Member only
Episode
287

Humans For Lunch | A Short History of Cannibalism

Aug 9, 2022
History
-
24
minutes

For as long as there have been humans, there have been humans who have eaten other humans.

In this episode, we'll explore the curious and unappetising world of human cannibalism.

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login
Subtitles will start when you press 'play'
You need to subscribe for the full subtitles
Already a member? Login
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript only available after your trial

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about cannibalism.

[00:00:26] Now, you might think that it’s a bit of a horrible topic for an episode, and you would be right.

[00:00:32] But it is an interesting one, and–as we’ll see–for as long as there have been people, there have been people who have eaten other people.

[00:00:42] Now, I should probably give you a little warning. 

[00:00:45] To reiterate, the topic of this episode is humans eating other humans.

[00:00:50] If you’re about to eat your lunch, I would suggest that you either stop listening to this episode or stop eating your lunch. 

[00:00:58] I’ll try to avoid the very graphic descriptions, but the subject matter will be…difficult to stomach.

[00:01:05] So, with that in mind, let’s get into the meat, if you’ll pardon the pun, of today’s episode.

[00:01:13] If you know much about English cheeses, you’ll know that there’s a famous one called Cheddar.

[00:01:20] The cheese is named after the village of Cheddar, in the county of Somerset, in the south-west of England.

[00:01:28] And in the late 19th century, sometime in the 1890s, a retired sea captain by the name of Richard Cox Gough had a hobby.

[00:01:39] He would explore the caves under and around the village of Cheddar.

[00:01:45] He was exploring one of these caves one day, a long cave that is 115 metres deep and nearly three and a half kilometres in length.

[00:01:55] As he explored, he found old bones, bones that archaeologists now believe come from around 15,000 years ago.

[00:02:05] Deep within the cave, Gough found broken bones belonging to at least five people. 

[00:02:11] Now, there’s nothing particularly strange about finding human remains, but there was something unusual about these remains.

[00:02:22] All of them had significant cuts and teeth marks, suggesting that they had been de-fleshed, their skin removed, and chewed by…something. 

[00:02:34] The skulls also appear to have been made into drinking cups. 

[00:02:40] Gough had discovered that the past residents of Cheddar had a taste for something a little more unusual than the eponymous cheese the village went on to become famous for: they had a taste for other people.

[00:02:54] Yes, 15,000 years ago, in sleepy Somerset, if you were unlucky you might become someone else’s lunch.

[00:03:04] Now, you most likely think this is horrible and disgusting. 

[00:03:08] For most people it is, of course, but eating your own species, being a cannibal, is not so uncommon among animals.

[00:03:17] Piranhas, those fish with sharp teeth, will nip and bite at each other’s tails until one becomes unable to swim properly, which allows the others to consume it in a frenzied mob attack. 

[00:03:31] And unless he is particularly alert, the females of many spider species will eat the male after they have mated

[00:03:40] But human cannibalism is something more taboo

[00:03:45] Whilst other animals may eat each other, it is only humans who are described as inhuman as a result of their cannibalistic activities. A fish cannot become infish, or a spider inspider. 

[00:04:00] But that is not to say that people don’t eat other people. 

[00:04:04] There are many instances of recorded cannibalism throughout human history and prehistory. 

[00:04:11] Sometimes we know exactly why people choose to eat other people.

[00:04:15] In some cases it was simply because they decided that humans are a tasty food, worth putting into the pot. 

[00:04:23] In other instances people believed that consuming human flesh and blood would bring health benefits, be they physical or spiritual, or cure illness. 

[00:04:35] Sometimes people have consumed each other as a tactic used in war, as a way to embarrass and shame those who are eaten. 

[00:04:45] And it has also been the case that people believed the consumption of human flesh might fulfil some ritual or religious purpose. 

[00:04:53] Or it could be out of sheer desperation.

[00:04:57] But in many cases, like with those unfortunate residents of Cheddar, we simply don’t know for sure. Historians like to put forward ideas and theories, and it is fun, albeit gory and grisly, a bit horrible, to try to think for yourself.

[00:05:16] So, in this episode we’ll take a look at these different categories of cannibalisation, known and unknown, and explore this gory world of humans eating humans.

[00:05:29] Let’s go back to Cheddar for a minute.

[00:05:32] The remains in the cave in Cheddar date from around 14,700 years ago.

[00:05:39] At this time, roaming the British Isles and Northern Europe would have been people historians refer to as Magdalenian, as being part of The Magdalenian cultures. 

[00:05:50] These Magdalenian cultures are named after a site called La Madeleine in southwestern France.

[00:05:57] And it turns out that, although France might now be known as the home of fine dining, back in The Magdalenian epoch there’s plenty of evidence of humans being the plat du jour, the dish of the day.

[00:06:12] Indeed, archaeological evidence has been found in many places, including in France, Belgium and Germany, of people engaging in cannibalistic activities. 

[00:06:24] What is interesting, however, about many of these remains is that the cut marks on them suggest that the human bones were much more thoroughly cleaned of flesh than the animal bones they were found alongside, implying that it wasn’t just about having a square meal, about having something to eat. This has led some people to speculate that the eating of human flesh was associated with a ritual, a spiritual or holy tradition.

[00:06:54] We know that they did it, but we simply don’t know why. 

[00:06:59] And cannibalism wasn’t restricted to homo sapiens.

[00:07:03] In another cave at Moula-Guercy in France, palaeontologists found bones belonging to six Neanderthals

[00:07:12] They would have been alive about 100,000 years ago. 

[00:07:17] The markings on these skeletal remains suggest that these people had had their tongues and thigh muscles removed, and that their bones and skulls had been broken to extract the marrow, the bit inside the bone, and their brains. 

[00:07:35] Another instance of Neanderthal cannibalism from 50,000 years later has also been found in a cave in El Sidrón in Spain. 

[00:07:44] Here a group of 12 people had been dismembered and eaten, with their bones found mixed in with a pile of deer bones and other animal bones.

[00:07:55] It seems, historians believe, that these poor Neanderthals might just have been considered a good source of food.

[00:08:02] They might have already been dead, and the Neanderthals simply didn’t want to let their bodies go to waste, or they might have been killed for their meat. We simply don’t know.

[00:08:14] And of course, not all Neanderthals were cannibals, but Neanderthals were skilled hunters of animals, and there is evidence of them using the same skill as butchers on their own species.

[00:08:27] Now, to move onto our next instance of cannibalism, there is a more modern and better understood form of cannibalism called mortuary cannibalism, which involves the consumption, the eating of the dead as part of a funeral. 

