9 (also: Tübingen, Universität, Dissertation, 1996).
  • William Arens: The Man-Eating Myth. Anthropology and Anthrophagy. Oxford University Press, New York NY 1979, ISBN 0-19-502506-7.
  • Michael M. Rind: Human sacrifice. From the cult of cruelty. University Press Regensburg. 2nd edition 1998, ISBN 3-930480-64-6 (small overview). P. 107

Ethnological-historical questions

  • Annerose Menninger: The Power of Eyewitnesses. New World and Cannibal Myth, 1492–1600 (= contributions to colonial and overseas history. Vol. 64). Steiner, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 3-515-06723-X (also: Bamberg, University, dissertation, 1993).
  • Simon Haberberger: Colonialism and Cannibalism. Cases from German New Guinea and British New Guinea 1884–1914 (= sources and research on the South Seas. Series B: Research. Vol. 3). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-447-05578-9 (also: Bayreuth, University, dissertation, 2005).
  • Manfred Riße: Last Supper of the Murderers. Cannibals - Myth and Reality. Militzke, Leipzig 2007, ISBN 978-3-86189-776-7 .
  • Heidi Peter-Röcher: The ogre myth. A look into the cannibals' cooking pots (= Beck'sche Reihe. Vol. 1262). Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-42062-1 .
  • Hedwig Röckelein (Ed.): Cannibalism and European Culture (= Forum Psychohistorie. Vol. 6). Edition Diskord, Tübingen 1996, ISBN 3-89295-582-4 .
  • Josef Nussbaumer, Guido Rüthemann: Hungry people, storms and cannibals (= violence, power, hunger. Vol. 2 = history & economy. Vol. 14). StudienVerlag, Innsbruck et al. 2004, ISBN 3-7065-1831-7 .
  • Gereon Janzing: cannibals and shamans. Common errors about foreign peoples (= The Green Branch. Vol. 247). Werner Pieper & The Grüne Kraft, Löhrbach 2006, ISBN 3-922708-59-5 .
  • Silvia Freiin Ebner von Eschenbach: Food for the dead - food from the dead. Ancestral Sacrifice and Cannibalism in China. In: Perry Schmidt-Leukel (Hrsg.): The religions and the food (= Diederich's yellow row. Vol. 163). Diederichs, Munich et al. 2000, ISBN 3-7205-2115-X , pp. 203-223.
  • Christian game: people eat people. The world of cannibals (= Fischer pocket books 6256 books of knowledge ). Revised edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-436-01952-6 .

Individual studies

  • Hans-Volker Werthmann: The emptiness was gone! Psychoanalytic comments on the Rotenburg cannibalism case. In: Psyche. Vol. 60, Issue 8, 2006, ISSN 0033-2623 , pp. 763-775.
  • Günter Behm-Blancke: caves, sanctuaries, cannibals. Archaeological research in Kyffhäuser Dingsda-Verlag, Querfurt 2005, ISBN 3-928498-86-X .

Reception in art, cultural studies, literature

  • Annette Keck , Inka Kording, Anja Prochaska (ed.): Tangled borders. Anthropophagy in literature and cultural studies (= literature and anthropology. Vol. 2). Narr, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-8233-5701-8 .
  • Dominik Schrey: "If I die, you can eat me" - cannibalism as a motif in the feature film. In: Christian Hoffstadt , Franz Peschke, Andreas Schulz-Buchta, Michael Nagenborg (eds.): The foreign body (= aspects of medical philosophy. Vol. 6). Projektverlag, Bochum et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-89733-189-1 , pp. 551-570.
  • Michael Schneider: Deadly desire. Cannibals and serial killers. (Cases - facts - background). Books on Demand GmbH, Norderstedt 2004, ISBN 3-8334-1269-0 .
  • Walter Pape , Daniel Fulda (Ed.): The other food. Cannibalism as a motif and metaphor in literature (= Rombach Sciences. Series: Litterae. Vol. 70). Rombach, Freiburg (Breisgau) 2001, ISBN 3-7930-9258-5 .
  • Volker Mergenthaler: Völkerschau - Cannibalism - Foreign Legion. On the Aesthetics of Transgression (1897–1936) (= Hermaea. German Research. NF Vol. 109). Niemeyer, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-484-15109-9 .

