Dinner with a Cannibal
by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff
Dinner with a Cannibal - The Complete History of Mankind's Oldest Taboo
by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff  •  Foreword by Christy G. Turner II


"Man, a domesticated animal still extensively raised, one wonders why, since it is rarely eaten nowadays."   -Waverley Root, from his book Food

Few people believe their ancestors practiced cannibalism, and some scholars deny its existence altogether, but the truth is . . . we all have cannibals in our closets.

Cannibalism is the ingestion of others of one's own species and is practiced throughout the animal kingdom, from one-celled organisms to humans. The reason for cannibalism's ubiquitous nature lies in its antiquity. Recent finds of species-specific tooth marks on dinosaur bones prove occurrences of cannibalism dating back to the Mesozoic era.

Today, many people see themselves as standing outside the realm of the animal kingdom, but as living creatures with functional brains, we are not only animals, but the dominating force that holds sway over the magnificent puzzle of global biota that exists on planet Earth. We, Homo sapiens sapiens ("really smart man"), are the most intriguing piece of that magnificent, global puzzle; a piece that once fit neatly within the framework of the whole.

From our very beginnings, human cannibalism has been practiced for numerous reasons, many of which have been labeled. Starvation brings on "survival" cannibalism, while the ingestion of dead relatives is known as "endocannibalism" or "funerary" cannibalism. "Exocannibalism" refers to the eating of one's enemies, whereas "religious" cannibalism relates to the actual or simulated partaking of human flesh as part of a religious rite. For example, the Aztecs practicing cannibalism to keep the sun from dying versus Christian Communion.

In "ritual," or "token," cannibalism, a specified part of an adversary, ruler, or family member is consumed, as in the eating of an enemy's heart, or the eyes of a previous chief eaten by an incoming chief, or the drinking of a family member's cremated ashes mixed in a watery broth, though many would label the drinking of ash-broth funerary.

"Medicinal" (iatric) cannibalism is one of the most fascinating, as none of the medical or apothecary journals ever saw fit to identify the ingestion of physician-prescribed medicines made from human cadavers as being acts of cannibalism. Nevertheless, human flesh is human flesh, and the consuming of it by another human constitutes an act of cannibalism.

With "gastronomic" cannibalism, human flesh is dealt with and eaten without ceremony (other than culinary), in the same manner as the flesh of any other animal. The most reliable sources state that human flesh resembles beef, though it is lighter in color and texture, and, according to some, the most delicious of meats. The commonly known moniker "long pig" will be discussed in the text, but Pacific Islanders related the taste of human flesh to pork for the simple reason that prior to contact with the rest of the world, the only meat-producing mammal of reasonable size available to them was the wild pig.

Autophagy (to eat of one's self) ranges from the little boy who picks his nose to torture-induced self-consumption and truly disturbed individuals who cook and eat pieces of their own flesh.

One other form of cannibalism should be noted as it graces the pages of this book. It is referred to as "benign" cannibalism because the diner has no knowledge of what kind of meat he is eating . . . or has already eaten.

As individuals, we are a summation of our unique genetics, all we have experienced, and what we have been taught to believe. If the people within the society to which you were born practice cannibalism, burn people at stakes, make war, promote terrorism, or scarify their bodies, chances are you will do the same.

This volume investigates not only the subject of cannibalism, but when and why people ate those of their own kind and continue to do so to this very day. The why of cannibalism forces the examination of many surrounding subjects, from the many foods we eat, to the caves of our ancient past, to what makes us human. How do belief systems affect our lives? Are we different today from our ancestors of yesteryear? Do the memes of the societies we live in dictate our beliefs and our actions? Where do religions fit in? Are religions more powerful than kings, queens and governments? Do governing bodies use religions and/or belief systems to control the masses? Do we function instinctually, or are we mere tools of our societies? How did we get to where and how we are today? How different are we, one society to another? And how do we differ from our most ancient ancestors?

Dinner with a Cannibal presents the history of cannibalism in concert with human development, making note of religions and societies that either condoned or outlawed the practice. Through the following pages we will look at cannibalism from every angle in order to gain comprehension of the incredible, ancient/up-to-the-minute, multifaceted panoply that is the reality of cannibalism.

The interpretation of human cannibalism used in this volume is the ingestion of any part of the human form, including fluids or matter emanating from the body.

Information for this book was gathered over a seven-year period from authoritative primary sources. Research materials and investigations used for accepting the fact that human cannibalism was and is real and not uncommon, include scientific reports; firsthand accounts; anthropological and archaeological evidence; historical, anthropological and archaeological writings; recent news reports; and the analyzing of belief systems. Advice, editing, readings and contributions from leading professors, paleoanthropologists, archaeologists and scientists from multiple fields, plus physician specialists, directed and tightened the work.

I have used the names of various tribes and peoples only when the literature has been highly publicized or those listed are deceased. The main thrust of this book is to consider the human condition rather than to present a litany of everyone known to have practiced cannibalism.

 Bon appetit.
 Carole A. Travis-Henikoff