[00:08:44] The Fore people, who live in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, engaged in this kind of cannibalism until the 1950s when it was banned by the Australian government. 

[00:08:57] As part of their funeral the body of a dead person would be eaten by their relatives. 

[00:09:04] Another word for this is endocannibalism. 

[00:09:07] I wouldn’t blame you if you didn't like the idea of eating one of your relatives, it certainly sounds pretty gross to me, but there is also a very good medical reason not to do it.

[00:09:19] And this is because it can cause a rare, incurable and fatal disease called “kuru”.

[00:09:27] This terrible disease was first discovered in Papua New Guinea, in the Fore people, in 1957, among the people who ate their own dead relatives.

[00:09:39] The word “kuru” means “to shake” in the Fore language, the language of this Papua New Guinean people.

[00:09:46] And although a “shaking” disease might, at first, sound relatively harmless, kuru is anything but.

[00:09:56] It is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes people to lose control over their muscles and coordination, ultimately leading to death. The effects of this illness have led some to compare those who contract it to zombies

[00:10:12] It’s all thought to have started after one Fore person spontaneously developed a rare neurodegenerative disorder, a disorder of the brain. 

[00:10:23] This disorder, called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, affects about 1 in a million people, but normally it’s not contagious.

[00:10:33] With the Fore people, however, for reasons you may now be able to guess, it was transmitted from person to person.

[00:10:42] That’s right, it was passed from person to person after an infected person died and was eaten by their relatives.

[00:10:50] Because this disease had such a long incubation period, up to 10 years with no symptoms, many Fore people would have it without knowing, then they would die, then after they were eaten at their funeral, it would be passed to the people who ate them.

[00:11:08] The disease was most common amongst women and children, with women actually eight times more likely than men to contract it. 

[00:11:19] While the link between cannibalism and kuru was not proven until 1967, we now know why women and children suffered more, and I’m sorry but I’m going to have to give you some slightly disgusting detail here.

[00:11:33] The reason women and children got it more was because whilst men would normally eat the muscles of the dead person, women and children would eat the brain tissue, which was more likely to contain the abnormal protein that caused kuru. 

[00:11:49] Seriously nasty stuff.

[00:11:52] It's actually these same abnormal, technically “misfolded” proteins which caused the outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s in the United Kingdom. 

[00:12:03] In this instance, the cows’ diet was being supplemented with protein derived from beef. 

[00:12:10] The cows were essentially being fed other cows.

[00:12:13] And it was the outbreak of this disease that meant that beef exports from the UK to the European Union were banned until 2006.

[00:12:24] Now, although intra-species consumption, be it human or cow, has caused serious illness, cannibalism has also been used for its supposed medical properties. 

[00:12:37] This practice is something described as corpse medicine and was still happening until surprisingly recently. 

[00:12:46] Eating bits of human body parts to cure ailments was at its height in Europe in the 17th century. 

[00:12:53] And until the 19th century human fat was sold in Germany as a healing ointment for all sorts of things, including broken bones and arthritis

[00:13:05] Grinding up skulls or other bones was also sometimes sold as a treatment for epilepsy

[00:13:12] And even as recently as 1910 a German pharmaceutical catalogue was advertising mumia, which is a powder made from Ancient Egyptian mummies

[00:13:25] The idea of human body parts, and especially blood, being a revitalising substance is another classic element of cannibalism.

[00:13:34] Think of vampires – immortal and forever the same age, nourished by the sanguineous sacrifice of their human victims. 

[00:13:43] Whilst accounts of vampires and zombies may seem bizarre, in many cases they have their roots in some rumour or other, that gets told again and again, each time becoming more fantastical.

[00:13:58] One such story began in the early 17th century in the village of Trenčin, which is in present day Slovakia, but was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary. 

[00:14:09] People in this village began to notice that a lot of young women were going missing. 

[00:14:15] All of these women had gone to a castle, the Csejte Castle to work as servants for a countess called Elizabeth Báthory. 

[00:14:25] An investigation was launched by the villagers and it was discovered that the countess had been torturing and then killing the young women. 

[00:14:33] She is believed to have murdered more that 600 in total.

[00:14:38] During the investigation the Countess was accused of being a vampire. 

[00:14:42] She was also charged with bathing in the blood of these young women in an attempt to retain her youth and beauty and she has become known as the “Blood Countess”.

[00:14:54] Now, turning to the word “cannibal”, there is also an interesting history behind it.

[00:15:00] Although, as we’ve seen, people have been eating people for tens of thousands of years, the word “cannibal” entered the English language in the 17th century and comes from the Spanish word "Cannibales" which was itself a mispronunciation of the word ‘Carib’ by Spanish conquistadors. 

[00:15:20] The Island Carib people, who are also known as the Kalinago, were resident on the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean at the time that the Spanish made contact. 

[00:15:30] They were known as warriors, and in the early colonial period the Spanish conquistadors accused the Caribs of eating their own enemies. 

[00:15:40] Although it is possible that they took human body parts as war trophies, the rumour that they ate them is generally thought to be untrue. 

[00:15:49] Despite this, the term stuck.

[00:15:52] The word “cannibal” came to be used to describe those that ate human flesh and more generally the people of the New World. 

[00:16:02] This amalgamation of meaning allowed the arriving colonial forces from Europe to dehumanise the people they encountered, and so assert their control from what they believed was a morally superior standpoint, rather than just through military force. 

[00:16:20] Although the Caribs, after whom cannibalism is named, may not have ever actually eaten anyone, there are a number of other early European colonial accounts of New World cannibalism which may have more foundation, which may have more truth to them. 

[00:16:37] Perhaps the most notorious group were the Aztecs. 

[00:16:41] There is an account given by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés of when he and his men arrived at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521. 

[00:16:53] They described seeing Aztec priests cut the hearts out of living victims and hold them high up in the sky as an offering to their gods. 

[00:17:03] The reason that the Aztecs cut the heart out of their victims’ chest is believed to be because they thought that the heart was also the soul, as well as being a fragment of the sun. 

[00:17:15] They would hold it up to the sun as an offering, to ensure that it would continue to rise each morning. 

[00:17:22] Cortés’ account also describes how these heartless bodies would be beheaded and then taken to the houses of nobles to be eaten. 

[00:17:32] There is some archaeological evidence to support this in the form of human bones with cut marks around sites in Mexico City. 