Older publications (before 1990)


Commons : Cannibalism - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: cannibalism - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Cannibalism - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. Christian game: People eat people. The world of cannibals (= Fischer pocket books 6256 books of knowledge ). Revised edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-436-01952-6 .
  2. Joseph Jurt : The cannibals: first European images of the Indians - from Columbus to Montaigne. (PDF file; 54 kB) 2002
  3. Ulrike Zischka et al. (Ed.): The decent lust. Of food culture and table manners. Munich 1994, p. 37.
  4. Y. Fernández-Jalvo, JC Déz, JM Bermúdez de Castro, E. Carbonell, JL Arsuaga : Evidence of early Cannibalism. In: Science. Band 271, 1996, pp. 269–270 doi : 10.1126 / science.271.5247.277
  5. Jörg Orschiedt: Manipulation of human skeletal remains. Taphonomic processes, secondary burials or cannibalism? Tübingen 1999, p. 60.
  6. Jörg Orschiedt: On the question of the manipulation of the skull of "Homo steinheimensis". In: I. Campen, J. Hahn, M. Uerpmann (Ed.): Traces of the hunt - The hunt for traces. Festschrift Prof. H. Müller-Beck. (Tübingen Monographs on Prehistory, Vol. 11) Tübingen 1996, pp. 467–472.
  7. Erik Trinkaus: Cannibalism and burial at Krapina. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Band 14, Nr. 2, 1985, S. 203–216.
  8. The Krapina Neanderthal. A Comprehensive, Centennial, Illustrated Bibliography. (Bibliography of all research papers on Krapina)
  9. Jörg Orschiedt: The Krapina case - new results on the question of cannibalism in Neanderthals. In: Quaternary. Volume 55, 2008, pp. 63-81.
  10. Hortus Cave website , 2002.
  11. Fernando V. Ramirez Rozzi, Francesco d’Errico, Marian Vanhaeren, Pieter M. Grootes, Bertrand Kerautret, Véronique Dujardin: Cutmarked human remains bearing Neandertal features and modern human remains associated with the Aurignacian at Les Rois. In: Journal of Anthropological Sciences. Band 87, 2009, S. 153–185, hier: S. 174 („In our case, however, contextual pieces of information needed to favour the cannibalistic interpretation are missing.“).
  12. Jörg Orschiedt: Manipulation of human skeletal remains. Taphonomic processes, secondary burials or cannibalism? Tübingen 1999, pp. 164-175.
  13. Bruno Boulestin, Andrea Zeeb-Lanz, Christian Jeunesse, Fabian Haack, Rose-Marie Arbogast, Anthony Denaire: Mass cannibalism in the Linear Pottery Culture at Herxheim (Palatinate, Germany). In: Antiquity. Band 83, Nr. 322, 2009, S. 968–982.
  14. Andrea Zeeb-Lanz, Bruno Boulestin: Complex 9 (excavation 2005–2008): New findings on human bones - ritual with cannibalistic practices?
  15. ^ Archaeologist: No evidence of cannibalism,, December 7, 2009
  16. this is how Herodotus already describes androphages
  17. Arnold Groh: Research Methods in Indigenous Contexts. Springer, New York 2018, ISBN 978-3-319-72774-5, S. 14f.
  18. Steven A. LeBlanc: Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah 1999, ISBN 0-87480-581-3.
  19. Bernal Díaz del Castillo: The True Story of the Conquest of Mexico. P. 153.
  20. Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks: Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice. Routledge, New York 2000, S. 146.
  21. Beth A. Conklin: Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society , University of Texas Press, 2001. Cf. Wari ': Funerary cannibalism . English article on the Povos Indígenas no Brasil (Indigenous Peoples of Brazil) website .
  22. Rezension von James R. Welch, in: Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 1 (2003), S. 136 f.
  23. Georg Forster: Journey around the world. 1983, pp. 443-445.
  24. J. C. Beaglehole (Hrsg.): The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Diascovery. Vol II, 1969, S. 292–294, 776, 818.
  25. a b Lyle B. Steadman, Charles F. Merbs: Kuru and Cannibalism. In: American Anthropologist. 84 1982, S. 611–627.
  26. Paul Raffaele: Sleeping with Cannibals. In: Smithsonian. September 2006, S. 3.
  27. Eaten missionary's family get apology. In: November 13, 2003, accessed January 8, 2014 .
  28. Silvia Freiin Ebner von Eschenbach: Food for the dead - food from the dead - ancestral sacrifice and cannibalism in China. In: Perry Schmidt-Leukel (Ed.): The religions and the food. Kreuzlingen 2000, p. 214.
  29. Silvia Freiin Ebner von Eschenbach, p. 215.
  30. a b Silvia Freiin Ebner von Eschenbach, p. 216.
  31. a b Richard Sugg: ‘Good Physic but Bad Food’: Early Modern Attitudes to Medicinal Cannibalism and its Suppliers. In: Social History of Medicine 19 (2), 2006, S. 225–240. Siehe auch Summary (englisch).
  32. Anna Bergmann: The dead patient. Modern medicine and death. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-351-02587-4 . 2nd edition: Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-515-10760-0 .
  33. See article cannibals? We? God forbid! in GEO , April 1, 2011; Review in, March 27, 2011.
  34. Beth A. Conklin: Consuming grief: compassionate cannibalism in an Amazonian society. University of Texas Press, Austin 2001, ISBN 0-292-71236-7.
  35. Mabel Peacock: Executed criminals and folk medicine. In: Folklore. [London Folklore Society] 7 1896, S. 268–283.
