Why do Cannibals Eat People?

To us, cannibalism, or the eating of human flesh, is a horrible thing to think about. Yet his has exited as a practice among certain people and may still exist among some primitive tribes. The first thing we must understand is that cannibals did not eat human flesh because they liked it.

They ate it because it was part of a sacred rite, a kind of religious observance. For example, among certain people of East India long time ago, it was the custom to eat one’s parents -because they respected and honored them! Many primitive tribes believe that a man acquires the spirit of whatever he eats.

If he eats a lion, he will be lion hearted; if he eats a deer, he will be able to run fast; if he eats a fox, he will be cunning. So the more one of these men respected his father, the more anxious he was to eat him.


Among other primitive peoples it was the custom to eat criminal who had been condemned to death, but not a person who had died a natural death. The reason for this was that they believed that a criminal had offended the gods. Therefore he had to be sacrificed to the gods to satisfy them.

And since it was the practice to eat or taste sacrifices to the gods, this had to be done even if the sacrificed was human. Our word “cannibal” comes from Caniba, or Carib, the names of the West Indian tribe among whom the Spaniards first noticed the practice of eating human flesh.

Some of the early North American Indians also practised cannibalism as part of their religion. Nobody is quite sure how many cannibal tribes still exist. Some authorities think there are none, while others believe there are some in the interior of New Guinea.

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