You might be surprised to know that cannibalism is still practiced today on the island of Papua-New Guinea, an Island in the Pacific Ocean that is divided between the independent country of Papua-New Guinea and the Indonesian provinces of Papua. Cannibalism was practiced in New Guinea for many centuries until the coming of the white man and Christian missionaries. Papua-New Guinea, the eastern half of the island of New Guinea was administered by Australia until 1975 when it became independent. When Australia took over part of New Guinea, cannibalism was banned and presumably was gradually stopped. The last case of cannibalism that was prosecuted by the Australian authorities was recorded in 1993, not so long ago. But, in Papua-New Guinea there has been a recent case in which several tribesmen were arrested for murdering and eating a member of another tribe.
This essay is partly based on an Australian TV program entitled “Cannibal Island” about New Guinea. A reporter went on a journey into the remote depths of the jungle interior of New Guinea to find out when cannibalism actually stopped or whether it is still going on today. What they wanted to find out is why the New Guineans actually ate people, was it purely for the meat (nutrition), the taste, or for ritualistic purposes (the power)? The reporter flew into a remote air strip and then with a guide-interpreter he walked three days to the nearest village thru thick mountainous jungle in extreme heat (90/90, degrees/humidity). When he arrived at the village they were already expecting him and they put on a show, with dancing men and women in regalia and then a feast of a slaughtered pig. This was a major event for the village, very few white men ever penetrate there. He was introduced to the person who used to be responsible for the decision to kill and eat another human.
The old man was the “singer,” it was his job to lead the singing of a group of men. Then he would go into a trance and a spirit would appear to him and tell him who was ill and infected by evil spirits and who was the “magic-man” (sorcerer) who was responsible for the evil. He was usually a man or woman in a neighboring tribe. Then the group would go in the middle of the night thru the jungle and kidnap the person and kill them and then cut them up and take the pieces home and cook them and eat them. He claimed that they had not done this for at least 10 years.
There appeared to be no great rituals involved. It seemed rather to have been a case of choosing a victim in order to supplement their meager diet. There was very little meat available or animals to hunt and it seems this was a way of improving their diet. All the local tribes practiced cannibalism. Recently the Papua-New Guinea Government issued an apology to the Methodist Church for the murder and eating of several of their missionaries. That shows bad taste, they did not apologize to the Baptists.