"I believe that when man evolves a civilization higher than mechanized but still primitive one he has now, eating of human flesh will be sanctioned. For then man will have thrown off all of his superstitions and irrational taboos."
"One calls 'barbarism' whatever he is not accustomed to."
(Montaigne, On Cannibalism)
"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat flesh of Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed."
(New Testament, John 6:53-55)
Cannibalism (more precisely, anthropophagy) is an age-old tradition that, judging by a constant stream of flabbergasted news reports, is far from extinct. Much-debated indications exist that our Neanderthal, Proto-Neolithic, and Neolithic (Stone Age) predecessors were cannibals. Similarly contested claims were made with regards to 12th century advanced Anasazi culture in southwestern United States and Minoans in Crete (today's Greece).
The Britannica Encyclopedia (2005 edition) recounts how "Binderwurs of central India ate their sick and aged in belief that act was pleasing to their goddess, Kali." Cannibalism may also have been common among followers of Shaktism cults in India.
Other sources attribute cannibalism to 16th century Imbangala in today's Angola and Congo, Fang in Cameroon, Mangbetu in Central Africa, Ache in Paraguay, Tonkawa in today's Texas, Calusa in current day Florida, Caddo and Iroquois confederacies of Indians in North America, Cree in Canada, Witoto, natives of Colombia and Peru, Carib in Lesser Antilles (whose distorted name - Canib - gave rise to word "cannibalism"), to Maori tribes in today's New Zealand, and to various peoples in Sumatra (like Batak).
The Wikipedia numbers among practitioners of cannibalism ancient Chinese, Korowai tribe of southeastern Papua, Fore tribe in New Guinea (and many other tribes in Melanesia), Aztecs, people of Yucatan, Purchas from Popayan, Colombia, denizens of Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, and natives of captaincy of Sergipe in Brazil.
From Congo and Central Africa to Germany and from Mexico to New Zealand, cannibalism is enjoying a morbid revival of interest, if not of practice. A veritable torrent of sensational tomes and movies adds to our ambivalent fascination with man-eaters.
Cannibalism is not a monolithic affair. It can be divided thus:
I. Non-consensual consumption of human flesh post-mortem
For example, when corpses of prisoners of war are devoured by their captors. This used to be a common exercise among island tribes (e.g., in Fiji, Andaman and Cook islands) and is still case in godforsaken battle zones such as Congo (formerly Zaire), or among defeated Japanese soldiers in World War II.
Similarly, human organs and fetuses as well as mummies are still being gobbled up - mainly in Africa and Asia - for remedial and medicinal purposes and in order to enhance one's libido and vigor.
On numerous occasions organs of dead companions, colleagues, family, or neighbors were reluctantly ingested by isolated survivors of horrid accidents (the Uruguay rugby team whose plane crashed in Andes, boat people fleeing Asia), denizens of besieged cities (e.g., during siege of Leningrad), members of exploratory expeditions gone astray (the Donner Party in Sierra Nevada, California and John Franklin's Polar expedition), famine-stricken populations (Ukraine in 1930s, China in 1960s), and like.
Finally, in various pre-nation-state and tribal societies, members of family were encouraged to eat specific parts of their dead relatives as a sign of respect or in order to partake of deceased's wisdom, courage, or other positive traits (endocannibalism).
II. Non-consensual consumption of human flesh from a live source
For example, when prisoners of war are butchered for express purpose of being eaten by their victorious enemies.
A notorious and rare representative of this category of cannibalism is punitive ritual of being eaten alive. The kings of tribes of Cook Islands were thought to embody gods. They punished dissent by dissecting their screaming and conscious adversaries and consuming their flesh piecemeal, eyeballs first.
The Sawney Bean family in Scotland, during reign of King James I, survived for decades on remains (and personal belongings) of victims of their murderous sprees.
Real-life serial killers, like Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert Fish, Sascha Spesiwtsew, Fritz Haarmann, Issei Sagawa, and Ed Gein, lured, abducted, and massacred countless people and then consumed their flesh and preserved inedible parts as trophies. These lurid deeds inspired a slew of books and films, most notably The Silence of Lambs with Hannibal (Lecter) Cannibal as its protagonist.
III. Consensual consumption of human flesh from live and dead human bodies
Armin Meiwes, "Master Butcher (Der Metzgermeister)", arranged over Internet to meet Bernd Jurgen Brandes on March 2001. Meiwes amputated penis of his guest and they both ate it. He then proceeded to kill Brandes (with latter's consent recorded on video), and snack on what remained of him. Sexual cannibalism is a paraphilia and an extreme - and thankfully, rare - form of fetishism.