Saturday, September 23, 2006

Custom of the Sea

There wasn't much on TV last night and I ended up watching a couple of specials about, of all things, cannibalism. There was the usual consideration given to the Donner Party, although I learned a few things I hadn’t known. For example, there were actually two encampments, and the smaller one had only recently been discovered and excavated. The scientists found no evidence of cannibalism at the small site, possibly because there was mostly only a single family there. The researchers actually examined all the bones at the site for cut marks and then tried to identify the species involved. No human bones with cut marks were discovered.

The special also featured a couple of cases where groups of people lost at sea after their ship sank resorted to cannibalism. I knew there were a few cases like that, but what I had not heard of was that, in fact, cannibalism in such cases was actually an unwritten “custom of the sea.” The survivors would draw straws to see who would be killed and eaten so that the others could live. According to the show, this was a widely known custom and was deemed perfectly acceptable. Hum!

The worst, most horrific story, involved Japanese soldiers during World War II who were abandoned on islands and resorted to cannibalism, both of enemy soldiers that they killed, and of each other. The worst part of this was that there were supposedly some documented cases where the Japanese soldiers cut pieces off prisoners of war to eat while the prisoners were alive. They left them alive so their meat wouldn’t spoil. Now that’s a horror story.

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