[00:17:41] There are also some very grisly illustrations drawn by Europeans in the 16th century of Aztec people cooking humans in large cauldrons, in large pans.

[00:17:53] These drawings show the kind of fascination that European society at the time had with cannibalism and what they considered to be New World barbarism, and nowhere is this more evident than in the work of the Renaissance French philosopher, Montaigne, who actually wrote an essay called “Des Cannibales”, or “of Cannibals”.

[00:18:16] At first glance, the essay is about cannibalism, as Montaigne describes the cannibalistic practices of the Tupinambá in Brazil. 

[00:18:26] But it’s actually a veiled critique of the idea of European superiority, and in it he asks the reader to use reason and critical thinking before dismissing any non-Europeans as barbarians, just because they have different cultures and habits.

[00:18:45] Obviously, Montaigne uses cannibalism as an extreme to make his point, but you get the idea.

[00:18:52] Now, while it’s certainly true that many Europeans portrayed peoples from the New World as having cannibalistic tendencies, and therefore being barbarous, in some cases the evidence is so overwhelming that there is some truth to it.

[00:19:09] And perhaps nowhere is this more true than in Fiji, in the south Pacific.

[00:19:15] In Fiji the eating of people was so prolific that for a while the country was known as the Cannibal Isles. Here it is thought that the history of cannibalism extends back 2,500 years, with bones found all over the islands with the tell-tale signs of butchery

[00:19:36] Fijian chiefs would eat the flesh of their captured enemies as a way of asserting their power, and as a final insult to the person being eaten. 

[00:19:46] They even had specially designed wooden forks to eat them with. 

[00:19:51] The most prolific cannibal in the world comes from Fiji. 

[00:19:55] His name was Ratu Udre Udre and he was a chief in the late 1700s in northern Viti Levu, the biggest of the islands that make up Fiji. 

[00:20:06] Ratu Udre Udre decided to keep a stone for every person that he consumed, and these stones still decorate his grave today. There are over 800 piled up, but because some have gone missing, it is thought that he ate closer to 1000 people in his lifetime. 

[00:20:25] And the last known instance of cannibalism in Fiji was in 1867, not much more than a 150 years ago. 

[00:20:34] A Christian missionary called Reverend Thomas Baker came to preach the word of God, but he, along with his six Fijian students, ended up on the dinner table. 

[00:20:45] Indeed the Reverend’s boots are still on display in a museum in Fiji. 

[00:20:50] In 2003 Fiji duly issued a public apology to his descendants for eating him, but I imagine that they aren’t in a great hurry to take a holiday to Fiji. 

[00:21:02] Now, there is also one final kind of cannibalism, which is perhaps somewhat more comprehensible

[00:21:09] This is what’s called survival cannibalism. 

[00:21:13] Survival cannibalism is when due to dire circumstances, people are forced to eat each other to survive. 

[00:21:21] This might be as a result of widespread food shortages, such as the 1933 famine in Ukraine, failed expeditions into remote areas, such as the Donner Party who in 1847 became stranded in Sierra Nevada in the United States, or crashes, such as the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which came down in the Andean mountains, or even a recent case of a fisherman from El Salvador who is accused of eating his friend after getting stranded in the Pacific Ocean. 

[00:21:55] This kind of cannibalism is of course a little bit different to the others, because in these cases it was literally a last resort, they were doing it out of desperation.

[00:22:06] And interestingly enough, perhaps despite what you might expect, in many countries, including the UK, cannibalism isn’t actually illegal.

[00:22:18] Killing someone obviously is, but eating them well, strangely enough, it isn’t technically illegal in the UK at least.

[00:22:26] Now, as we’ve seen, the history of cannibalism is long, complex, and in many instances disputed

[00:22:34] For some eating human flesh was the ultimate act of conquest and a sign of prestige, for others it is a shameful last resort

[00:22:45] Because the notion, the idea of eating people is now so reviled, and considered so revolting, it might seem strange that there are so many instances across history and prehistory of people eating each other. 

[00:22:59] Fortunately, unlike the prehistoric residents of Cheddar or a luckless missionary to Fiji, in the 21st century we don’t have to worry too much about becoming someone else’s lunch.

[00:23:12] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Cannibalism.

[00:23:16] I know it’s an uncomfortable subject, perhaps not one we like to think about too much, but it is fascinating to think of the reasons throughout history that have led to cannibalism.

[00:23:27] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:23:30] Did you manage to listen to all of it without getting too disgusted?

[00:23:33] Are there any other interesting or revolting instances of cannibalism?

[00:23:38] Were you hoping I’d mention Hannibal Lector?

[00:23:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this cannibalistic discussion started.

[00:23:45] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:54] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about cannibalism.

[00:00:26] Now, you might think that it’s a bit of a horrible topic for an episode, and you would be right.

[00:00:32] But it is an interesting one, and–as we’ll see–for as long as there have been people, there have been people who have eaten other people.

[00:00:42] Now, I should probably give you a little warning. 

[00:00:45] To reiterate, the topic of this episode is humans eating other humans.

[00:00:50] If you’re about to eat your lunch, I would suggest that you either stop listening to this episode or stop eating your lunch. 

[00:00:58] I’ll try to avoid the very graphic descriptions, but the subject matter will be…difficult to stomach.

[00:01:05] So, with that in mind, let’s get into the meat, if you’ll pardon the pun, of today’s episode.

[00:01:13] If you know much about English cheeses, you’ll know that there’s a famous one called Cheddar.

[00:01:20] The cheese is named after the village of Cheddar, in the county of Somerset, in the south-west of England.

[00:01:28] And in the late 19th century, sometime in the 1890s, a retired sea captain by the name of Richard Cox Gough had a hobby.

[00:01:39] He would explore the caves under and around the village of Cheddar.

[00:01:45] He was exploring one of these caves one day, a long cave that is 115 metres deep and nearly three and a half kilometres in length.

[00:01:55] As he explored, he found old bones, bones that archaeologists now believe come from around 15,000 years ago.

[00:02:05] Deep within the cave, Gough found broken bones belonging to at least five people. 

[00:02:11] Now, there’s nothing particularly strange about finding human remains, but there was something unusual about these remains.

[00:02:22] All of them had significant cuts and teeth marks, suggesting that they had been de-fleshed, their skin removed, and chewed by…something. 

[00:02:34] The skulls also appear to have been made into drinking cups. 

[00:02:40] Gough had discovered that the past residents of Cheddar had a taste for something a little more unusual than the eponymous cheese the village went on to become famous for: they had a taste for other people.

