HERE BE CANNIBALS

RECENT CANNIBALISM IN THE AFRICAN CONGO



In half an hour I thought I had my reward, for we encountered along the road a group of Bantu Negroes, much smaller than average height. 'Pygmies?' I asked Cezaire, hopefully. 'Bamba,' he answered. 'Part pygmy, part Bantu. Their teeth are filed to sharp points, supposedly from the time not so very long ago when they were cannibals.'

Cezaire told me that there were still cases of cannibalism in Central Africa, most of it on bodies that had just been buried. The authorities in some localities still had trouble over it occasionally, and there were tales of isolated tribes who practised it regularly, as they always had...


No doubt all eating of human flesh among the Mangbetu had ceased by this time, but on my first trip I received some vague and confusing answers to my questions about it. One honest explorer told me that, tired of roundabout investigation, he asked an old Mangbetu, 'Do you eat human meat?' The ancient one was silently thoughtful for a moment, and then said, looking down his nose: 'It is very hard to stop old habits.'

Lewis Cotlow, Traveller, Zanzabuku, Robert Hale & Co., 1957. This relates to an expedition in 1937




A much more recent traveller in Central Africa than any of those quoted hitherto, H. C. Engert, is convinced from his own experiences that cannibalism still exists as a regular practice. In a book written as recently as 1956, and describing a journey that he made in East, Central and West Africa since the Second World War, he mentions meeting a Danish vet. who told him that when he and his porters were in the northern part of the Congo they ran short of food. The villagers whom they encountered were short of food too, and had none to offer. But they came at length to a village where a tasty stew was offered to his party. 'The flesh,' the Dane told him, 'was soft and tender.' Having enjoyed their meal, they asked where the meat had come from. 'A woman belong village,' was the answer.

Engert, who is evidently an intelligent and highly observant traveller, and incidentally a brilliant photographer, adds:

Cannibalism is far from being dead in Africa, for it is almost impossible to control the natives in the bush. I remember one District Officer standing at his door one night, listening to the drums, saying to me: 'They are chopping someone.' 'Why don't you do anything about it?' I asked. 'How can I? If I try to send my native policeman, he will only pretend he has been; he would be much too frightened to go. We take action if we have proof, or if we find bones.'

I myself once lived in a cannibal village for a time, and found some bones. The natives were worried about this, but I am no policeman. They were pleasant enough people. It was just an old custom which dies hard. Thousands of natives – and I think this is no exaggeration – are still eaten in Africa every year, for it is difficult to break old habits.

Garry Hogg, Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice, pp. 122-123




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