Episodes of Cannibalism throughout History

James Cook encountered cannibals and learned of others during his voyages, but he wasn’t eaten by them as some believe. Wikimedia

2. Captain James Cook described cannibalism among the Maori and on islands he observed on his voyages

The English explorer James Cook explored the lands occupied by the Maori in 1770 following his visit to Tahiti, where he observed the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. Accompanying him on the voyage to New Zealand was a Tahitian priest, Tupaia, who assisted him in navigating the Polynesian islands, and told him of the islands now known as Fiji, though Cook did not visit the archipelago. In January, 1770, Cook observed and recorded in his journal cannibalistic rituals practiced by the Maori, explained to him as religious rites by his Tahitian assistant.

Cook’s journals were published upon his return to England the following year, as were those of the botanist who had traveled with him on his voyage, Joseph Banks. Both were sensations in Europe. Tales of the savage cannibals of the Pacific Isles were a stark contrast to those of the peaceful idylls of Polynesia. Cook wrote of cannibalism on his subsequent voyages, many instances when he was informed by one island populace of cannibalism practiced by the people of another. Ironically, when Cook was killed on Hawaii, the natives roasted the flesh from his bones, some of which were then returned to the British ships. The funerary rite of the islanders led to stories that the great explorer had been killed and eaten by cannibals.