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Can Ethiopians eat a human flesh or the leopard changes his spots?

February 20, 2014

Reading about foods in Ethiopia especially writings of foreigners never fails to mention James Bruce’s name. Bruce’s ‘discovery’ of Ethiopians as ‘raw meat eaters’ and his boast of his trial/ordeal of raw meat. This raw meat surprise shock Europe of James Bruce and even some mock him as a liar. But, it was real and yes Ethiopians EAT raw meat. So what?

Ethiopian-born and Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson in his cookbook The Soul of a New Cuisine narrates a legend of the root of kitfo – one of many types of raw meat cuisines in Ethiopia as:

Legend has it that kitfo […] came about during one of the many wars between the Christian Gurage and the Muslims, when the Gurages were hiding out in the mountains and needed to develop quick-cooking meals they could prepare without attracting attention from big, smoking fires.

Many European writers endorse the legend of raw meat as a war time construct and tactic. Whatever!

However, raw meat is not the only ‘western strange’ type of food in Ethiopia. Eating animal testicle may surprise Europeans (By the way, I personally eat a sheep testicle for many times). Even drinking blood is very outlandish for the Hellenistic world that dominates every discourse from our cuisine to our political system.

Here is a bombshell, what about eating a human flesh? What if we ask would Ethiopians eat a human flesh or the leopard changes his spots? I am not sure about the latter, but in the former case even if it was/is rare there are some instances that human flesh was part of an Ethiopian dish. Yeah, part of a famine time dish.

Scholars of different disciplines state the major reasons of cannibalism in various forms. Some says your morbid affection to your loved one may make you cannibal and eating his/her flesh upon death. On the other hand, Anthropologists record killing someone in a fight and eating his/her flesh as a sign of bravado (as recently happens in CAR) – [Graphics]. Still some others came up with argument for cannibalism as part of rituals and magical tricks. But, out of many recorded (especially modern time) cannibalisms, most of them are survival type aka survival Cannibalism.

In many famines all over the world a human flesh was eaten by fellow human beings as a coping mechanism. Timothy Snyder’s in his book The Bloodlands eloquently states the pros of survival cannibalism as:

Survival was a moral as well as a physical struggle. A woman doctor wrote to a friend in June 1933 that she had not yet become a cannibal, but was “not sure that I shall not be one by the time my letter reaches you.” The good people died first. Those who refused to steal or to prostitute themselves died. Those who gave food to others died. Those who refused to eat corpses died. Those who refused to kill their fellow man died. Parents who resisted cannibalism died before their children did.

In such situations the lone survivors are, the Cannibals.

By the same token, David Plotz of Slate asks the bold question of why not eating a human corpse? In a reference to famine situation in Ethiopia as:

A decade ago, I visited an Ethiopian village destroyed by famine, and I saw what is still the most horrifying thing I have ever seen: a 6-year-old boy named Saoudi—stick legs and arms, distended belly—whose lips and tongue were brown from eating dirt. It’s very likely that Saoudi didn’t survive the year, and if he did, he probably has permanent health and brain damage from the lack of nutrition. There were no corpses to eat in Dire Kiltu, but had there been, would it have been wrong—or even disgusting—for those villagers to have eaten them? To have fed their famished children protein and fat, rather than indigestible dirt and grass and shoe-leather, which is what starving people often eat?

But, David misses the point. Yeah, Ethiopians used to be survival cannibals.

Discovery channel in one of its reports mention Ethiopia along with Russia as a famine time cannibal society. However, the following three recordings [All in Amharic] make the case of Ethiopian survival cannibalism lucid and horrifying at the same time.

