As a cultural practice
It is believed that some Native American cultures such as the Mayoruna people practiced endocannibalism in the past. Ya̧nomamö consumed the ground-up bones and ashes of cremated kinsmen in an act of mourning. This is still classified as endocannibalism, although, strictly speaking, "flesh" is not eaten. The Aghoris of northern India consume the flesh of the dead floated in the Ganges in pursuit of immortality and supernatural powers.
Such practices were generally not believed to have been driven by need for protein or other food.
Kuru is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy caused by a prion found in humans. It spread through the Fore people of Papua New Guinea, in which relatives consumed the bodies of the deceased to return the "life force" of the deceased to the hamlet. Kuru was 8 to 9 times more prevalent in women and children than in men at its peak because, while the men of the village took the choice cuts, the women and children would eat the rest of the body, including the brain, where the prion particles were particularly concentrated. The Kuru epidemic, which is recorded to have begun in the 1920s, is believed to have been started by the consumption of a single individual with Kuru, which then spread through the population. Oral history records that cannibalism began within the Fore in the late 19th century.
A team led by Michael Alpers, a lifelong investigator of the Kuru disease, found genes that protect against similar prion diseases were widespread around the world, indicating that such endocannibalism was once common around the world.
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