Cannibalism was practised by the Australian Aboriginals, many African tribes, [for example those in the Congo and the Ivory coast], South American Indians, Siberians and Tibetans, the Maori of New Zealand plus numerous other tribes. It was still being practised in the 1920s when William Beuhler Seabrook went in search of adventure in Africa and wrote about it in Jungle Ways. It was according to one Belgian source I met, still being practised in the Belgian Congo in the late 1950s. According to William Beuhler Seabrook, human flesh tastes and looks like veal, not pork.
It has both a practical and a spiritual use.
In societies of warring tribes there are frequent battles for territory and hunting rights. And people get killed. If you are a hunter gatherer knowing that it can take days to find and kill game, you do not – for practical reasons – overlook and ignore the existence of freshly killed meat whatever its source. Thus cannibalism was both a strange kind of conservation measure and a practise based on common sense.
The next reason is spiritual. Within a tribal group arguments could lead to murder. For the cohesion of the group and to ensure justice was done, the murderer had to be found and brought to justice. This required the use of the shaman/medicine man/witch doctor [whatever you like to call him or her]. Only he or she would partake of a small part of the flesh of the dead person and by doing so would have formed a bridge – the most effective bridge there is, better than clothes or body oils or other extracts of the dead person. As long as the person has not been dead too long [their soul is ‘gone’ after a certain number of days], the bridge then gives you access to the soul of the person via inter composer communication and the soul of the person can tell you who the murderer is.
The final reason is also spiritual. Where anyone within a group had achieved extraordinarily high levels of spiritual achievement - nirvana or annihilation, their wisdom after they had died was sought by partaking of a small sliver of the corpse. Through this bridge, they gained access to the composer of the ‘god’ or ‘saint’ and thereby attained information on the spirit realm and areas of the spirit realm inaccessible to ordinary folk because the saint was not going to be reincarnated.
And lest you think this is all very heathen and unpleasant, think again. If you are a Christian and take communion you are symbolically doing the same thing.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
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