  36. History: The Healing Power of Death, January 26, 2009
  37. Beatrix Geßler-Löhr: Mumia vera aegyptiaca in the Occident (PDF file; 9 kB)
  38. ^ Rüdiger Glaser : Climate History of Central Europe. 1200 years of weather, climate, disasters. With forecasts for the 21st century. Darmstadt 2008, p. 58.
  39. Joseph Stromberg: Starving Settlers in Jamestown Colony Resorted to Cannibalism. New archaeological evidence and forensic analysis reveals that a 14-year-old girl was cannibalized in desperation. In:, 1. Mai 2013 (englisch). Abgerufen am 17. Juni 2013.
  40. Hans Medick: The Thirty Years' War - testimonies to life with violence. Wallstein Publishing House. Goettingen. 2018
  41. Tears from Blood in Der Spiegel , edition 19/2000
  42. A journey through hell’s gate. The Age, abgerufen am 25. Juli 2009.
  43. Charles McGlashan (1879): History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra Nevada, 11. Auflage (1918), A Carlisle & Company, San Francisco
    Kelly Dixon (Hrsg.) (2011): An Archaeology of Desperation: Exploring the Donner Party’s Alder Creek Camp, University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-4210-4
  44. Neil Hanson: The Custom of the Sea
  45. Hierzu Steven Bela Várdy, Agnes Huszar Várdy: Cannibalism in Stalin’s Russia und Mao’s China. In: East European Quarterly. XLI, No. 2, June 2007, S. 223–238, hier 226–233. (PDF-Datei; 856 kB)
  46. Nicolas Werth : The island of the cannibals: Stalin's forgotten gulag . Siedler, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-88680-853-X .
  47. ^ Albrecht Lehmann: Hunger Culture. On the experience of food shortages in the total institution of Soviet prisoner-of-war camps during World War II. In: Uwe Spiekermann (Ed.): Nutrition in borderline situations. Berlin 2002, p. 113.
  48. Yuki Tanaka: Japan admits war crimes conducted in WWII.
  49. a b Richard Bernstein: Horror of a Hidden Chinese Famine, New York Times. 5. Februar 1997.
  50. a b Jasper Becker: Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine . Free Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-684-83457-3 , p. 352. (Note: the title is an allusion to the Hungry Ghosts in the Chinese religion .)
  51. Frank Dikötter: 36. Cannibalism. In: Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958–1962 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-7768-3, S. 320–323.
  52. Children of the Secret State Preview (9:59 min.) And film description at (English)
  53. Film review ( memento of May 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) in the Guardian , October 19, 2000. Quotation: “There are many cases of killing people and eating the flesh”, one man attests. All the refugees we interviewed know about cannibalism. ("It often happens that people are killed and the meat is eaten," says one man. All of the refugees we interviewed knew about cannibalism.)
  54. Excerpts from the film at (9:04 min.) With German-language comments. On the subject of cannibalism, see 4:45 to 5:27.
  55. Infinitive aorist of the verb ἐσθίειν esthíein "essen"
  56. John McLeish: Theory of Social Change: Social Theory and Methodology. Routledge, London 2003, S. 38.
  57. Spectacular Cases of Cannibalism. In: December 12, 2002, accessed December 28, 2013 .
  58. Cannibalism: When corpses are made into shashlik. In: July 23, 2003, accessed December 28, 2013 .
  59. Gregory O’Meara: “He Speaks Not, Yet He Says Everything; What of That?” Text, Context, and Pretext in State v. Jeffrey Dahmer (Law School Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Paper No. 9–17). Marquette University, Milwaukee 2009, S. 103 ( [accessed February 10, 2018]).
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  61. Gereon Janzing: Cannibals and Shamans. Common misconceptions about foreign peoples. 2007.
  62. Alexandre Piankoff: The Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon (= Bollingen Series 40, 2, ZDB-ID 844375-0 = Egyptian religious Texts and Representations 2). Pantheon Books, New York NY 1955, Taf. 48.
  63. Peggy Reeves Sanday: Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1981, S. 48 f.
  64. Peggy Reeves Sanday: Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1986, S. 108.
  65. ^ Kurt Ranke, Hermann Bausinger, Rolf Wilhelm Brednich: Enzyklopädie des Märchen. Walter de Gruyter, 1977, ISBN 3-11-011763-0 , p. 99.
  66. Debbie Lee: Slavery and the Romantic Imagination. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 2004, S. 78 ff.
  67. Robin Hackett: Sapphic Primitivism: Productions of Race, Class, and Sexuality in Key Works of Modern Fiction. Rutgers University Press, Piscataway, NJ 2004, S. 138 ff.
  68. Fries, R. and Flisikowski, K., Hans Eisenmann-Zentrum, Technical University of Munich, Molecular genetics of feather picking in laying hens , 2009
  69. ^ Preliminary stage to cannibalism: University of Hohenheim researches feather pecking in chickens Press release of the University of Hohenheim , January 20, 2012
  70. Olga Ermakow: Results of the meat inspection of turkeys from organic and conventional farming (PDF), Dissertation, Leipzig 2012, p. 42 ff.
  71. Turkeys Albert Schweitzer Foundation, see section shortening the beak .