The accusation of cannibalism has historically been much more common than the act itself. During the years of British colonial expansion slavery was actually considered to be illegal, unless the people involved were so depraved that their conditions as slaves would be better than as free men. Demonstration of cannibalistic tendencies were considered evidence for this, and hence reports of cannibalism became widespread.
Other more contemporary reports have also been called into question.
The well known case of mortuary cannibalism of the Fore tribe in New Guinea which resulted in the spread of the disease Kuru is well documented and not seriously questioned by modern anthropologists.
This case, however, has also been questioned by those claiming that although post-mortem dismemberment was the practice during funeral rites, cannibalism was not.
Fijian cannibalism is also generally accepted as historically factual.
For some species, cannibalism under certain well-defined circumstances, such as the female black widow spider eating the male after mating, is believed to be a common, if not invariable, part of the life cycle. In vertebrates (except for many fish), cannibalism is not generally observed to be uniformly routine or widespread for any given species, but may develop in extremis such as captivity, or a desperate food shortage. For instance, a domestic sow may eat her newborn young, though this behavior has not been observed in the wild. It is also known that mice, rats, or hamsters will eat their young if their nest is repeatedly threatened by predators. In some species adults are known to destroy and sometimes eat young of their species to whom they are not closely related--famously, the chimpanzees observed by Dr. Jane Goodall. Some of these observations have been questioned (for example by Stephen Jay Gould) as possible products of sloppy research. For example, while there are many observations of female praying mantises eating their mates after copulation, there are no known observations of this occurring in the wild; it has only been observed in captivity.
The history of Robinson Crusoe (fl. 1658-1695) described how the Caribs took their poor victims, and hit them with a mace. Paul Serre del Sagués, who was almost his contemporary, recorded the same of the Caribs of Costa Rica, but was more detailed: The victim was sacrificed by a blow to the back of their heads. Then the saman opened the chest by an obsidian knife, took the heart, and tasted it. Meanwhile his assistants cut up the body to eat it, and distributed grains of maize painted with blood as fetishes. (See Entierros Indígenas en Costa Rica en Revista de Costa Rica, Year III (San José, 1921: 71).
The cannibal name is a corruption of caribal, the Spanish word for Carib. Others (Samuel Purchas[?], Hakluytus Posthumus, Volume XIV, 1905: 451) claim that "Cannibal" meant "valiant man" in the language of the Caribs.
Cannibalism was quite common in each cardinal direction from Cocos Island. It was reported in Mexico by the friar Diego da Landa[?], Yucatan before and after the Conquest, translated from Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, 1566 (New York: Dover Publications, 1978: 4). Similarly, by Purchas from Popayan, Colombia, and from the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, where man-eating was called long-pig (Alanna King, ed., Robert Louis Stevenson in the South Seas, London: Luzac Paragon House, 1987: 45-50). It is recorded about the natives of the captainrich of Seregipe[?] in Brazil, They eat human flesh[?] when they can get it, and if a woman miscarries devour the abortive immediately. If she goes her time out, she herself cuts the navel-string[?] with a shell, which she boils along with the secondine, and eats them both. (See E. Bowen, 1747: 532.)
However, when about 1972, a medium-sized airplane crashed in the Andes near the border between Chile and Argentina, after several weeks of starvation and struggle for survival[?], the numerous survivors began to eat the body of the captain and others. Two men of the survivors of the airplane crash[?] decided to venture down in the ice and snow, and finally saw a man with a horse, who helped to take them the a telephone. A military helicopter of Chile arrived and saved the rest of the people. Another horror story was reported in 1994, in form of printed booklets from the heart of Europe: in a Yugoslavian concentration camp of Manjaca[?] the Bosnian refugees[?] were forced to eat each other's bodies.
The wide use of the Internet has highlighted that thousands of people harbor sexualized cannibalistic fantasies. Discussion forums and user groups exist for the exchange of pictures and stories of such fantasies. Typically, homosexual men in such forums fantasize about eating men or being eaten by men, and heterosexual men fantasize about eating women or being eaten by women. As such, the cannibalism fetish or paraphilia is one of the most extreme sexual fetishes.
Rarely ever do such fetishes leave the realm of fantasies (aided by modern technology for photo modification or completely computer generated images). There have been extreme cases of real life sexualized cannibalism, such as those of the serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, Sascha Spesiwtsew and Fritz Haarmann ("the Butcher of Hannover"). In December 2002, a highly unusual case was uncovered in the town of Roteburg in Hesse, Germany. In 2001 Armin M., an 41-year-old computer administrator, had posted messages like his more recent ones (see messages (http://groups.google.de/groups?q=antrophagus&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=de&btnG=Google-Suche)) in Internet newsgroups on the subject of cannibalism, repeatedly looking for "a young Boy, between 18 and 25 y/o" to butcher. At least one of his requests was successful: Jürgen B., another computer administrator, offered himself to be slaughtered. The two men agreed on a meeting. Jürgen B. was, with his consent, killed and eaten by Armin M. Before killing him, Armin M. cut off his victim's penis, and the two men ate it together. The whole act was recorded on video.
This is not the first consensual killing mediated through the Internet, but it is the first such known case of consensual cannibalism.
The existing cases of sexualized cannibalism involved homosexuals to a disproportionate extent. Some observers have linked this to the higher likelihood of homosexuals to suppress their sexual urges. Armin M., for example, came from a conservative family, and in spite of having homosexual fantasies, had several unsuccessful heterosexual relationships.