[00:02:54] Yes, 15,000 years ago, in sleepy Somerset, if you were unlucky you might become someone else’s lunch.

[00:03:04] Now, you most likely think this is horrible and disgusting. 

[00:03:08] For most people it is, of course, but eating your own species, being a cannibal, is not so uncommon among animals.

[00:03:17] Piranhas, those fish with sharp teeth, will nip and bite at each other’s tails until one becomes unable to swim properly, which allows the others to consume it in a frenzied mob attack. 

[00:03:31] And unless he is particularly alert, the females of many spider species will eat the male after they have mated

[00:03:40] But human cannibalism is something more taboo

[00:03:45] Whilst other animals may eat each other, it is only humans who are described as inhuman as a result of their cannibalistic activities. A fish cannot become infish, or a spider inspider. 

[00:04:00] But that is not to say that people don’t eat other people. 

[00:04:04] There are many instances of recorded cannibalism throughout human history and prehistory. 

[00:04:11] Sometimes we know exactly why people choose to eat other people.

[00:04:15] In some cases it was simply because they decided that humans are a tasty food, worth putting into the pot. 

[00:04:23] In other instances people believed that consuming human flesh and blood would bring health benefits, be they physical or spiritual, or cure illness. 

[00:04:35] Sometimes people have consumed each other as a tactic used in war, as a way to embarrass and shame those who are eaten. 

[00:04:45] And it has also been the case that people believed the consumption of human flesh might fulfil some ritual or religious purpose. 

[00:04:53] Or it could be out of sheer desperation.

[00:04:57] But in many cases, like with those unfortunate residents of Cheddar, we simply don’t know for sure. Historians like to put forward ideas and theories, and it is fun, albeit gory and grisly, a bit horrible, to try to think for yourself.

[00:05:16] So, in this episode we’ll take a look at these different categories of cannibalisation, known and unknown, and explore this gory world of humans eating humans.

[00:05:29] Let’s go back to Cheddar for a minute.

[00:05:32] The remains in the cave in Cheddar date from around 14,700 years ago.

[00:05:39] At this time, roaming the British Isles and Northern Europe would have been people historians refer to as Magdalenian, as being part of The Magdalenian cultures. 

[00:05:50] These Magdalenian cultures are named after a site called La Madeleine in southwestern France.

[00:05:57] And it turns out that, although France might now be known as the home of fine dining, back in The Magdalenian epoch there’s plenty of evidence of humans being the plat du jour, the dish of the day.

[00:06:12] Indeed, archaeological evidence has been found in many places, including in France, Belgium and Germany, of people engaging in cannibalistic activities. 

[00:06:24] What is interesting, however, about many of these remains is that the cut marks on them suggest that the human bones were much more thoroughly cleaned of flesh than the animal bones they were found alongside, implying that it wasn’t just about having a square meal, about having something to eat. This has led some people to speculate that the eating of human flesh was associated with a ritual, a spiritual or holy tradition.

[00:06:54] We know that they did it, but we simply don’t know why. 

[00:06:59] And cannibalism wasn’t restricted to homo sapiens.

[00:07:03] In another cave at Moula-Guercy in France, palaeontologists found bones belonging to six Neanderthals

[00:07:12] They would have been alive about 100,000 years ago. 

[00:07:17] The markings on these skeletal remains suggest that these people had had their tongues and thigh muscles removed, and that their bones and skulls had been broken to extract the marrow, the bit inside the bone, and their brains. 

[00:07:35] Another instance of Neanderthal cannibalism from 50,000 years later has also been found in a cave in El Sidrón in Spain. 

[00:07:44] Here a group of 12 people had been dismembered and eaten, with their bones found mixed in with a pile of deer bones and other animal bones.

[00:07:55] It seems, historians believe, that these poor Neanderthals might just have been considered a good source of food.

[00:08:02] They might have already been dead, and the Neanderthals simply didn’t want to let their bodies go to waste, or they might have been killed for their meat. We simply don’t know.

[00:08:14] And of course, not all Neanderthals were cannibals, but Neanderthals were skilled hunters of animals, and there is evidence of them using the same skill as butchers on their own species.

[00:08:27] Now, to move onto our next instance of cannibalism, there is a more modern and better understood form of cannibalism called mortuary cannibalism, which involves the consumption, the eating of the dead as part of a funeral. 

[00:08:44] The Fore people, who live in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, engaged in this kind of cannibalism until the 1950s when it was banned by the Australian government. 

[00:08:57] As part of their funeral the body of a dead person would be eaten by their relatives. 

[00:09:04] Another word for this is endocannibalism. 

[00:09:07] I wouldn’t blame you if you didn't like the idea of eating one of your relatives, it certainly sounds pretty gross to me, but there is also a very good medical reason not to do it.

[00:09:19] And this is because it can cause a rare, incurable and fatal disease called “kuru”.

[00:09:27] This terrible disease was first discovered in Papua New Guinea, in the Fore people, in 1957, among the people who ate their own dead relatives.

[00:09:39] The word “kuru” means “to shake” in the Fore language, the language of this Papua New Guinean people.

[00:09:46] And although a “shaking” disease might, at first, sound relatively harmless, kuru is anything but.

[00:09:56] It is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes people to lose control over their muscles and coordination, ultimately leading to death. The effects of this illness have led some to compare those who contract it to zombies

[00:10:12] It’s all thought to have started after one Fore person spontaneously developed a rare neurodegenerative disorder, a disorder of the brain. 

[00:10:23] This disorder, called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, affects about 1 in a million people, but normally it’s not contagious.

[00:10:33] With the Fore people, however, for reasons you may now be able to guess, it was transmitted from person to person.

[00:10:42] That’s right, it was passed from person to person after an infected person died and was eaten by their relatives.

[00:10:50] Because this disease had such a long incubation period, up to 10 years with no symptoms, many Fore people would have it without knowing, then they would die, then after they were eaten at their funeral, it would be passed to the people who ate them.

[00:11:08] The disease was most common amongst women and children, with women actually eight times more likely than men to contract it. 

[00:11:19] While the link between cannibalism and kuru was not proven until 1967, we now know why women and children suffered more, and I’m sorry but I’m going to have to give you some slightly disgusting detail here.

[00:11:33] The reason women and children got it more was because whilst men would normally eat the muscles of the dead person, women and children would eat the brain tissue, which was more likely to contain the abnormal protein that caused kuru. 

[00:11:49] Seriously nasty stuff.

[00:11:52] It's actually these same abnormal, technically “misfolded” proteins which caused the outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s in the United Kingdom. 

