Cannibalism Quote by Marvin Harris

February 12, 2012

“People eating [people] occurs the world over from time to time regardless of whether the eaters and the eaten come from societies that approve or disapprove of the practice. There is no puzzle as to why they do it… [they] must eat each other’s corpses or die of starvation.”

Marvin Harris 1985, p. 199

Now, I have mentioned in another post that cannibalism (humans eating flesh from other humans) is not only practiced to ward off starvation. Rather, people have eaten people for many reasons and for many millennia. Flesh, crushed bone, raw, cooked, for a celebration, in a funeral, for longevity, for control, for survival, for gastronomic pleasure, as a remedy, or as a form of filial piety – the factors of cannibalism are numerous. Interestingly, the ‘victim’ may not even need to die for cannibalism to take place (think of vampires that don’t need to suck all the blood from their food source)… Cannibalism doesn’t even have to involve two parties, a person can cannibalize parts of themselves while still alive through actions such as consuming their newborn baby’s placenta, for example. What this means is that while Marvin Harris is right about the universality of cannibalism practices throughout time, space, cultures and history, he mistakenly assumes that cannibalism exists among the human race due to our inherent survival instincts. I, for one, would need more proof before I could decide that this was the only original reason for its inception…

 Reference: Harris, M. 1985. Good to Eat: riddles of food and culture. London: Allen & Unwin


2 Responses to “Cannibalism Quote by Marvin Harris”

  1. Trick Brown Says:

    There is, of course, the obvious eating the heart (or whatever) of your enemy under the belief that it will make you a stronger warrior.

    Just keep the raw liver to a minimum. Wouldn’t want to die of a vitamin A overdose.


    • Manjree Says:

      Who wants to eat the liver raw, cooking it with herbs and sauce sounds much more delicious, though it’s true – more than a bite or two may be a bit too much A for the body to handle!

      And I really love the Yanomami tradition of drinking a mixture of the deceased person’s ashes with plantain soup for loved ones to share as a way of remembering him/her and as a sign of respect. It’s soo much more peaceful than killing and eating someone for vengence, or as you said, to take the dead’s strength and warrior skills 🙂


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