ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

Acts of cannibalism have been documented throughout written history and all across the world, but it continues to be one of the most abject fears known to man. It's hard to imagine that a fellow human could be driven to feast on the flesh of another, but there are many cultural, religious, and even personal reasons that gave rise to the shocking practice in many different indigenous tribes.

The Green Inferno confronts these very circumstances in grisly, cinematic fashion, but there's a truth behind this fiction that's almost too gruesome to handle. Before we get into the real-life accounts of this horrifying taboo, check out the trailer for The Green Inferno to really get into that headspace.

Only for those with a strong stomach, here are some of the most jarring, gut-wrenching examples of societal cannibalism that actually occurred.

1. Korowai

Location: New Guinea

Outside world first made contact: 1970

Lethality rating: Low

With a population of about 3,000 individuals, the Korowai people are the last known group in the world confirmed to practice cannibalism. To them, however, it's not technically the consumption of another human because the ritual only takes place when a supposed demon, the khakhua, has taken over a person's body. The process is rare, but when it does take place, the victim is almost entirely consumed by the tribe's adults, who only leave behind the bones, teeth, genitals, and nails.

2. Carib West Indies Tribe

Location: Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean

Outside world first made contact: 15th century

Lethality rating: Medium

The tribe that gave rise to the term "cannibal," the Island Caribs terrified Columbus and his fellow colonizers when they made their journey to North America. Supposedly, the European settlers witnessed the Carib natives cannabalizing warring tribesmen that lost in battle. Since Queen Isabella had recently ruled that the only people who could be enslaved were those whose lives would be "better" under slavery (explicitly mentioning cannibals), seeing this practice allowed Columbus and his men to take away their lands and land the group in chains.

3. Tupí

Location: Brazil

Outside world first made contact: 16th century

Lethality rating: Medium

Numbering a massive 1 million people in the year 1500 (about the same as Portugal at the time), the Tupí split into disparate tribes that frequently warred with each other in brutal shows of strength. The victorious warriors would capture other tribes for ritualized consumption. They believed that digesting their enemies would also mean absorbing their strength, so the practice was widespread among the battle-ready society. Records also show that the Tupí people would sometimes consume their dead relatives' remains to honor their memory.

4. Fore

Location: Papua New Guinea

Outside world first made contact: 1930s (major contact in 1950s)

Lethality rating: High

As part of a ritualized service following the death of a family member, the the Fore's maternal kin would dismember the corpse as preparation for consumption. They would start by cutting off the arms and feet, stripping the limbs of the muscle, and finally disemboweling to remove all undesired organs. The practice of cannibalism led to an outbreak of kuru, an incurable neurological disease. Kuru victims were viewed as highly esteemed food sources because their fat layers resembled pork, and the human brains of those unlucky enough to catch the disease would be fed to children and the elderly, only causing it to spread more rapidly.

5. Wari'

Location: Brazil

Outside world first made contact: 16th century

Lethality rating: High

The Wari' people are particularly famous for their practice of endocannibalism, the consumption of a group's own members. Unlike some of the other tribes on this list that feast after battle, this ritual was more focused on funeral services. Close relatives would leave the body for about three days, meaning the body would decompose in the Amazon's brutal heat. When all relatives arrived, visceral organs were removed before the body was finally roasted. The closest relatives would not partake in eating, but they would invite other attendees to devour the flesh. As they ate, the belief was that the human soul would remain in these individuals, and watching their loved one be consumed would ultimately abate their grief.

6. Māori of Whangaroa Harbour

Location: New Zealand

Outside world first made contact: 17th century

Lethality rating: Medium

In one of bloodiest singlular instances of cannibalism ever recorded, the Boyd Massacre saw the Māori of Whangaroa Harbour viciously cannabalize between 66 and 70 European travelers. The Boyd ship was carrying Te Ara, the son of a Māori chief, who ended up getting whipped by the captain after an unclear grievance (he was potentially blamed for a crime he didn't commit or simply didn't complete work duties when he was sick). Enraged, Te Ara was determined to seek revenge, or utu, and convinced the captain to dock in Whangaroa Harbour after regaining his confidence.

Te Ara showed his father the whip marks, and they devised a plan to kill the foreigners for this gross punishment. They killed some members of the crew to attain disguises, dragging others back to the village to be promptly consumed by other members of the community. In European garb, they snuck on the ship and killed all the crew and most of the passengers. Invoked by the spirit of revenge, this was not an incident of strict ritual, rather it was a massacre to get payback in one of the most gruesome ways possible: cannibalism.

For those that want even more fatal flesh-feasting, be sure to make the trip to Eli Roth's The Green Inferno when it hits theaters on September 25th. Check out the official Facebook page for more content from The Green Inferno!


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