Did you hear about what one cannibal said to the other? "I don't like my Mother-in-law," Cannibal one said. "Well, then just eat your green beans," the second one replied. An old joke told over the centuries in an attempt to bring some levity to one of the more established taboos. We don't eat each other! In fact, very few species will eat others of their kind. A few exceptions (I would not want to be Mr. Black Widow!) exist, but for the most part, this is a taboo of nature versus one created by man.
Still, the practice exists over the years. In the last twenty years, there have been cases of serial killers killing people and then eating them. Single individuals making a meal out of their neighbors. In most cases, these individuals end up being crazy as a loon and get help. However, what happens when a whole community, or culture engages in the habit of eating other humans. What causes people to engage in it?
We have done some research to discover that there are two main reasons, groups of people will eat other people: culture and necessity. Interesting enough, these two reasons don't exist isolated from one another. Most cultures having engaged in cannibalism have done it out necessity at first (lack of a stable food source) which then becomes a part of their culture. We have a compiled a list of communities/cultures that have practiced cannibalism. Although, we do have a few in our list that do it as a means of establishing power and fear in their enemies, most in the list do it for cultural reasons or out of necessity.
As a warning, we don't get into details about the act itself, but if you are easily grossed out, you might want to grab someone so you can close your eyes while they read it to you.
10 Asmat People of New Guinea
The Asmat people are located in a remote region of the Papua province of Indonesia, a desolate place bordered by mangrove, swampland and lowland rainforest. In other words, these people live in the middle of nowhere with very few food sources. In fact, the region is so remote that they did not regularly encounter the outside world until the 1950s. Because of this isolation, the Asmat people follow their traditional practices of headhunting and cannibalism without interference (although most refrain from it today). A fact that many today believe is the reason for Michael Rockefeller's disappearance in 1961. The legend has it that Rockefeller was looking for artifacts to bring back to the states. Did the Asmat people eat Michael Rockefeller? Records seem to indicate as such.
9 Revolutionary United Front
This group was formed in the early 1990s to battle against the Sierra Leone Government, which they wanted to overthrow. As part of this effort, the group practiced ritual cannibalism by participating in cannibal gangs. These soldiers ate the hearts of their enemies to receive their strength and to intimidate any who might oppose them. It was rumored that they also ate United Nations peacekeepers.
8 Maori People
These people were the first settlers of New Zealand. During warfare, this tribe would practice cannibalism. In 1809, a large group of warriors boarded a European convict ship in retribution of treatment received by a chieftain’s son. Most of the 66 people on-board the ship were killed and taken back to shore to be eaten by the tribesman. The few lucky survivors were forced to watch the act from their ship throughout the night into the morning.
7 Siege of Maarat, or Ma'arra
The First Crusade in the 11th Century was a very long march to Syria. Using the Old Testament as a guide, the Europeans used cannibalism as a way to intimidate their enemies. Some history books indicated troops resorted to the practice because they had nothing to eat by the time they reached the Holy Land. Historical passages were in books speaking of soldiers bragging about roasting Saracens before going into battle.
6 Siege of Leningrad
During World War II, the Germans laid siege to the City of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) for three years! Six Hundred thirty two thousand people died in the siege, 4,000 on Christmas Day in 1941. Many of the deaths were attributed to starvation as food was very scarce. Cannibalism was highly rumored to be practiced among the survivors, digging up dead bodies in the cold of the night. It became such a problem that Leningrad leaders had to put out patrols to police the dead bodies laying throughout the city. The siege ended in 1944 when the Germans retreated.
5 North Korea Famine
In more recent times, North Korea regime's rule has lead to widespread starvation. In 2012, a severe drought ravaged the crops followed by a cyclone leaving 21,000 homeless. Reports of cannibalism has reached the Asia press including a father killing his two children and a grandfather digging up his dead grandchildren. Famine has been a problem in North Korea since the 1990s.
4 Donner Party
In 1846, a party of 37 Illinoisans, known as the Donner Party, decided to go west to California to seek their fortunes. A new path through the mountains had been discovered that would cut off considerable time from the journey. However, once they started the trek across the mountains, they quickly learned their shortcut was impassable. Stranded in the Mountains for months, the party quickly ran out of food and resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. In the end, several people died before a rescue could take place. It is one of the most famous cases of cannibalism in American history.
3 Stella Rugby Team
In 1973, a Uruguayan Air Force twin plane, chartered by the Stella Ruby Team from Montevideo, Uruguay, crashed in the Andes Mountains in Chile. Survivors were facing bitter cold temperatures with no heat and little food. After eight additional people were killed in an avalanche, the remaining 16 people out of 45 original passengers, had to cannibalize the dead passengers to stay alive. Everyone was rescued 72 days later. The events of the crash were made into a movie, Alive in 1993.
2 Sir Jonathan Franklin
In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin left England to find the last unnavigable section of the Northwest Passage, bearing north through the arctic. Franklin was a celebrity back in England because of previous successful expeditions. After a few rough days at the beginning, the two ships became stranded in the ice, unable to move. The entire complement of men, 126, was lost. Years later, in 1981, a team of scientist excavated the known camp sites of the stranded seamen. Human bones with teeth marks were found in the graves, leading many to speculate that the men were forced into cannibalism to stay alive. Several fictional accounts of the lost expedition have been made over the years.
1 Carib West Indian Tribes
It is only fitting that the group ranked number one is the group that word cannibal was derived. Like with the other indigenous people described in this list, the Carib tribe was said to practice cannibalism as a victory of war. Columbus was said to have seen such acts taking place and not fully understanding what he was seeing. Some historians say all the cannibal claims are false, a dramatization created by the early explorers. Pirates of the Caribbean has been criticized for portraying the Carib tribe as savage cannibals.