Taking a Bite Out of Cannibalism

Cannibalism is a very strange concept. Why would people want to eat other people? Well for the people of New Guinea, it is a religious act. During funeral services the Fore people in New Guinea “prepared and consumed the tissues (including brain) of deceased family members.” Cannibalism is a disturbing act, but besides it being somewhat uncivilized, are there health risks to it?

According to the epidemic levels of Kuru in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the consumption of human muscle and brain can be very dangerous, especially if the deceased has Kuru. Kuru is described as “an extremely rare and fatal nervous system disease.” If the deceased has Kuru, and then a healthy person consumes their brain or comes in contact with a wound, they are likely to contract Kuru. Kuru causes “abnormal proteins” to be produced that are called prions. Prions cause tumor like masses to form on the brain. In addition to these deformed proteins being produced, Kuru can also cause healthy proteins to copy the shapes of the deformed proteins, causing the masses on the brain to increase, further harming the patient.

Kuru has many different symptoms to it. A person with Kuru would likely have difficulty walking, poor coordination, trouble swallowing, slurred speech, and any symptom that could be related to neurological damage. The problem with Kuru is that it is slow moving, making it very difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, to diagnose Kuru a series of neurological tests have to be done, and in underdeveloped areas this is difficult to do. Also, since the disease progresses slowly it is hard for patients to recognize the symptoms. Many cases of Kuru are not discovered until the person has died.

If by some miracle a patient is correctly diagnosed, there is still no treatment for the disease. The only type of recommendation a physician could make would be to stop participating in cannibalism. Most people who contract Kuru “die in a comatose state within six to twelve month after experiencing initial symptoms.” This does not mean that it is months after contraction a person will die. This means that after years of having the disease, and symptoms finally begin to show, the patient will most likely die in a matter of months. The disease does not cause a problem for many years but, once it does the body is ravished by it.

Overall, my take on cannibalism remains unchanged. Not only is it an inhumane practice, but it is also a deadly one. While some cultures embrace the ritual, it should be avoided due to possible disease contraction such as Kuru.

imaging of regular brain (on left) and Kuru infected brain (on right)











5 thoughts on “Taking a Bite Out of Cannibalism

  1. Katelyn Ann Estelow

    Cannibalism is a disgusting, but shamefully interesting topic. I looked up some stuff about the Kuru disease and learned that it is nicknamed “the laughing sickness” because people who get it often have uncontrollable laughter as a side effect. That makes this disease even creepier, because not only are you eating people but you are also laughing uncontrollably afterward (Hannibal Lecter, anyone?) Anyway, this is a great post! It is perfect for Halloween season just around the corner and it also relates to our religious explorations in class. Great job!

  2. Anne Curry Heffernan

    To answer the question about why kuru isn’t found in cows or chickens, it actually is, but it takes many different forms because they are a whole different mammal. Kuru is a very rare type of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). A more well known form of TSE is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease. Mad Cow Disease spreads through cows when cows eat other dead cows who have the disease. It is still rare, and especially today, but people can contract BSE from eating cows who are infected, which leads me to believe that other mammals can probably contract kuru if they eat an infected human brain. Also, I fully agree that eating other people is really inhumane, and just outright gross.

  3. Valerie Ortense

    I wonder why it is so harmful. Do not get me wrong here, it is absolutely foul and bizarre in every way, but why is it not like eating a cow or a chicken? It is still meat and even if the chicken or meat is uncooked, you do not get deadly symptoms or die from it. The most could be a stomach virus and some vomiting with a fever. But with some good medication, you should be fine. That dramatic effect has to be a sign. Do not eat your family members!

  4. Katelyn May Schreckengast

    I was cringing the entire time I was reading, but I couldn’t stop! No one has to worry about me ever becoming a cannibal, that’s for sure!

  5. Jesenia A Munoz

    Wow this was extremely disturbing to read. . I completely agree with this act being completely inhumane and to hear that these people actually practice this as part of their religion has me mind blown. I didn’t have any doubts that cannibalism had to be unhealthy in some way but now I know that there is a name for the disease that people get from it. (Makes it a bit more disturbing to know that cannibalism happens so much that they were able to discover these symptoms and provide a set name for the illness). Here’s a link you should check out about the top 10 cases of human cannibalism. It’s one of those things that you hate to read but can’t take your eyes off of.

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