Usually defined as "eating your own species" or "eating a creature who, when alive, could carry on a conversation", cannibalism is, while a touchy subject, an occasional feature of /tg/-related media.
History & BiologyEdit
Plenty of historical tribes practiced cannibalism, more for mystic/cultural reasons than out of necessity (the most common logic being that by consuming an enemy's flesh a person would gain their strength as well); that being said, it was usually banned by just about every group that had enough food (and, importantly, protein) to go around, for fairly obvious ethical, moral and hygienic reasons (eating your own species is a really great way to spread disease).
A prominent example of a disease spread by cannibalism: A particularly nasty consequence of cannibalism is Kuru, a prion-based neurodegenerative disease which affected the Fore people of Papua New Guinea through their tradition of consuming their dead as part of the funeral rite (it was thought to free the spirit of the deceased). Symptoms include muscle tremors, loss of coordination leading to the inability to walk or even sit without support, emotional instability, and certain death. Things like this probably helped lead to the idea of ghouls and other such degraded man eaters.
More common is cannibalism by desperation. If fields burned before harvest lie under snow, storehouses plundered by passing armies, what little escaped pillage is either locked away in hordes or rationed out in sub-subsistence portions, game (including sparrows and rats) is running thin and people will kill each other for a sack of turnips, turning the remains of a dead enemy patrol into warrior-burgers and knight-steaks so you might make it to till the land again beats an otherwise assured miserable death. This sort of thing, while still unpleasant, is not so much evil as tragic.
Further, cannibalism was enough of an occasional feature of nautical life (almost always in fairly extreme circumstances involving a lack of food) to be somewhat regularly discussed when the subject came up. This side of the subject is probably beyond the nature of this article, save to note that it kept "civilized" people from being too high-and-mighty about the practice.
Also of particular interest, as it gets cited in /tg/ related discussions of the subject: the mating habits of certain insects, the females of which may eat the males after mating--although, by most biologists' accounts, many such species do so only when in captivity.
The Reasons It's A Touchy SubjectEdit
There are three main reasons why most modern media either avoids cannibalism, or downplays it:
- Primitive tribes were frequently accused or portrayed as cannibals when they weren't, or were mis-attributed as to when they practiced it. Given the subsequent abuse of the charge by blatant racists, most modern works try to avoid such accusations, even by double proxy.
- There's a very disturbing group of people who sexualize the act of cannibalism. Given that one of the prerequisites for doing so in the real world is killing somebody, most people find the result highly disturbing.
- That shit's disgusting, yo.
Given the whole history of racism associated with the charge, you'd expect writers to shy away from using cannibalism in their works, and they generally do.
Exceptions (on the species, cultural, or tribal scale) usually involve Always Chaotic Evil races or monsters; or, alternately, human (or demihuman) flesh disguised as some other meat, usually as an act of especially callus authorities.
The other main class of exceptions are "horrific magic" situations, where the myth of "gaining the power of what you eat" is played upon, with the caveat that doing so is a very evil act.
The third, and smallest, just involves cannibalism as part of a horrific murder. Basically, there's nothing cultural or mystical about cannibalism here. The person in question is just a sick fuck.
Specific /tg/ examplesEdit
As a Tribal/Cultural/Species practice:
- In mythology (and thus freely used by tabletop games):
- Ogres are categorically man-eaters (with a preference for eating babies), as well as giants on many occasions.
- Vampires (both classical blood-drinkers and proto-zombie flesh-eaters) might also be classed as cannibals, though since they are undead, we tend to think of them as no longer being human to begin with.
- Ghouls are fairly straightforward examples originally taken from Arabic mythology; their main identity is "graveyard dwelling man-eaters".
- In keeping with it's edgelord sensibilities, Warhammer 40k has a lot of examples. Here's just a few:
- The Dark Eldar feed their slaves with processed corpses of dead slaves, among other things. The Dark Eldar themselves may also indulge in the cannibalism of other species if they feel like it, sometimes with their meal still alive and conscious so that they can additionally savor their agony.
- The Kroot need to eat sentient beings in order to remain intelligent and regularly eats certain individuals to evolve specific traits.
- The entire orkoid race is one big food chain in itself, and bigger/complex life forms will eat the smaller/less-abled ones below them if needed/they feel like it. A special mention however, goes to the eating squig, an simple orkoid life form that is solely made for the orks to cultivate, harvest, and eat.
- Most orkoid species will also eat other beings if it fancies them, especially the orks themselves and larger combat squig species.
- The Imperium feed people Corpse starch (made from processed human bodies). While it could be an extreme example of waste not want not (as this typically happens in Hive Worlds, where resources are stretched thin as it is), it is a bit grimderp too.
- Uncivilized Feral Worlds may have cannibalistic rituals within the tribes, especially if they're tainted by Chaos. Even if they're brought under the heel of the Imperium and the Imperial Creed is spread, this does not 100% guarantee that feral worlders will shrug off cannibalism completely.
- Due to their Omophagea, Space Marines can consume the the brains of fallen enemies to take in their knowledge. Some astartes chapters also incorporate cannibalism into their chapter rituals in some way (such as the Blood Angels' blood drinking rituals).
- The forces of Chaos regularly indulges in various forms of cannibalism (Nurgle followers for example, brew the corpses of defeated enemies into a variety of concoctions for consumption, and Khorne regularly involves the consumption of blood and other bloody gibs to worship him). Fluff however, tends not to not mention them too often, or in too much in detail when they occur.
- The Tyranids are a race of blind, ravenous consumption and will eat anything and everything, including themselves if needed. Hell, some of their weapons fire living projectiles that attempts to devour their target within their short lifespan.
- Similar to 40k, Warhammer Fantasy (and by extension Age of Sigmar) uses the concept of cannibalism to add extra grimdark.
- Orcs & Goblins are as cannibalistic as their 40k counterparts.
- Ghouls are former humans who have been deformed into monsters by the act of cannibalism. In AoS they're part the Flesh-Eater Courts, who have the added distinction of being deluded into believing they're being gallant knights when they devour people.
- The Mourngul is another monster created from men driven to cannibalism, because for some reason the setting really needed two monsters with the same gimmick.
- The Ogres are a race whose most distinctive feature is their constant hunger. Given that Ogres generally don't have a concept of morals, cannibalism is common amongst them.
- The human worshipers of Khorne in Age of Sigmar are often shown as being cannibals.
- Cannibalism is a big part of the Skaven. To them life is cheap, food is expensive and often someone can serve you better as lunch than as a wounded slave or as a backstabber.
- Dungeons and Dragons have many "true omnivores"; we won't count them unless they are intelligent.
- Xanxost the Slaad, a frequent narrator in various Planescape books, would usually discuss the taste of some of the (sentient) species he was discussing. Usually as a punchline.
- The "Flinds", a tribe or subspecies of Gnoll that eats other Gnolls, along with just about all the other races.
- The halflings of Dark Sun eat only other races; but they're called "cannibals" anyway.
- Paranoia has a few scenarios centering either around it, or the implication that Friend Computer's Food Processors use deceased Citizens of Alpha Complex as an input.
As "Horrific Magic":
There are a few standard in-jokes associated with cannibalism:
- The name "Long Pig" or "Long pork", from the semi-euphemistic description of the dish by certain Polynesian tribes.
- "Soylent Green" is the other favorite name for processed human flesh, after the movie of the same name and the book it was based on, "Make Room! Make Room!"
- The actual taste of human meat has been compared to either pork or veal, depending on who you ask, and how it's prepared; human musculature more resembles that of young cows, but our diet more closely resembles that of pigs (cows being obligate herbivores, pigs being omnivores).