Cannibalism, it appears, isn’t just about eating people. In a new from TED-Ed, biology professor Bill Schutt and narrator Addison Anderson want to explain the curious complexities of eating humans and how the practice of cannibalism has been used in societies across the world.
To be clear, cannibalism is about eating people. This video just wants to remind you that it’s the meaning behind eating people that matters. According to Schutt’s lesson, the earliest reports of cannibalism came from Christopher Columbus, who told Queen Isabella of Spain that the indigenous people he discovered who lived on islands of Guadeloupe were friendly—except for the peoples known as the Caribs, who were rumored to cook and eat their prisoners. Naturally, Isabella didn’t like that too much, so she granted Columbus permission to capture and enslave anyone who was suspected of being a
caribe canibe cannibal.
Back then, the word “cannibal” was been used to demonize indigenous people. Today, it’s used to demonize some sick fucks, but it was socially acceptable for a while in parts of Europe and China. 15th century Europeans sometimes made “mumia,” a brown powder made by grinding up mummified flesh that was seen as a miracle drug that could cure practically anything if used topically or digested, much like apple cider vinegar or charcoal is today. And, over 2,000 years ago, China got familiar with “filial cannibalism,” where adult children would cut off a piece of their own flesh to feed to their parents as a sort of last resort offering that would cure an ill parent’s disease.
The video also details a cannibalistic ritual that took place in the mid-20th century with the Fore people of New Guinea, who would often make funeral wishes in advance, and request that their family members eat their deceased bodies after passing. Imagine being written into that Eli Roth wet dream of a will.