[00:12:03] In this instance, the cows’ diet was being supplemented with protein derived from beef. 

[00:12:10] The cows were essentially being fed other cows.

[00:12:13] And it was the outbreak of this disease that meant that beef exports from the UK to the European Union were banned until 2006.

[00:12:24] Now, although intra-species consumption, be it human or cow, has caused serious illness, cannibalism has also been used for its supposed medical properties. 

[00:12:37] This practice is something described as corpse medicine and was still happening until surprisingly recently. 

[00:12:46] Eating bits of human body parts to cure ailments was at its height in Europe in the 17th century. 

[00:12:53] And until the 19th century human fat was sold in Germany as a healing ointment for all sorts of things, including broken bones and arthritis

[00:13:05] Grinding up skulls or other bones was also sometimes sold as a treatment for epilepsy

[00:13:12] And even as recently as 1910 a German pharmaceutical catalogue was advertising mumia, which is a powder made from Ancient Egyptian mummies

[00:13:25] The idea of human body parts, and especially blood, being a revitalising substance is another classic element of cannibalism.

[00:13:34] Think of vampires – immortal and forever the same age, nourished by the sanguineous sacrifice of their human victims. 

[00:13:43] Whilst accounts of vampires and zombies may seem bizarre, in many cases they have their roots in some rumour or other, that gets told again and again, each time becoming more fantastical.

[00:13:58] One such story began in the early 17th century in the village of Trenčin, which is in present day Slovakia, but was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary. 

[00:14:09] People in this village began to notice that a lot of young women were going missing. 

[00:14:15] All of these women had gone to a castle, the Csejte Castle to work as servants for a countess called Elizabeth Báthory. 

[00:14:25] An investigation was launched by the villagers and it was discovered that the countess had been torturing and then killing the young women. 

[00:14:33] She is believed to have murdered more that 600 in total.

[00:14:38] During the investigation the Countess was accused of being a vampire. 

[00:14:42] She was also charged with bathing in the blood of these young women in an attempt to retain her youth and beauty and she has become known as the “Blood Countess”.

[00:14:54] Now, turning to the word “cannibal”, there is also an interesting history behind it.

[00:15:00] Although, as we’ve seen, people have been eating people for tens of thousands of years, the word “cannibal” entered the English language in the 17th century and comes from the Spanish word "Cannibales" which was itself a mispronunciation of the word ‘Carib’ by Spanish conquistadors. 

[00:15:20] The Island Carib people, who are also known as the Kalinago, were resident on the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean at the time that the Spanish made contact. 

[00:15:30] They were known as warriors, and in the early colonial period the Spanish conquistadors accused the Caribs of eating their own enemies. 

[00:15:40] Although it is possible that they took human body parts as war trophies, the rumour that they ate them is generally thought to be untrue. 

[00:15:49] Despite this, the term stuck.

[00:15:52] The word “cannibal” came to be used to describe those that ate human flesh and more generally the people of the New World. 

[00:16:02] This amalgamation of meaning allowed the arriving colonial forces from Europe to dehumanise the people they encountered, and so assert their control from what they believed was a morally superior standpoint, rather than just through military force. 

[00:16:20] Although the Caribs, after whom cannibalism is named, may not have ever actually eaten anyone, there are a number of other early European colonial accounts of New World cannibalism which may have more foundation, which may have more truth to them. 

[00:16:37] Perhaps the most notorious group were the Aztecs. 

[00:16:41] There is an account given by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés of when he and his men arrived at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521. 

[00:16:53] They described seeing Aztec priests cut the hearts out of living victims and hold them high up in the sky as an offering to their gods. 

[00:17:03] The reason that the Aztecs cut the heart out of their victims’ chest is believed to be because they thought that the heart was also the soul, as well as being a fragment of the sun. 

[00:17:15] They would hold it up to the sun as an offering, to ensure that it would continue to rise each morning. 

[00:17:22] Cortés’ account also describes how these heartless bodies would be beheaded and then taken to the houses of nobles to be eaten. 

[00:17:32] There is some archaeological evidence to support this in the form of human bones with cut marks around sites in Mexico City. 

[00:17:41] There are also some very grisly illustrations drawn by Europeans in the 16th century of Aztec people cooking humans in large cauldrons, in large pans.

[00:17:53] These drawings show the kind of fascination that European society at the time had with cannibalism and what they considered to be New World barbarism, and nowhere is this more evident than in the work of the Renaissance French philosopher, Montaigne, who actually wrote an essay called “Des Cannibales”, or “of Cannibals”.

[00:18:16] At first glance, the essay is about cannibalism, as Montaigne describes the cannibalistic practices of the Tupinambá in Brazil. 

[00:18:26] But it’s actually a veiled critique of the idea of European superiority, and in it he asks the reader to use reason and critical thinking before dismissing any non-Europeans as barbarians, just because they have different cultures and habits.

[00:18:45] Obviously, Montaigne uses cannibalism as an extreme to make his point, but you get the idea.

[00:18:52] Now, while it’s certainly true that many Europeans portrayed peoples from the New World as having cannibalistic tendencies, and therefore being barbarous, in some cases the evidence is so overwhelming that there is some truth to it.

[00:19:09] And perhaps nowhere is this more true than in Fiji, in the south Pacific.

[00:19:15] In Fiji the eating of people was so prolific that for a while the country was known as the Cannibal Isles. Here it is thought that the history of cannibalism extends back 2,500 years, with bones found all over the islands with the tell-tale signs of butchery

[00:19:36] Fijian chiefs would eat the flesh of their captured enemies as a way of asserting their power, and as a final insult to the person being eaten. 

[00:19:46] They even had specially designed wooden forks to eat them with. 

[00:19:51] The most prolific cannibal in the world comes from Fiji. 

[00:19:55] His name was Ratu Udre Udre and he was a chief in the late 1700s in northern Viti Levu, the biggest of the islands that make up Fiji. 

[00:20:06] Ratu Udre Udre decided to keep a stone for every person that he consumed, and these stones still decorate his grave today. There are over 800 piled up, but because some have gone missing, it is thought that he ate closer to 1000 people in his lifetime. 

[00:20:25] And the last known instance of cannibalism in Fiji was in 1867, not much more than a 150 years ago. 

[00:20:34] A Christian missionary called Reverend Thomas Baker came to preach the word of God, but he, along with his six Fijian students, ended up on the dinner table. 

[00:20:45] Indeed the Reverend’s boots are still on display in a museum in Fiji. 