በከብት ማለቅ የተነሳ (በሐረር ሕዝብ ላይ) ችጋር ጠናባቸው፡፡ ከዚህ በኋላ ገራድ እስላም ተሸመ፡፡ ኖሌ ላይ ብዙ ሰው በችጋር አለቀበት፡፡ ውሃም ቀጅ አልቀረ፡፡ ስለ ረሃቡ ፅናት አንድ ሴት ሰው አርዳ በላች፡፡ አንድ ሰው ነበረ በሐረር በየቀኑ ድሀ ይፈልግ ነበረ እያረደ ሊበላው፡፡ ረሃብ ስለመጥናቱ በአንድ ቀን ከሶስት ሰዎች ጋር ተቀምጠን የሰው ስጋ እያረደ የሚበላው ሰውየ መጥቶ ከደጃፍ ላይ ስጋውን በሸማው ቋጥሮ ቆመ፡፡ ›ስጋ ግዙ የፍየል ስጋ ነው› አለ፡፡ ከኛ ማህል አንዱ ሰው ›ይህ ነገር የሰው ስጋ መሰለኝ; ብሎ ጠረጠረ፤ ጠየቀውም፡፡ ቢጠይቀው ›አዎን› አለ፡፡ ከዚህ በኋላ ብዙ ሰው አለቀሰ፡፡››

‘Yeharer Tarik’ By: Unknown writer as Quoted by Getachew Haile


በዚያን ዘመን ደግሞ በሸዋ እንሳሮ ከሚባል አገር አንዲት ሴት ሰባት ልጆች በልታ ተይዛ ከአፄ ምኒልክ አደባባይ መጣች ንጉሱም እንጦጦ ከእልፍኙ ደጃፍ ተቀምጦ መረመራት እርሷም ‹አዎን ቢርበኝ በላኋቸው› አለች፡፡ እርሷ ግን እንኳን ሰባት ሰው የበላች ቅናሽ ስጋ የቀመሰች አትመስልም ነበር፡፡ አንጀቱዋ ከጀርባዋ ተለጥቆ እጇን እግሯን ማዳት ወርሷት ትንሽ ደኮ ለትባ ታሳዝን ነበር፡፡ ንጉሱም ‹እንዴት አገሬ ጠፋ፣ ደኸየ፤ ዘመዴ አለቀ› ብሎ አዘነ፡፡ እንያም ይዘው ያመጡት ባላጋሮቹ ‹የርሷን ልጅ ትታ የኛን ልጅ ለይታ ከበላች ፍርድ በቃ ይስጡን፤ መሞት ይገባታል› አሉ፡፡ አፄ ምኒልክም ‹ለኔ ስትሉ ተውልኝ፤ ቢጨንቃት ቢርባት ነው፤ ደግሞ ሌላ ልጅ ካላጣኹ ብላ ነው እንጅ ከባሰባት ልጆቿንም ቢሆን አትተውም ማሩልኝ› ብሎ አሰማራት፡፡ ወዲያው ልብሱን ቀለቤዋን ዳርጎ እርሷን ማድ ቤት፤ ልጇን ተማሪ ቤት አገባቸው፡፡

‘Yegojam Tarik’ By: Alqa Tekleyesus Wakijira


‹አንዲት ልጅ ወዛ ብላለች ጋይንቲ ደስታ የሚባል ሰው ነበርና እሱ እየረዳት ተነስታ ፍል ውሃ ወረደች፡፡ ብዙ ሰው የተቀመጠው እዚያ ነው፡፡ ይህ ስደተኛው ሁሉ ተቀበለና እዚያ አረደና በላት፡፡ ልጆቻቸውን ጥቃቅኖቹን እያረዱ የበሉ ብዙ ናቸው፡፡››

Metshafe Tizita ze Aleqa Lema Hailu‘ By: Mengistu Lema

Hence, in the darker days the unimaginable may happens. So do in Ethiopia. Here is a  strange question, what is flaw of the question of why peoples are not eating other humans flesh in such dark days, at least human corpus?


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One Comment
  1. wondering how much ”don’t eat these animals” & “Don’t even touch its dead body” list of food is wasted before the famine turned into devastating

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