- William Buehler Seabrook spent time with a cannibal tribe in Africa in the 1920s
- He described the texture and taste of human flesh in his 1931 book Jungle Ways
They are the gruesome crimes that have appalled – and intrigued – the world.
First came so-called Miami ‘zombie’, Rudy Eugene, who stripped his victim before savaging his face by the side of the road.
Then, gay porn star Luka Magnotta allegedly murdered his former lover with an ice pick before dismembering him and devouring some of his flesh. As if this was not horrifying enough, he then apparently posted footage of the killing online.
The pair are just the latest in a long and infamous line of cannibals whose exploits have broken one of the last taboos.
Modern day cannibals: Luka Magnotta (left) is suspected of killing and eating his victim and sending body parts in the post. Rudy Eugene (right) was shot dead while he ate the face of a homeless man in Florida last month
But back in the 1920s, one man set out to provide a detailed record of the societies that devour human flesh – and went so far as to taste it himself.
American adventurer William Buehler Seabrook wrote of his experiences in his book Jungle Ways, published in 1931. He noted that human flesh actually tastes ‘just like veal’.
The account follows his travels in West Africa, where he spent time with the Guero people, and joined them as they feasted on human meat.
The author observed that the raw flesh looked like beef but less red and with pale yellow fat.
Once cooked it turned grey and smelled like beef.
As for the taste, he wrote: ‘It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal.’
Seabrook’s account is regarded as unreliable by many, because he later confessed Guero tribesmen refused to let him take part in their tradition – bizarrely claiming he made up for the disappointment by obtaining the body of a dead hospital patient in France and cooking it on a spit.
But experts regard his description as the most useful – because most commentaries on cannibalism come from the criminally insane and are often contradictory.
German killer Armin Meiwes,insisted human flesh tastes like pork, ‘but a little bit more bitter, stronger.’
While Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa described it as ‘tender and soft’ like tuna.
The survivors of the 1970 Andes plane crash, portrayed in the movie Alive, were forced to eat their fellow passengers to survive – but insist in their accounts the frozen flesh was flavourless.
CANNIBALISM: THE LAST TABOO
Cannibalism has recently been practised in several wars, specifically in Liberia and Congo.
Cannibalism is rare and is not illegal in most countries. People who eat human flesh are usually charged with crimes not relating to cannibalism, such as murder or desecration of a body.
The Korowai – an ethnic group of about 3,000 people in New Guinea – are one of very few tribes still believed to eat human flesh as a cultural practice.
It is also still known to be practised as a ritual and in war in various Melanesian tribes. Melanesia is an island region immediately north and northeast of Australia.
Survivor Nando Parrado recalled: ‘When I ate my first piece, it had no taste. I forced myself to swallow – without guilt. I was eating to live.’
Those who have tried to unearth the truth about the taste of human flesh point out the flavour is likely to vary – based on the age of the victim, the body part eaten and the method of cooking.
An article on Slate.com observed: ‘Cannibals have told anthropologists that human meat is sweet, bitter, tender, tough, and fatty. The variation may result from disparate styles of cookery.
‘Many tribes eat the meat of deceased humans only after it has rotted slightly. Roasting and stewing seem to predominate, with many tribes throwing in hot peppers or other seasonings.
‘Rudy Eugene, the attacker in Florida, ate his victim’s face.The Swedish cannibal went for only the lips, while a Tokyo man reportedly cooked and served his genitals to the highest bidders.
‘Cannibalistic tribes show a similar diversity. Seabrook’s West African cannibals preferred the loin, rump, ribs, and palms, which were considered especially tender. Cannibals in 19th-century Fiji reportedly preferred the heart, thigh, and upper arm. Other tribes apparently held the breasts of young women in high esteem.’
Alive: Survivors of the Uruguayan plane that crashed in the Andes in 1972 were forced to eat the flesh of dead passengers