[00:20:50] In 2003 Fiji duly issued a public apology to his descendants for eating him, but I imagine that they aren’t in a great hurry to take a holiday to Fiji. 

[00:21:02] Now, there is also one final kind of cannibalism, which is perhaps somewhat more comprehensible

[00:21:09] This is what’s called survival cannibalism. 

[00:21:13] Survival cannibalism is when due to dire circumstances, people are forced to eat each other to survive. 

[00:21:21] This might be as a result of widespread food shortages, such as the 1933 famine in Ukraine, failed expeditions into remote areas, such as the Donner Party who in 1847 became stranded in Sierra Nevada in the United States, or crashes, such as the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which came down in the Andean mountains, or even a recent case of a fisherman from El Salvador who is accused of eating his friend after getting stranded in the Pacific Ocean. 

[00:21:55] This kind of cannibalism is of course a little bit different to the others, because in these cases it was literally a last resort, they were doing it out of desperation.

[00:22:06] And interestingly enough, perhaps despite what you might expect, in many countries, including the UK, cannibalism isn’t actually illegal.

[00:22:18] Killing someone obviously is, but eating them well, strangely enough, it isn’t technically illegal in the UK at least.

[00:22:26] Now, as we’ve seen, the history of cannibalism is long, complex, and in many instances disputed

[00:22:34] For some eating human flesh was the ultimate act of conquest and a sign of prestige, for others it is a shameful last resort

[00:22:45] Because the notion, the idea of eating people is now so reviled, and considered so revolting, it might seem strange that there are so many instances across history and prehistory of people eating each other. 

[00:22:59] Fortunately, unlike the prehistoric residents of Cheddar or a luckless missionary to Fiji, in the 21st century we don’t have to worry too much about becoming someone else’s lunch.

[00:23:12] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Cannibalism.

[00:23:16] I know it’s an uncomfortable subject, perhaps not one we like to think about too much, but it is fascinating to think of the reasons throughout history that have led to cannibalism.

[00:23:27] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:23:30] Did you manage to listen to all of it without getting too disgusted?

[00:23:33] Are there any other interesting or revolting instances of cannibalism?

[00:23:38] Were you hoping I’d mention Hannibal Lector?

[00:23:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this cannibalistic discussion started.

[00:23:45] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:54] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about cannibalism.

[00:00:26] Now, you might think that it’s a bit of a horrible topic for an episode, and you would be right.

[00:00:32] But it is an interesting one, and–as we’ll see–for as long as there have been people, there have been people who have eaten other people.

[00:00:42] Now, I should probably give you a little warning. 

[00:00:45] To reiterate, the topic of this episode is humans eating other humans.

[00:00:50] If you’re about to eat your lunch, I would suggest that you either stop listening to this episode or stop eating your lunch. 

[00:00:58] I’ll try to avoid the very graphic descriptions, but the subject matter will be…difficult to stomach.

[00:01:05] So, with that in mind, let’s get into the meat, if you’ll pardon the pun, of today’s episode.

[00:01:13] If you know much about English cheeses, you’ll know that there’s a famous one called Cheddar.

[00:01:20] The cheese is named after the village of Cheddar, in the county of Somerset, in the south-west of England.

[00:01:28] And in the late 19th century, sometime in the 1890s, a retired sea captain by the name of Richard Cox Gough had a hobby.

[00:01:39] He would explore the caves under and around the village of Cheddar.

[00:01:45] He was exploring one of these caves one day, a long cave that is 115 metres deep and nearly three and a half kilometres in length.

[00:01:55] As he explored, he found old bones, bones that archaeologists now believe come from around 15,000 years ago.

[00:02:05] Deep within the cave, Gough found broken bones belonging to at least five people. 

[00:02:11] Now, there’s nothing particularly strange about finding human remains, but there was something unusual about these remains.

[00:02:22] All of them had significant cuts and teeth marks, suggesting that they had been de-fleshed, their skin removed, and chewed by…something. 

[00:02:34] The skulls also appear to have been made into drinking cups. 

[00:02:40] Gough had discovered that the past residents of Cheddar had a taste for something a little more unusual than the eponymous cheese the village went on to become famous for: they had a taste for other people.

[00:02:54] Yes, 15,000 years ago, in sleepy Somerset, if you were unlucky you might become someone else’s lunch.

[00:03:04] Now, you most likely think this is horrible and disgusting. 

[00:03:08] For most people it is, of course, but eating your own species, being a cannibal, is not so uncommon among animals.

[00:03:17] Piranhas, those fish with sharp teeth, will nip and bite at each other’s tails until one becomes unable to swim properly, which allows the others to consume it in a frenzied mob attack. 

[00:03:31] And unless he is particularly alert, the females of many spider species will eat the male after they have mated

[00:03:40] But human cannibalism is something more taboo

[00:03:45] Whilst other animals may eat each other, it is only humans who are described as inhuman as a result of their cannibalistic activities. A fish cannot become infish, or a spider inspider. 

[00:04:00] But that is not to say that people don’t eat other people. 

[00:04:04] There are many instances of recorded cannibalism throughout human history and prehistory. 

[00:04:11] Sometimes we know exactly why people choose to eat other people.

[00:04:15] In some cases it was simply because they decided that humans are a tasty food, worth putting into the pot. 

[00:04:23] In other instances people believed that consuming human flesh and blood would bring health benefits, be they physical or spiritual, or cure illness. 

[00:04:35] Sometimes people have consumed each other as a tactic used in war, as a way to embarrass and shame those who are eaten. 

[00:04:45] And it has also been the case that people believed the consumption of human flesh might fulfil some ritual or religious purpose. 

[00:04:53] Or it could be out of sheer desperation.

[00:04:57] But in many cases, like with those unfortunate residents of Cheddar, we simply don’t know for sure. Historians like to put forward ideas and theories, and it is fun, albeit gory and grisly, a bit horrible, to try to think for yourself.

[00:05:16] So, in this episode we’ll take a look at these different categories of cannibalisation, known and unknown, and explore this gory world of humans eating humans.

[00:05:29] Let’s go back to Cheddar for a minute.

[00:05:32] The remains in the cave in Cheddar date from around 14,700 years ago.

[00:05:39] At this time, roaming the British Isles and Northern Europe would have been people historians refer to as Magdalenian, as being part of The Magdalenian cultures. 

[00:05:50] These Magdalenian cultures are named after a site called La Madeleine in southwestern France.

