Last Saturday, 31 year-old Rudy Eugene was eating a homeless man’s face before being shot dead by Miami police. A few days later, reports surfaced that a New Jersey Man stabbed himself and threw pieces of his intestines at cops. Shortly after, news broke that Alexander Kinyua, a student at Maryland’s Morgan State University, reportedly confessed to cutting up and ingesting roommate Kujoe Agyei-Kodie. Then came word of Luka Magnotta, who is suspected of hacking a man to death with an icepick and eating his flesh.
Since there have been a lot of cannibalism/anthropophagy-esque cases in a few days, a lot of people have started to wonder: Does this mean the world is ending?
But students of history — and armchair scholars who use Wikipedia gratuitously — can tell you that cannibalism is no cause for apocalyptic concern. Sure, it’s fucked up, but it’s been going on forever — even in America — and has yet to bring about Kingdom Come.
Here’s the deal: Humanoids have probably been eating each other since the days of the Neanderthal period, with mashed up bones found in the Upper and Lower Paleolithic epochs. There are also anthropophagy anedcotes dating to Biblical times, though those are not as watertight. Fossil evidence from Gloucestershire suggests, however, that the practice might have taken place in Britain a mere 2,000 years ago.
Fast forward a few thousand years, to the early days of America. If you didn’t fall asleep in U.S. History or lit, you will recall learning about the Jamestown pilgrims. Something you might not have learned: Cannibalism happened.
During the Starving Time (1609-1610), the colony’s population plummeted by 80 percent and some became cannibals out of hunger. Survivor George Percy wrote:
“A worlde of miseries ensewed as the Sequell will expresse unto yow, in so mutche thatt some to satisfye their hunger have robbed the store for the which I Caused them to be executed. Then haveinge fedd upon our horses and other beastes as longe as they Lasted, we weare gladd to make shifte with vermin as doggs Catts, Ratts and myce all was fishe thatt Came to Nett to satisfye Crewell hunger, as to eate Bootes shoes or any other leather some Colde come by. And those beinge Spente and devoured some weare inforced to searche the woodes and to feede upon Serpentts and snakes and to digge the earthe for wylde and unknowne Rootes, where many of our men weare Cutt of and slayne by the Salvages. And now famin beginneinge to Looke gastely and pale in every face, thatt notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them. And some have Licked upp the Bloode which hathe fallen from their weake fellowes.”
Also, don’t forget: Many of the Southwest’s Anasazi settlements give conclusive archeological evidence — such as cooked human bone fragments — that cannibalism took place in this culture. Though greatly exaggerated in travelers’ accounts, additional data backs up hypotheses that this practice had been present in different Native American cultures for a long time.
Not counting the Miami incident, which might have been prompted by bath salts, this behavior has recently been related to PCP. A father, while allegedly high on PCP, reportedly ate his son’s eyeballs. Big Lurch, a rapper, is serving a life sentence after killing his roommate and consuming part of her lung. He supposedly was under the influence of this drug, too.
So there you have it: Cannibalism has had a seemingly constant presence in history — even in the U.S.A.
That doesn’t make it right or normal — in fact, it’s one of the worst things imaginable.
However, the point we are trying to make is that cannibalism does not seem to be linked to the world’s end, as has been recently speculated/fear-mongered, because we are still here. Make sense?
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.