**I wrote this piece for school back in 2004 when I was in high school (age 16). It was a miserable failure as a satire piece, and my understand and use of the term cannibalism is completely wrong! But I love my imaginative ideas for the piece, so I’m sharing! 🙂 **

Hunter or Hunted?

There is a perpetual common belief that cannibalism is wrong, while hunting is okay. Whether it be with a rifle, shotgun, handgun, or something more distinctive, like a slingshot, army knife, mallet, or one’s own hands, hunting is still legal in some areas – when following certain conditions – but legal nonetheless. How can this be? Won’t inflicting harm on animals, intentionally, breed more violence among human beings? How can someone who kills other living beings for sport, or the thrill of it, not be considered a cannibal?

I propose a solution, more precisely a lesson that will allow the wrongdoer to see and feel the gravity of the situation in which he has been put upon himself. This method will be conducted in two stages. The first will be used for those who hunt with traditional weapons, such as the rifle or shotgun. The second and more dangerous of the two will be for individuals who like to take risks by hunting with mallets or their bare hands. Although the two solutions are very different, both will be very successful in reducing the number of hunters in society today.

The first method allows the hunters to get to know the atmospheres the animals live in, especially the ones they were caught trying to kill. Prisoners are taken to a special jail that is not a building with cells, but resembles a real forest with animals. The goal is to last two days in the wild, with only their jail suits and a bottle of water. No shelter is provided and neither are weapons to fight off predators. Survival instincts and being comfortable in nature is a must to pass the course. On the other hand, the second method demands prisoners to be placed in an arena without any weapons or armor, and encompasses the idea of gladiators. The animal the hunter was till recently trying to kill is then placed alongside the criminal, followed by another. If they are not fierce, such as deer or rabbits, they are to be substituted with wild animals, like bears or tigers. Without any protection, the goal is to survive the attacks of the “enemy” for five minutes. These two methods will make many, not only the criminals, think twice before going hunting again.

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“During the last few months of the camp’s existence the shortage of food was so acute that the prisoners (the camp staff were still well fed) resorted to cannibalism, and one former British internee gave evidence at the trial of the Commandant and some of his staff that when engaged in clearing away dead bodies as many as one in ten had a piece cut from the thigh or other part of the body which had been taken and eaten, and that he had seen people in the act of doing it. To such lengths had they been brought by the pangs of hunger.

  This witness said:

I noticed on many occasions a very strange wound at the back of the thigh of many of the dead. First of all I dismissed it as a gunshot wound at close quarters, but after seeing a few more I asked a friend and he told me that many of the prisoners were cutting chunks out of the bodies to eat. On my very next visit to the mortuary I actually saw a prisoner whip out a knife, cut a portion out of the leg of a dead body and put it quickly into his mouth, naturally frightened of being seen in the act of doing so. I leave it to your imagination to realize to what state the prisoners were reduced, for men to risk eating bits of flesh cut from black corpses.”

— Lord Russell of Liverpool 2008, p. 178

The “camp” that Lord Russell of Liverpool, also known as Edward Frederick Langley Russell, was referring to in this quote was Bergen-Belsen. I originally came across this account by Lord Russell in Garry Hogg‘s 1958 book Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice (p. 188-189) while doing research for an essay on survival cannibalism in the 20th century. Because The Scourge of the Swastika was originally published in 1954 by London: Cassell, with this 2008 version just harboring a new introduction by Alistair Horne, I was able to track this second-hand reference to its source.

Two of my quotes posted on this blog have made mentioned of cannibalism. To read them please click here and here. I have already evaluated that the practice of humans eating flesh from other humans is neither a strange nor rare practice around the world.  This practice is thought to be most justified as a method of survival. Thus, the act of cannibalism taking place in the mortuary of Bergen-Belsen due to acute starvation and hunger is understandable. For prisoners to have to resort to such ‘inhuman’ measures, however, can often lead to much embarrassment and a devaluing of self-worth. Still, it would be erroneous to assume that the prisoner mentioned in the witness testimony speedily ate the chunk of human flesh because he was “naturally frightened of being seen in the act.” If this act referred to the prisoner being caught by Nazi officers for not following orders, that would be true. However, to assume that anyone would be appalled or would retaliate to see a prisoner commit “the act” of cannibalism is unlikely and unknown. At least that is what I believe.

Surprisingly, this is the only (direct) evidence I could find of cannibalism taking place during the Holocaust. You can read this section here on Google Books. While many sources express that cannibalism was rife during this episode in history, I have been unable to find details in the literature. This may be because of the embarrassment felt by camp survivors who partook in this activity post-WWII. As their dire circumstances have been replaced by comfort and reintegration into societal life, this may in fact be a memory many have repressed or hidden from historians, archivists, and loved ones.

Reference: Lord Russell of Liverpool 2008. The Scourge of the Swastika: A History of Nazi War Crimes during World War II. New York: Skyhorse Publishing

“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

“As a primal mode of connecting the human body to the world, refusal to eat existentially signifies one’s rejection of the body as well as its material relationship with the world. Thus, the absolute rejection of food also signifies something absolute: the will and power to kill oneself, a social behavior unique to the human species.”

— Gang Yue 1999, p. 51

It seems it is human nature to eat for survival, thus it is the act of eating that makes us worldly beings. While this quote by Yue is used as a justification for acts of human cannibalism, I also found this to be highly relevant to the cases of the renunciated, hermits, and fasters. Before, discussing its other meanings however, it is important to say something about cannibals. Simply speaking, cannibalism is the consumption of human flesh by other human beings. While many factors are involved, the resulting impacts on society are varied as cannibalism is considered a social taboo in many societies, and a social necessity in many others. Eating the flesh of a fellow human can be a sign of deep respect and a form of embodying someone’s best attributes, a necessity to avoid starvation (i.e. in times of famine), or a way to showcase one’s power over the weaker other…even beyond death. However, the motivation and function of being a cannibal can, of course, only be discerned based on the socio-cultural context of the person performing these acts.

 Gang Yue makes the point that if one refuses food – any kind of food – then that is akin to proof that the person is not eager to live. However, as I said, a much deeper meaning can also be gleaned from such a refusal. Fasting, whether political, religious, or health-related, is also the act of abstaining from food and drink by personal choice. Therefore, the absolute rejection of eating can be used as a form of control and power over the eating majority in these contexts without the aim of killing oneself.

 I realize I’ve taken this quote slightly astray from its context, however, but it is such a thought-provoking idea, as a whole, that justice can only be made through further discussion it seems. My opinion? Yue makes a statement where he mixes up the meanings of starvation and fasting. Both involve lack of food in the human body, but starvation is endured through suffering and involves the loss of self-control and personal power, while fasting is something embarked upon – which leads to heightened control and power over oneself and others. Generally speaking, only two exceptions exist – eating disorder patients and hunger strike activists – both tread the tightrope that distinguishes and blurs the lines between starvation and fasting.

Reference: Yue, G. 1999. The Mouth that Begs: hunger, cannibalism and the politics of eating in modern China. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

P.S. I also found an interesting article called Hunger Politics: Towards Seeing Voluntary Self Starvation as an Act of Resistance which raises questions about the meaning of hunger, self-starvation, and the starved body among women living in the West. Have a look!