[00:05:57] And it turns out that, although France might now be known as the home of fine dining, back in The Magdalenian epoch there’s plenty of evidence of humans being the plat du jour, the dish of the day.

[00:06:12] Indeed, archaeological evidence has been found in many places, including in France, Belgium and Germany, of people engaging in cannibalistic activities. 

[00:06:24] What is interesting, however, about many of these remains is that the cut marks on them suggest that the human bones were much more thoroughly cleaned of flesh than the animal bones they were found alongside, implying that it wasn’t just about having a square meal, about having something to eat. This has led some people to speculate that the eating of human flesh was associated with a ritual, a spiritual or holy tradition.

[00:06:54] We know that they did it, but we simply don’t know why. 

[00:06:59] And cannibalism wasn’t restricted to homo sapiens.

[00:07:03] In another cave at Moula-Guercy in France, palaeontologists found bones belonging to six Neanderthals

[00:07:12] They would have been alive about 100,000 years ago. 

[00:07:17] The markings on these skeletal remains suggest that these people had had their tongues and thigh muscles removed, and that their bones and skulls had been broken to extract the marrow, the bit inside the bone, and their brains. 

[00:07:35] Another instance of Neanderthal cannibalism from 50,000 years later has also been found in a cave in El Sidrón in Spain. 

[00:07:44] Here a group of 12 people had been dismembered and eaten, with their bones found mixed in with a pile of deer bones and other animal bones.

[00:07:55] It seems, historians believe, that these poor Neanderthals might just have been considered a good source of food.

[00:08:02] They might have already been dead, and the Neanderthals simply didn’t want to let their bodies go to waste, or they might have been killed for their meat. We simply don’t know.

[00:08:14] And of course, not all Neanderthals were cannibals, but Neanderthals were skilled hunters of animals, and there is evidence of them using the same skill as butchers on their own species.

[00:08:27] Now, to move onto our next instance of cannibalism, there is a more modern and better understood form of cannibalism called mortuary cannibalism, which involves the consumption, the eating of the dead as part of a funeral. 

[00:08:44] The Fore people, who live in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, engaged in this kind of cannibalism until the 1950s when it was banned by the Australian government. 

[00:08:57] As part of their funeral the body of a dead person would be eaten by their relatives. 

[00:09:04] Another word for this is endocannibalism. 

[00:09:07] I wouldn’t blame you if you didn't like the idea of eating one of your relatives, it certainly sounds pretty gross to me, but there is also a very good medical reason not to do it.

[00:09:19] And this is because it can cause a rare, incurable and fatal disease called “kuru”.

[00:09:27] This terrible disease was first discovered in Papua New Guinea, in the Fore people, in 1957, among the people who ate their own dead relatives.

[00:09:39] The word “kuru” means “to shake” in the Fore language, the language of this Papua New Guinean people.

[00:09:46] And although a “shaking” disease might, at first, sound relatively harmless, kuru is anything but.

[00:09:56] It is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes people to lose control over their muscles and coordination, ultimately leading to death. The effects of this illness have led some to compare those who contract it to zombies

[00:10:12] It’s all thought to have started after one Fore person spontaneously developed a rare neurodegenerative disorder, a disorder of the brain. 

[00:10:23] This disorder, called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, affects about 1 in a million people, but normally it’s not contagious.

[00:10:33] With the Fore people, however, for reasons you may now be able to guess, it was transmitted from person to person.

[00:10:42] That’s right, it was passed from person to person after an infected person died and was eaten by their relatives.

[00:10:50] Because this disease had such a long incubation period, up to 10 years with no symptoms, many Fore people would have it without knowing, then they would die, then after they were eaten at their funeral, it would be passed to the people who ate them.

[00:11:08] The disease was most common amongst women and children, with women actually eight times more likely than men to contract it. 

[00:11:19] While the link between cannibalism and kuru was not proven until 1967, we now know why women and children suffered more, and I’m sorry but I’m going to have to give you some slightly disgusting detail here.

[00:11:33] The reason women and children got it more was because whilst men would normally eat the muscles of the dead person, women and children would eat the brain tissue, which was more likely to contain the abnormal protein that caused kuru. 

[00:11:49] Seriously nasty stuff.

[00:11:52] It's actually these same abnormal, technically “misfolded” proteins which caused the outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s in the United Kingdom. 

[00:12:03] In this instance, the cows’ diet was being supplemented with protein derived from beef. 

[00:12:10] The cows were essentially being fed other cows.

[00:12:13] And it was the outbreak of this disease that meant that beef exports from the UK to the European Union were banned until 2006.

[00:12:24] Now, although intra-species consumption, be it human or cow, has caused serious illness, cannibalism has also been used for its supposed medical properties. 

[00:12:37] This practice is something described as corpse medicine and was still happening until surprisingly recently. 

[00:12:46] Eating bits of human body parts to cure ailments was at its height in Europe in the 17th century. 

[00:12:53] And until the 19th century human fat was sold in Germany as a healing ointment for all sorts of things, including broken bones and arthritis

[00:13:05] Grinding up skulls or other bones was also sometimes sold as a treatment for epilepsy

[00:13:12] And even as recently as 1910 a German pharmaceutical catalogue was advertising mumia, which is a powder made from Ancient Egyptian mummies

[00:13:25] The idea of human body parts, and especially blood, being a revitalising substance is another classic element of cannibalism.

[00:13:34] Think of vampires – immortal and forever the same age, nourished by the sanguineous sacrifice of their human victims. 

[00:13:43] Whilst accounts of vampires and zombies may seem bizarre, in many cases they have their roots in some rumour or other, that gets told again and again, each time becoming more fantastical.

[00:13:58] One such story began in the early 17th century in the village of Trenčin, which is in present day Slovakia, but was then part of the Kingdom of Hungary. 

[00:14:09] People in this village began to notice that a lot of young women were going missing. 

[00:14:15] All of these women had gone to a castle, the Csejte Castle to work as servants for a countess called Elizabeth Báthory. 

[00:14:25] An investigation was launched by the villagers and it was discovered that the countess had been torturing and then killing the young women. 

[00:14:33] She is believed to have murdered more that 600 in total.

[00:14:38] During the investigation the Countess was accused of being a vampire. 

[00:14:42] She was also charged with bathing in the blood of these young women in an attempt to retain her youth and beauty and she has become known as the “Blood Countess”.

[00:14:54] Now, turning to the word “cannibal”, there is also an interesting history behind it.

