Cannibalism: Aberration or survival strategy?

Cannibalism is one of the most enigmatic human behaviors.

A complex mix of primal instincts and symbolic meanings, in conflict with the nascent feelings of guilt, they would have determined the various ways in which humans have practiced anthropophagy, its evolution over time and the role it has had in different cultures.

Traveling to the past of our species is also traveling to the deepest and darkest part of our mind. Even if it scares us, we have to take that journey. Only if we recognize the impulses that motivated our ancestors to behave as they did, can we come to understand our own impulses.

Lately there have been findings on crucial issues. We already knew, thanks to human bones with skin marks from Atapuerca, that he cannibalism is a very old behavior, practiced by hominids at least 800,000 years ago. New discoveries reveal that this behavior was not sporadic, but rather widespread in the Homo antecessor.

They preferentially consumed boys and girls, apparently from other groups. This preference would have, according to experts, more cultural than gastronomic reasons. Could have a certain ritual meaning (although the symbolic capacity of these hominids would be very low), it could only be due to the fact that the children They are the easiest prey of a hunt or perhaps adults simply took advantage of the energy resources of children who died of natural causes (at that time infant mortality would be very high).

Recently, the problem of how ingrained this custom has been in humanity as a whole is also being addressed. A study of the Pompeu Fabra University shows that the human gene for prion protein, an infectious agent that causes neurodegenerative diseases the type of mad cow disease and that is transmitted when an animal eats meat from a member of its species, shows no modifications to resist infection.

It would be expected that if the cannibalism it would have been a very widespread practice in our history, individuals carrying genes mutated to resist infection would have higher survival rates and those genes would be well represented in current populations. The nonexistence of these mutations suggests that the cannibalism would have been a punctual phenomenon in certain human groups (although an earlier study of the London University College concluded that our genome is well adapted for the cannibalism).

The regions of the land where he cannibalism has been a relatively common practice (and even, as we will see, massive) have been Tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, Oceania and America. Surely in other regions this practice was also carried out (it is said that Attila, the king of the Huns, was a voracious cannibalism), but it was abandoned before.

The cannibalism mode predominant in most primitive tribes was the ritual sacrifice enemies captured in combat. The members of these tribes justified the consumption of certain parts of the enemies as a means of acquiring their value or physical power. The conduct of other Indian peoples, such as the Iroquois and Hurons of North America and the Tupinambá of Brazil, It seems instead to have a sobering purpose for the young warriors and a cowarding purpose for the enemies.

The captured warriors were humiliated, savagely tortured and killed and their different parts were distributed among the members of the tribe to be consumed. A young warrior would never give up because he knew what enemies would do to him if they captured him. The enemies would also be impressed when they found the devoured remains of his tribe members. In a ruthless world, there would be no choice but to be ruthless to survive.

In Australia and other regions, it was also the pure instinct of survival the one that led to cannibalism. After periods of droughts and great famines, mothers sometimes ate their newborn children and shared their shares among their surviving children. Something very different from what happened in the great empires of Central and South America (Mayans, Aztecs and Incas). In these cases, advanced civilizations, albeit in decline, institutionalized cannibalism and executed it on monstrous scales. Although some authors argue that it was a mechanism to fight overpopulation and balance the diet with a source rich in protein, strong indications suggest that it was a strategy of the ruling classes (who consumed the most palatable parts) to conserve their power, destroying his enemies and satisfying the popular classes with his meat.

The chronicles of the Spanish conquerors, which could have been distorted (we already know that history is always written by the victors), have been confirmed by modern studies by Mexican archaeologists, although these suggest that the magnitude of the killings may not have been so high. . The "ritual " sacrifices, carried out by priests at the top of the great pyramids and on thousands of small altars throughout the Aztec empire, in which the living victim's chest was opened and torn off with the hands his beating heart, they were actually actions similar to those of the cattle slaughterer. The body that fell rolling was picked up by officials who tore it apart and distributed the meat to the different social classes. The chroniclers' accounts based on the immense piles of piled skulls suggested that at least hundreds of thousands of people, mostly slaves and prisoners of war, were sacrificed..

These cases should serve as a warning: living in a refined, cultured, rich and civilized society is no guarantee that we will not be able to commit the worst atrocities. Some historical examples, among many others, are the bloody spectacles of imperial Rome, or the holocaust committed by the Nazis. In a society that is reaching the limits of economic growth and that may be relatively close to collapsing due to environmental causes, we must be vigilant and cultivate the values ​​that have made us truly human: solidarity, tolerance and compassion for the environment. suffering of others.

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