The Complex History of Cannibalism

In a rather unappetizing Ted-Ed lesson, written by biology professor Bill Schutt and directed by Diego Huacuja, narrator Addison Anderson talks about the complex history of cannibalism.

The concept of cannibalism is not singular in nature and can refer to the consumption of blood for curative values, sustenance through extreme famine or a sacred part of traditional ceremonies. Early reports of its existence, however, came from Christopher Colombus who informed Queen Isabella of Spain about the practice, perhaps in an attempt to garner her explicit approval to punish the native people.

First used by colonizers to dehumanize indigenous people, it has since been applied to anyone who eats human flesh. So the term comes from an account that wasn’t based on hard evidence, but cannibalism does have a real and much more complex history. …The reasons for cannibalistic practices have varied, too. Across cultures and time periods, there’s evidence of survival cannibalism, when people living through a famine, siege or ill-fated expedition
had to either eat the bodies of the dead or starve to death themselves. But it’s also been quite common for cultures to normalize some form of eating human flesh under ordinary circumstances.