[00:15:00] Although, as we’ve seen, people have been eating people for tens of thousands of years, the word “cannibal” entered the English language in the 17th century and comes from the Spanish word "Cannibales" which was itself a mispronunciation of the word ‘Carib’ by Spanish conquistadors. 

[00:15:20] The Island Carib people, who are also known as the Kalinago, were resident on the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean at the time that the Spanish made contact. 

[00:15:30] They were known as warriors, and in the early colonial period the Spanish conquistadors accused the Caribs of eating their own enemies. 

[00:15:40] Although it is possible that they took human body parts as war trophies, the rumour that they ate them is generally thought to be untrue. 

[00:15:49] Despite this, the term stuck.

[00:15:52] The word “cannibal” came to be used to describe those that ate human flesh and more generally the people of the New World. 

[00:16:02] This amalgamation of meaning allowed the arriving colonial forces from Europe to dehumanise the people they encountered, and so assert their control from what they believed was a morally superior standpoint, rather than just through military force. 

[00:16:20] Although the Caribs, after whom cannibalism is named, may not have ever actually eaten anyone, there are a number of other early European colonial accounts of New World cannibalism which may have more foundation, which may have more truth to them. 

[00:16:37] Perhaps the most notorious group were the Aztecs. 

[00:16:41] There is an account given by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés of when he and his men arrived at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521. 

[00:16:53] They described seeing Aztec priests cut the hearts out of living victims and hold them high up in the sky as an offering to their gods. 

[00:17:03] The reason that the Aztecs cut the heart out of their victims’ chest is believed to be because they thought that the heart was also the soul, as well as being a fragment of the sun. 

[00:17:15] They would hold it up to the sun as an offering, to ensure that it would continue to rise each morning. 

[00:17:22] Cortés’ account also describes how these heartless bodies would be beheaded and then taken to the houses of nobles to be eaten. 

[00:17:32] There is some archaeological evidence to support this in the form of human bones with cut marks around sites in Mexico City. 

[00:17:41] There are also some very grisly illustrations drawn by Europeans in the 16th century of Aztec people cooking humans in large cauldrons, in large pans.

[00:17:53] These drawings show the kind of fascination that European society at the time had with cannibalism and what they considered to be New World barbarism, and nowhere is this more evident than in the work of the Renaissance French philosopher, Montaigne, who actually wrote an essay called “Des Cannibales”, or “of Cannibals”.

[00:18:16] At first glance, the essay is about cannibalism, as Montaigne describes the cannibalistic practices of the Tupinambá in Brazil. 

[00:18:26] But it’s actually a veiled critique of the idea of European superiority, and in it he asks the reader to use reason and critical thinking before dismissing any non-Europeans as barbarians, just because they have different cultures and habits.

[00:18:45] Obviously, Montaigne uses cannibalism as an extreme to make his point, but you get the idea.

[00:18:52] Now, while it’s certainly true that many Europeans portrayed peoples from the New World as having cannibalistic tendencies, and therefore being barbarous, in some cases the evidence is so overwhelming that there is some truth to it.

[00:19:09] And perhaps nowhere is this more true than in Fiji, in the south Pacific.

[00:19:15] In Fiji the eating of people was so prolific that for a while the country was known as the Cannibal Isles. Here it is thought that the history of cannibalism extends back 2,500 years, with bones found all over the islands with the tell-tale signs of butchery

[00:19:36] Fijian chiefs would eat the flesh of their captured enemies as a way of asserting their power, and as a final insult to the person being eaten. 

[00:19:46] They even had specially designed wooden forks to eat them with. 

[00:19:51] The most prolific cannibal in the world comes from Fiji. 

[00:19:55] His name was Ratu Udre Udre and he was a chief in the late 1700s in northern Viti Levu, the biggest of the islands that make up Fiji. 

[00:20:06] Ratu Udre Udre decided to keep a stone for every person that he consumed, and these stones still decorate his grave today. There are over 800 piled up, but because some have gone missing, it is thought that he ate closer to 1000 people in his lifetime. 

[00:20:25] And the last known instance of cannibalism in Fiji was in 1867, not much more than a 150 years ago. 

[00:20:34] A Christian missionary called Reverend Thomas Baker came to preach the word of God, but he, along with his six Fijian students, ended up on the dinner table. 

[00:20:45] Indeed the Reverend’s boots are still on display in a museum in Fiji. 

[00:20:50] In 2003 Fiji duly issued a public apology to his descendants for eating him, but I imagine that they aren’t in a great hurry to take a holiday to Fiji. 

[00:21:02] Now, there is also one final kind of cannibalism, which is perhaps somewhat more comprehensible

[00:21:09] This is what’s called survival cannibalism. 

[00:21:13] Survival cannibalism is when due to dire circumstances, people are forced to eat each other to survive. 

[00:21:21] This might be as a result of widespread food shortages, such as the 1933 famine in Ukraine, failed expeditions into remote areas, such as the Donner Party who in 1847 became stranded in Sierra Nevada in the United States, or crashes, such as the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which came down in the Andean mountains, or even a recent case of a fisherman from El Salvador who is accused of eating his friend after getting stranded in the Pacific Ocean. 

[00:21:55] This kind of cannibalism is of course a little bit different to the others, because in these cases it was literally a last resort, they were doing it out of desperation.

[00:22:06] And interestingly enough, perhaps despite what you might expect, in many countries, including the UK, cannibalism isn’t actually illegal.

[00:22:18] Killing someone obviously is, but eating them well, strangely enough, it isn’t technically illegal in the UK at least.

[00:22:26] Now, as we’ve seen, the history of cannibalism is long, complex, and in many instances disputed

[00:22:34] For some eating human flesh was the ultimate act of conquest and a sign of prestige, for others it is a shameful last resort

[00:22:45] Because the notion, the idea of eating people is now so reviled, and considered so revolting, it might seem strange that there are so many instances across history and prehistory of people eating each other. 

[00:22:59] Fortunately, unlike the prehistoric residents of Cheddar or a luckless missionary to Fiji, in the 21st century we don’t have to worry too much about becoming someone else’s lunch.

[00:23:12] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Cannibalism.

[00:23:16] I know it’s an uncomfortable subject, perhaps not one we like to think about too much, but it is fascinating to think of the reasons throughout history that have led to cannibalism.

[00:23:27] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:23:30] Did you manage to listen to all of it without getting too disgusted?

[00:23:33] Are there any other interesting or revolting instances of cannibalism?

[00:23:38] Were you hoping I’d mention Hannibal Lector?

[00:23:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this cannibalistic discussion started.

[00:23:45] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:54] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]