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Endocannibalism is a practice of eating the flesh of a human being from the same community (tribe, social group or society), usually after they have died.

As a cultural practice[edit]

Herodotus (3.38) mentions funerary cannibalism among the Callatiae, a tribe of India.

It is believed that some South American Indigenous cultures such as the Mayoruna people practiced endocannibalism in the past.[1] 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.[2] The Aghoris of northern India consume the flesh of the dead floated in the Ganges in pursuit of immortality and supernatural powers.[3]

Such practices were generally not believed to have been driven by need for protein or other food.[1]

Medical implications[edit]

Kuru is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy caused by a prion found in humans.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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,[7] found genes that protect against similar prion diseases were widespread around the world, indicating that such endocannibalism was once common around the world.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dorn, Georgette M.; Tenenbaum, Barbara A. (1996). Encyclopedia of Latin American history and culture. New York: C. Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-684-19253-5.  Pages 535-537.
  2. ^ "Endocannibalism of the Yanomami". Users.rcn.com. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  3. ^ "Indian cannibal sect eats human corpses, believing it give them supernatural powers". Pravada. 2005-10-25. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  4. ^ Wadsworth JD, Joiner S, Linehan JM et al. (March 2008). "Kuru prions and sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease prions have equivalent transmission properties in transgenic and wild-type mice". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105 (10): 3885–90. doi:10.1073/pnas.0800190105. PMC 2268835. PMID 18316717. 
  5. ^ Diamond JM (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 208. ISBN 0-393-03891-2. 
  6. ^ "Kuru : Article by Paul A Janson". eMedicine. 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  7. ^ "A life of determination". Med.monash.edu.au. 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  8. ^ Simon Mead, Michael P. H. Stumpf, Jerome Whitfield, Jonathan A. Beck, Mark Poulter, Tracy Campbell, James Uphill, David Goldstein, Michael Alpers, Elizabeth M. C. Fisher, John Collinge (2003), "Balancing Selection at the Prion Protein Gene Consistent with Prehistoric Kurulike Epidemics", Science 300 (5619): 640–643, doi:10.1126/science.1083320, PMID 12690204 
  9. ^ Friday, 11 April 2003 Danny Kingsley (2003-04-11). "Genes suggest cannibalism common in human past". ABC Science Online. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  • Aparecida Vilaca, Relations between Funerary Cannibalism and Warfare Cannibalism: The Question of Predation, Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, Volume 65, Issue 1, 2000, 83-106, DOI: 10.1080/001418400360652.