5 Cases of Cannibalism in recent history - History Key

5 Cases of Cannibalism in recent history

Cannibalism is a repellent act in civilized countries, viewed with repulsion and fascination at the same time. Cases of cannibalism have always been a taboo subject and those who practice it are considered monsters.

Cannibalism is extremely rare, usually caused by serious psychological disorders. But there have been cases throughout history when people had to recourse to cannibalism in order to survive. Here are the five stories:

5. Greely Expedition

People have always been curious and have traveled all around the world, exploring unknown territories. But some expeditions don’t have happy endings. In 1881, Adolphus Greely started a dangerous expedition towards the North Pole.

The purpose of the expedition was to set up a meteorological station for scientific studies, which actually has happened. The team set up the Fort Conger Station and began collecting data. In the first year, the research went according to the plan, but the meteorological conditions began to deteriorate.

Because of the bad weather, the team remained with limited supplies. During 1882 and 1883, two unsuccessful attempts of supplying the team were made. Because of this, Greely decided to move the expedition camp at Cape Sabine, an area where the ships could reach.

Greely Expedition Crew
Greely Expedition Crew © Image Source: thenypost.com

Arriving at Cape Sabine, Greely and his men found food supplies, but they had a big problem: the supplies were sufficient only for a few weeks. Inevitably, the food was almost gone and the crew began to get sick. Due to this, the atmosphere among the crew was extremely tense.

The group remained completely isolated until June 22, 1884, when the rescue crews arrived. Only 6 of the 25 members were still alive.

The six men were received at home as heroes, but they soon began to face charges of cannibalism. Although cannibalism has never been officially confirmed, the press at that time wrote that the bones of the dead brought back to America were well cleaned of any traces of flesh.

4. The Sacrificed Boy 

In 1884, Jack Want, an Australian politician, bought a yacht from England and recruited four sailors to sail back in Australia. He hired Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Ned Brooks and Richard Parker, a teenager from Itchen Ferry Village.

After 47 days of sailing, the crew was in the South Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, they faced really bad weather which caused the sinking of the yacht. Somehow they managed to launch a rescue boat. But the big problem was the lack of food and water. All they had was a bottle of water and a few cans of meat.

More than 2,500 km away from any shore, without water and food, the four men were struggling with sunburn, malnutrition, and dehydration. They survived more than a week only with the meat of a turtle caught in the ocean and rainwater.

The four survivors were more and more desperate, terrified that they won’t survive. Then, Dudley came up with a bizarre suggestion: to draw who will have to die to save the others. The others were shocked by Dudley’s suggestion, which they didn’t accept.

After 21 days, Parker was weakened and delusional. In other words, he was really sick. Dudley used this opportunity to persuade Stephens that the boy must be sacrificed because he would die anyway. Stephens was convinced and the two men killed the boy by cutting his throat.

The surviving men drank Parker’s blood and fed with his flesh. Three days later, the crew was saved by a German boat. The interesting part is that they didn’t hide what they had done to Parker.

Image Source: historyextra.com

Dudley and Stephens were accused of murder and Brooks was the witness. They were found guilty and sentenced to death, but a few weeks later they were pardoned.

3. During the Siege of Leningrad

The siege of the German troops on Leningrad lasted from September 1941 to January 1944. During this time, 800,000 people were starving. The proportions of the tragedy were hidden by the communist regime, but after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the truth began to emerge.

At that time, for those 800,000 people, every single day was a constant battle for life. They started to do anything to survive. There was no morality, feelings or empathy. All that remained was despair and the desire to survive.

The robberies and the crimes were the order of the day and the rumors about cannibalism were becoming more and more frequent. Amputated members disappeared from the hospitals. According to The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), more than 2,000 people were arrested for cannibalism.

Most of those who ate human flesh were using it from already deceased people, crimes being extremely rare. For example, 300 people arrested in April 1942 for cannibalism, only 44 murdered. The majority those who ate human flesh were single mothers (64%) with young children.

Image Source: irishhistorypodcast.ie

2. The Rugby Team from Uruguay

On October 1972, a rugby team from Uruguay flew to Santiago, Chile to play a game. Because of the bad weather conditions, the plane crashed in the Andes Mountains, on the border between Chile and Argentina.

View of the Crash Site Memorial, taken looking west in February 2006
View of the Crash Site Memorial, taken looking west in February 2006 © Image Source: Wikipedia

For eleven days, the rescue teams looked for them where the plane possibly collapsed, but it was in vain. Therefore, the authorities considered all the 45 persons dead. What followed was a tremendous story about survival.

Remaining alone in the wild, 16 team members stayed on the top of the mountain for two months at an altitude of over 3,600 meters. Without food and without the possibility to stay warm, the survivors were forced to eat the flesh of their colleagues who had died.

The group managed to survive only because of cannibalism. The decision to eat human flesh was not easy at all, especially as the deceased were colleagues and close friends of the survivors. In his memoirs “Miracle in the Andes”, Nando Parrado, one of the survivors said:

Image Source: eduardostrauchart.com

“…we were starving in earnest, with no hope of finding food, but our hunger soon grew so voracious that we searched anyway…again and again we scoured the fuselage in search of crumbs and morsels. We tried to eat strips of leather torn from pieces of luggage…We ripped open seat cushions hoping to find straw, but found only inedible upholstery foam. Again and again, I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminum, plastic, ice, and rock.”

1. The Donner Expedition

Probably one of the most famous cases of cannibalism is the Donner’s expedition. In May 1846, a group of colonists, led by George Donner and James F. Reed, headed towards California with a cart caravan.

Due to the bad weather conditions, the crew members were forced to spend the winter between 1846 and 1847 in the Sierra Nevada. Only 48 out of 87 survived and reached in California.

Remaining without food and threatened by hypothermia, people reached the extreme gesture for survival: cannibalism. Some of the most concrete evidence of cannibalism was provided by the survivors.

In their letters, diaries or interviews, the survivors said they had recourse to cannibalism in order to survive the winter:

“Mrs. Murphy said here yesterday that she thought she would commence on Milton and eat him. I don’t think she has done so yet; it is distressing” – Patrick Breen

Page 28 of Patrick Breen's diary, recording his observations in late February 1847
Page 28 of Patrick Breen’s diary, recording his observations in late February 1847 © Wikipedia

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