- 1: the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being
- 2: the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind
Cannibalism (from Caníbales, the Spanish name for the Carib people, a West Indies tribe formerly well known for their practice of cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy. A person who practices cannibalism is called a cannibal. The expression "cannibalism" has been extended into zoology to mean one individual of a species consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food, including sexual cannibalism.
Cannibalism was widespread in the past among humans in many parts of the world, continuing into the 19th century in some isolated South Pacific cultures, and to the present day in parts of tropical Africa. In a few cases in insular Melanesia, indigenous flesh-markets existed. Fiji was once known as the 'Cannibal Isles'. Cannibalism has been well documented around the world, from Fiji to the Amazon Basin to the Congo to Māori New Zealand. Neanderthals are believed to have practiced cannibalism, and Neanderthals may have been eaten by anatomically modern humans.
Cannibalism has recently been both practiced and fiercely condemned in several wars, especially in Liberia and Congo. Today, the Korowai are one of very few tribes still believed to eat human flesh as a cultural practice. It is also still known to be practiced as a ritual and in war in various Melanesian tribes.
Historically, allegations of cannibalism were used by the colonial powers to justify the enslavement of what were seen as primitive peoples; cannibalism has been said to test the bounds of cultural relativism as it challenges anthropologists "to define what is or is not beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior". Cannibalism is rare and is not illegal in most countries. People who eat human flesh are usually charged with crimes not relating to cannibalism, such as murder or desecration of a body.
Cannibalism has been occasionally practiced as a last resort by people suffering from famine, including in modern times. A famous example is the ill-fated Westward expedition of the Donner Party, and more recently the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, after which some survivors ate the bodies of dead passengers.